Lifting High: Space Elevators
The Space Elevator is one of the most promising space transportation systems on the drawing boards today, combining scalability, low cost, environmental friendly, qualify of ride, and safety to deliver truly commercial-grade space access – practically comparable to a train ride to space. The technology is based on a thin vertical tether stretched from the ground to a mass far out in space, and electric vehicles (climbers) that drive up and down the tether. The rotation of the Earth keeps the tether taut and capable of supporting the climbers. The climbers travel at speeds comparable to a fast train, and carry no fuel on board – they are powered by a combination of sunlight and laser light projected from the ground. While the trip to space takes several days, climbers are launched once per day.
In addition to launching payloads into orbit, the Space Elevator can also use its rotational motion to inject them into planetary transfer orbits – thus able to launch payloads to Mars, for example, once per day. Imagine the kind of infrastructure we can set up there, waiting for the first settlers to arrive. Looking back from the year 2100, the construction of the Space Elevator will be considered to mark the true beginning of the Space Age, much like the advent of the airplane or steamboat heralded the true commercial use of the air and sea.
This year’s ISDC will have an exciting space elevator session with discussions on the Galactic Harbour, the Space Elevator Architecture, future research, and a look at the Lunar Elevator. For information on speakers and sessions, see here