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Scientists Working on a Space Elevator?

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http://www.cnn.com/2008/WORLD/europe/10/02/space.elevator/index.html

'Space elevator' would take humans into orbit

LONDON, England (CNN) -- A new space race is officially under way, and this one should have the sci-fi geeks salivating.

The project is a "space elevator," and some experts now believe that the concept is well within the bounds of possibility -- maybe even within our lifetimes.

A conference discussing developments in space elevator concepts is being held in Japan in November, and hundreds of engineers and scientists from Asia, Europe and the Americas are working to design the only lift that will take you directly to the one hundred-thousandth floor.

Despite these developments, you could be excused for thinking it all sounds a little far-fetched.

Indeed, if successfully built, the space elevator would be an unprecedented feat of human engineering.

A cable anchored to the Earth's surface, reaching tens of thousands of kilometers into space, balanced with a counterweight attached at the other end is the basic design for the elevator.

It is thought that inertia -- the physics theory stating that matter retains its velocity along a straight line so long as it is not acted upon by an external force -- will cause the cable to stay stretched taut, allowing the elevator to sit in geostationary orbit.

The cable would extend into the sky, eventually reaching a satellite docking station orbiting in space.

Engineers hope the elevator will transport people and objects into space, and there have even been suggestions that it could be used to dispose of nuclear waste. Another proposed idea is to use the elevator to place solar panels in space to provide power for homes on Earth.

If it sounds like the stuff of fiction, maybe that's because it once was.

In 1979, Arthur C. Clarke's novel "The Fountains of Paradise" brought the idea of a space elevator to a mass audience. Charles Sheffield's "The Web Between the Worlds" also featured the building of a space elevator.

But, jump out of the storybooks and fast-forward nearly three decades, and Japanese scientists at the Japan Space Elevator Association are working seriously on the space-elevator project.

Association spokesman Akira Tsuchida said his organization was working with U.S.-based Spaceward Foundation and a European organization based in Luxembourg to develop an elevator design.

The Liftport Group in the U.S. is also working on developing a design, and in total it's believed that more than 300 scientists and engineers are engaged in such work around the globe.

NASA is holding a $4 million Space Elevator Challenge to encourage designs for a successful space elevator.

Tsuchida said the technology driving the race to build the first space elevator is the quickly developing material carbon nanotube. It is lightweight and has a tensile strength 180 times stronger than that of a steel cable. Currently, it is the only material with the potential to be strong enough to use to manufacture elevator cable, according to Tsuchida.

"At present we have a tether which is made of carbon nanotube, and has one-third or one-quarter of the strength required to make a space elevator. We expect that we will have strong enough cable in the 2020s or 2030s," Tsuchida said.

He said the most likely method of powering the elevator would be through the carbon nanotube cable.

So, what are the major logistical issues keeping the space elevator from being anything more than a dream at present?

Massachusetts Institute of Technology aeronautics and astronautics Professor Jeff Hoffman said that designing the carbon nanotube appeared to be the biggest obstacle.

"We are now on the verge of having material that has the strength to span the 30,000 km ... but we don't have the ability to make long cable out of the carbon nanotubes at the moment." he said. "Although I'm confident that within a reasonable amount of time we will be able to do this."

Tsuchida said that one of the biggest challenges will be acquiring funding to move the projects forward. At present, there is no financial backing for the space elevator project, and all of the Japanese group's 100-plus members maintain other jobs to earn a living.

"Because we don't have a material which has enough strength to construct space elevator yet, it is difficult to change people's mind so they believe that it can be real," he said.

Hoffman feels that international dialogue needs to be encouaraged on the issue. He said a number of legal considerations also would have to be taken into account.

"This is not something one nation or one company can do. There needs to be a worldwide approach," he said.

Other difficulties for space-elevator projects include how to build the base for the elevator, how to design it and where to set up the operation.

