Friday, June 20, 2008

Space Elevator

Many organizations would like to build an elevator to space. Such a structure would reduce the cost of space travel by a factor of 100. (It costs $10,000/kg now, this would reduce the cost to $100/kg.) Having done so, we humans could afford many more space missions including colonization missions.

To built it, we would orbit a large rock around the equator, and build a base directly under it. The rock would have a geosynchronous orbit in which the location it hovered over remains constant. Then, from both directions, cable would be built until connecting at the middle.

A strong enough cable could hoist things up and down for cheap. (Elevators take very little energy if a counterweight system is involved.)

A big problem is the necessary tensile strength. Most conventional materials would rip themselves in half under the strain. Plus, most things that we humans want to send into space are quite heavy. Voyager 2 weighs around 700 kg. A 70kg human would need a 40kg space suit (with air and so on) to survive. They will also need extensive thrusters to reach their destination in space. And the elevator will likely weigh in excess of 300kg all by itself.

In the unlikely event that the ribbon broke, under excessive strain, or by having a plane fly into it, the part of the ribbon nearest the bottom would fall eastward. Since this would have to be built at the equator, and most of the equator is ocean not claimed by any nation, the best place to build this would be in the middle of the pacific ocean. That way, even the highest flying plane crashing into it would only affect the bottommost part of the ribbon, which would fall into the ocean, scaring the hell out of any passing fish, but not harming any humans, buildings, or complex animals. The part above where the ribbon broke would be slowly ejected into space, with any cargo still attached. Seeing as that's where passengers on the elevator would want to go in the first place, no big loss. Should the elevator detach while trying to LOWER a passenger back to earth, the cargo can be detached from the ribbon and splash down in the ocean, where the earth's gravity will pull it.

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