28 December 2010

A Space Elevator to Survive the Great Transition?

The idea of a space elevator is not a new one — In fact, it was theorized as far back as 1895 by a Russian called Konstantin Tsiolkovsky who proposed a free-standing “Tsiolkovsky” tower that would stretch from the Earth’s surface to a ‘counterweight’ somewhere in geostationary orbit...

...Carbon nanotubes are a modern material with tremendous potential. While they are less than 1/50,000 the width of a hair, when wound together a string the width of a sewing thread could hold the weight of a car. In theory, it could support the 30 tons per square millimetre needed to constructed such an incredible system. Miodownik added, “Carbon nanotubes are still under development but they are the first material we have seen that could be strong enough for this task.” _inhabitat_via_SundayTimes

Humans can solve the technical problems of space -- radiation, micro-gravity, volatiles (including water), space habitats, more rapid interplanetary travel etc -- as long as they have a cheap, high-throughput access point to space. A space elevator would provide cheap and regular, scheduled movement from Earth to space, but modern materials are not up to the task. Space elevator designers are looking to carbon nanotubes as one material which may be strong enough to handle the enormous stresses involved.
The idea of a 'space elevator' has been around since the late 1800s. Until now, there wasn't a material strong enough to build it. Then carbon nanotubes stepped in.

...Carbon nanotubes, tiny hollow tubes made of interlocked carbon molecules, are tough enough to meet the challenge. If they were woven together, a single strand the width of a thread could support a car. A large enough block of carbon nanotubles could form a 'thread' 22,000 miles long. The thread would be kept taut by Earth's gravity on one side and the centrifugal acceleration of a Nasa refueling station/touristy snack bar and souvenir stand on the other. Between them an elevator would creep up the length of the carbon nanotube thread, carrying supplies and passengers. _io9_via_Impactlab
Mark Miodownik, a materials scientist at King’s College London, announced the new proposal at the Royal Institution’s Christmas lecture which is set to be broadcast on BBC4 at the end of the month. Speaking about the concept of a ‘space elevator’, Miodownik said, “The idea of an elevator into space has been around for some decades now and was popularized by Arthur C. Clarke, the science fiction writer, in his 1979 book The Fountains of Paradise. However the idea was never practical because there was no material strong enough to support its own weight over the huge distance necessary to reach from Earth to space.” “What has changed is the discovery of carbon nanotubes, a form of carbon that can be woven into fibers. They are still under development [and] in theory they are strong enough to reach into space.”

If it was constructed, such a cable would need to be kept under tension by the forces of gravity and outward centrifugal acceleration. In theory, the counterweight, which would keep the whole thing stable, would be a docking and refuelling station for future space missions. In fact, NASA has pledged $3 million over the next five years to research the idea and is working on scale models. _Inhabitat_via_SundayTimes
NASA has lived and died by its ability to service the needs of corrupt politicians such as Al Gore. But the only use Obama has for NASA is the ongoing abuse of science at the NASA GISS center for climate modeling and climate history manipulation, under James Hansen et al.

This means that any working space elevator the world sees, will be a space elevator constructed by anyone but NASA.

The transition from an earth-bound species of limited outlook to a space-going species of unlimited outlook, will be violent and bloody. When space elevators are constructed initially, they had best be of the super-robust variety. Because they will instantly become the target of every stone-aged religionist and culturalist the world around.


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Blogger Loren said...

You might as well go for the ring, while you're at it. A number of stories featuring elevators like this include a ring that connects towers in two or more places on the equator. This expands living space, probably removes the need for 90% of satellites, and other such things.

Tuesday, 28 December, 2010  
Blogger al fin said...

A geostationary orbital ring?

This wikipedia article looks at some variations on the basic theme of orbital rings.

Interesting idea, with some amazing possibilities.

Tuesday, 28 December, 2010  
Blogger neil craig said...

Clarke's book was set in the 22nd century. It is cheering to see that though our Luddite political controllers are preventing the development of modern technology the underlying basics (Moore's law, materials strength, the ability to manipulate single atoms) are improving even faster than expected by SF visionaries. It means that we can & somebody will move back into the progressive track when allowed.

Friday, 31 December, 2010  
Blogger al fin said...

The argument for expansion into space is far too strong for greens and Luddites to suppress it forever.

Friday, 31 December, 2010  

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