Tsuchida said some possible locations for an elevator include the South China Sea, western Australia and the Galapagos Islands in the Pacific Ocean. He said all of those locations usually avoided typhoons, which could pose a threat to the safety of an elevator.

"As the base of space elevator will be located on geosynchronous orbit, [the] space elevator ground station should be located near the equator," he said.

Although the Japanese association has set a time frame of the 2030s to get a space elevator under construction -- and developments are moving quickly -- Hoffman acknowledges that it could be a little further away than that.

"I don't know if it's going to be in our lifetime or if it's 100 or 200 years away, but it's near enough that we can contemplate how it will work."

Building a space elevator is a matter of when, not if, said Hoffman, who believes that it will herald a major new period in human history.

"It will be revolutionary for human technology, and not just for space travel. That's why so many people are pursuing it," he said. "This is what it will take to turn humans into a space-bearing species."



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What is the point of this?



there's no diversity because we're burning in the melting pot

 

TheGza said:
What is the point of this?

It really could be pretty useful for stuff like nuclear waste, since the cost of propelling a space ship out of orbit just to get rid of nuclear waste is ludicrously expensive fuel-wise.

If a ship or some kind of pod was sent out from space already, it would really cut down on costs and could make something like this feasible.

Obviously we are not at the point where something like this is practical, but there would definitely be practical applications for something like this.

 



We had two bags of grass, seventy-five pellets of mescaline, five sheets of high-powered blotter acid, a salt shaker half full of cocaine, a whole galaxy of multi-colored uppers, downers, screamers, laughers…Also a quart of tequila, a quart of rum, a case of beer, a pint of raw ether and two dozen amyls.  The only thing that really worried me was the ether.  There is nothing in the world more helpless and irresponsible and depraved than a man in the depths of an ether binge. –Raoul Duke

It is hard to shed anything but crocodile tears over White House speechwriter Patrick Buchanan's tragic analysis of the Nixon debacle. "It's like Sisyphus," he said. "We rolled the rock all the way up the mountain...and it rolled right back down on us...."  Neither Sisyphus nor the commander of the Light Brigade nor Pat Buchanan had the time or any real inclination to question what they were doing...a martyr, to the bitter end, to a "flawed" cause and a narrow, atavistic concept of conservative politics that has done more damage to itself and the country in less than six years than its liberal enemies could have done in two or three decades. -Hunter S. Thompson

akuma587 said:
TheGza said:
What is the point of this?

It really could be pretty useful for stuff like nuclear waste, since the cost of propelling a space ship out of orbit just to get rid of nuclear waste is ludicrously expensive fuel-wise.

If a ship or some kind of pod was sent out from space already, it would really cut down on costs and could make something like this feasible.

Obviously we are not at the point where something like this is practical, but there would definitely be practical applications for something like this.

 


Wouldn't the most practical way to deal with nuclear waste be to simply return it to the mines from where it came

seems like a very cool idea.



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Hopefully it will work better than the Large Hadron Collider



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still seems like a giant waste of money. Just like the space station.



there's no diversity because we're burning in the melting pot

 

We could launch so much awesome shit into the sun with this.

I want a giant elevator that goes from the bottom of the ocean into outer space.



TheGza said:
What is the point of this?

One of the reasons the human race has advanced so quickly over the last couple of thousand years is because half the time we do shit because we can. Who knows what all of the practical uses of a fast and easy way to get into space will be - extraterristrial colonisation will be a lot easier for one thing, waste disposal is another and space tourism a third.

Plus it is just fucking awesome.

 



I don't know; it seems more likely that more R&D in, just, launching, would be way more cost effective, quicker, and less restrictive than a single massive elevator (of course, there could be more)

"At present we have a tether which is made of carbon nanotube, and has one-third or one-quarter of the strength required to make a space elevator. We expect that we will have strong enough cable in the 2020s or 2030s,"
THAT strong?! A cable that can stretch 60 miles up?!



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