Aviation

Could the Construction of the Space Elevator Really Change Our World? | by Adheena Fatimah | Nov, 2022

The Space Elevator is a type of transportation system. It’s a giant elevator shaft that we can use to climb and reach space. This would eliminate our dependence on rocket fuel to reach our orbit and also lower the cost of space exploration. The space elevator would be 100,000 km long and would be capable of delivering payloads at high velocity to the Moon, Mars, and Venus, and the asteroid belt for operational costs less than $100/kg ($50/lb) which is 1/100 to 1/10,000 the cost of any proposed rocket system. If we created the space elevator it would be incredibly expensive but eventually, it would make space travel much more affordable and open up a world full of opportunities. The idea of the space elevator is simple and the physics of its operation had been developed in the 1970’s but it was not till 1999 had the technology been available. It was Dr. Edwards who made a complete engineering plan for the construction and operation of the space elevator which he laid out in his book “The Space Elevator” published in 2002.

Diagram of how the space elevator would look.

If you think that we don’t have the technology to build the space elevator… you’re wrong! The space elevator can be built and not only this but it can be constructed with current technology that’s existed for years. So let’s get into exactly what technology would be needed to build the space elevator.

Carbon Nanotubes

Carbon nanotubes (CNTs) are cylinder-shaped allotropic forms of carbon, most widely produced under chemical vapour deposition. The first carbon nanotubes were made in 1991, carbon nanotubes are one of the strongest materials to be discovered and would be used to create the cable of the space elevator. It is proved that carbon nanotubes could be readily spun as required for the space elevator.

Climbers

Climbers are electrically powered spacecraft, which would be used the elevator cabins that will travel either up or down the cable from the earth’s surface to the anchor station. With recent advancements in composite, electric automobiles, electric motors and their control electronics all components for high-performance climbers are now commercially available.

Power Beaming

Advances in disk and fibre lasers have made megaWatt laser systems possible for laser cutting and welding systems.

Anchor Station

The anchor station will be a standard platform or cargo ship.

Debris Tracking

An orbital debris tracking system is also needed. Currently, a tracking system with specific capabilities that are needed has been used for decades by the US Space Command. Commercial services providing orbital debris tracking data down to 2 cm diameter have become available in the past few years. Even though this isn’t quite at the level that is needed it can easily be upgraded. If it still isn’t enough a new upgraded dedicated system can be built, all the designs and hardware to build such a system have been available for the past 20 years.

So what if we find solutions to all the problems and can successfully build a space elevator, how does building a space elevator change anything? Let’s start with how building a space elevator will change our situation and what exactly the space elevator will be capable of doing. A space elevator would be capable of making things quicker, easier, and more efficient, and would save us a lot of money.

The space elevator would be able to:

  • Place heavy and fragile cargo in any Earth orbit with circularizing rockets or send them to other planets.
  • Deliver cargo with minimal vibration.
  • Bring heavy and fragile cargo down from space.
  • The cost of delivering cargo to space would drop significantly. (currently, it cost 20 thousand for 1kg but the price would drop to 200 dollars per kg)
  • Send a cargo into space or receive a cargo from space every few days.
  • Survive problems and failures and be repaired.

Some of the things that would come out of creating the space elevator would be things such as:

  • The inexpensive delivery of satellites to space means the launch cost would drop by 90%. Which would allow for more companies and countries to access space and benefit from that access.
  • Recovery and repair of malfunctioning spacecraft. Telecommunications companies could fix minor problems on large satellites instead of replacing the entire spacecraft.
  • Large-scale commercial manufacturing in microgravity space. Higher-quality crystals could be manufactured allowing for improvements in everything from medicine to computer chips.
  • Inexpensive global satellite systems. Global telephone and television systems would become much easier and less expensive to set up with these local calls could be to anyone.
  • Construction of space-based solar power systems- Unlimited clean energy delivered anywhere on Earth
  • Mining of asteroids for rare materials for rare minerals
  • Large-scale colonies in space and on other planets

Once we’ve been able to successfully create a space elevator on earth we might even be able to also create a mars elevator. Of course, this is really into the future. The idea is pretty simple the Mars elevator would be built in Earth’s orbit and thrown to Mars to be unrolled. The Mars elevator could be built a couple of years after the Earth elevator is built because we would already know how to build it making it a lot easier to build and operate. Just like the mars elevator we could also quickly in decades, build elevators for asteroids and moons of other plants. As you can see building a space elevator would dramatically change our “reality” picture of space operations and would!

If we have the current technology to build the space elevator why hasn’t it been built yet? Well, the answer is that it’s not that simple, to build the space elevator would require a lot of funding, and if your thinking, don’t really big space corporations have the funding to build it? The answer is yes, so why won’t they build it? The reason for this is simply because the space elevator isn’t just some small project, if something goes wrong, the space corporation would face a lot of backlash from the public which would then result in other complications. Also, the space elevator would be more likely to be successfully built, if multiple space corporations around the world worked together, okay so why can’t they work together? The answer to this is politics, if the space elevator was built which country would own it? which country would receive the most profit? which country would receive the most spotlight from the public? what if one company doesnt get the recognition they deserve from the public? and the list goes on. Furthermore, some countries might not be willing to work with other countries because of some past conflicts. All that being said, the space elevator would introduce a dramatic change in the global status quo. This change in the state of global wealth and power will come with issues that need to be resolved.

Is there even a solution to all this, something we could do so that the space elevator could be built? The answer is yes, there is definitely a solution to all this. The solution is to work together. It sounds simple doesnt it, that’s cause it is, think of it as a group project. If everyone put all their conflicts aside just for this one time and think of the outstanding outcomes that would come from building the space elevator instead, it could be built. If all the big space corporations worked together we could 100% build the space elevator maybe even as early as 2030. As Hellen Keller once said, “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”

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