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Space & Astronomy

Is it possible to build a space elevator ?

By T.K. Randall
February 21, 2015 · Comment icon 14 comments



Space elevators could revolutionize space travel. Image Credit: NASA
While undeniably useful, the concept of a space elevator may simply be impractical in the real world.
A science fiction staple, the space elevator is a transportation system which uses special capsules to carry things in to space along a cable that is so long that it stretches all the way in to orbit.

Its advantages over sending people and cargo in to space using conventional rockets would be huge, saving vast amounts of money and resources on every launch. The trouble however is that nobody has ever been able to come up with a viable way to actually turn the concept of a space elevator in to a real-life system.

Some have argued that building such a thing is fundamentally impractical, especially given that the cable would need to be over 100,000km in length - more than twice the Earth's circumference.
Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX and inventor of the Hyperloop, has also expressed his skepticism by suggesting that it would be easier to build a bridge from Los Angeles to Tokyo.

"This is extremely complicated," he said. "I don't think it's really realistic to have a space elevator."

Nonetheless there are still some, including Peter Swan of the International Space Elevator Consortium, who believe that space elevators are very much a part of our future.

"It’s a phenomenal enabling technology that would open up our Solar System to humankind," he said. "I think the first ones will be robotic, and then 10 to 15 years after that we’ll have six to eight elevators that are safe enough to carry people."

Source: BBC News | Comments (14)


Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #5 Posted by CaptainHindsight 8 years ago
just imagine the luls here people. I mean, humans have enough trouble with ski lifts, falling off a space elevator would provide a whole new series of you've been framed.
Comment icon #6 Posted by DieChecker 8 years ago
I think the wait time would be a good point. The whole point is that you don't need to go thousands of miles an hour to get to escape velocity, but that you could go up slower, like hundreds of miles per hour, But with a 100,000 km long cable, that would mean being on the cable for 500 to 1000 hours!!! Imagine being in a tiny elevator for 20 days?? Technologically I'm not sure we have the materials yet to do this. Supposedly carbon nano tubes are strong enough, it you have a cable already put together, however, most experts think that the cable would have to be made in place, which would mean ... [More]
Comment icon #7 Posted by XenoFish 8 years ago
Comment icon #8 Posted by Whisperer 8 years ago
Anything is possible for sure but probable, not in your wildest imaginings... Its my thought that the costs alone would be prohibitive, let alone the technology to undertake such a wonderful idea...and as has been pointed out, by the time such a concept becomes feasible, technology advances in current methods would have superseded the idea...
Comment icon #9 Posted by keithisco 8 years ago
I think as progress is made in manufacturing Graphene (particularly in scrolling the sheets) then the possibility of combining this with carbon nanotubes MAY lead to the production of a tether with sufficient mechanical strength to make a space elevator possible.
Comment icon #10 Posted by toast 8 years ago
The first substantiated thoughts about a possible space elevator were made in the early sixties, so at a time were just a handfull of satellites orbited Earth. Today there are more than 1100 active satellites in orbit plus more than 600k space debris objects. So a space elevator with a tether length of 100k km would cross, by math, the trajectories of thousands of objects multiple times a day. I dont think that there is any place on Earth where such a device could be placed to be able to operate in a "free sky", means in an area where the tether will not get hit by orbiting objects. The idea f... [More]
Comment icon #11 Posted by Waspie_Dwarf 8 years ago
The first substantiated thoughts about a possible space elevator were made in the early sixties, so at a time were just a handfull of satellites The idea of a space elevator goes back much further than that: The key concept of the space elevator appeared in 1895 when Russian scientist Konstantin Tsiolkovsky was inspired by the Eiffel Tower in Paris. He considered a similar tower that reached all the way into space and was built from the ground up to the altitude of 35,790 kilometers, the height of geostationary orbit. He noted that the top of such a tower would be circling Earth as in a geosta... [More]
Comment icon #12 Posted by toast 8 years ago
The idea of a space elevator goes back much further than that: Source: wikipedia Yeah I know, but thats why I used the word substantiated to bring my post into the time were space exploration was still in progress.
Comment icon #13 Posted by Waspie_Dwarf 8 years ago
Yeah I know, but thats why I used the word substantiated to bring my post into the time were space exploration was still in progress. Never exclude Tsiolkovsky, a total genius but relatively unknown in the west. Without him there would have been no Goddard and von Braun. For anyone wanting to know more about Space Elevators may I recommend Arthur C. Clarke's "Fountains of Paradise". Written in 1979 it predicts materials very similar to Graphene and carbon nanotubes.
Comment icon #14 Posted by regeneratia 8 years ago
Heinlein said it was one of two of the most economical ways out of the atmosphere. The other one is via a sling-shot method. I wouldn't underestimate Heinlein. He had great foresight. I donate to the Kansas City Space Pirates: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/KC_Space_Pirates My son outgrew his space pirate t-shirt. I will have to get another.


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