Can Quiet, Efficient ‘Space Elevators’ Really Work?
By Leonard David
SPACE.COM — Is it time to push the “up” button on the space elevator?
A space elevator consisting of an Earth-anchored tether that extends 62,000 miles (100,000 kilometers) into space could eventually provide routine, safe, inexpensive and quiet access to orbit, some researchers say.
A new assessment of the concept has been pulled together titled “Space Elevators: An Assessment of the Technological Feasibility and the Way Forward.” The study was conducted by a diverse collection of experts from around the world under the auspices of the International Academy of Astronautics (IAA). [Quiz: Sci-Fi vs. Real Technology]
The study’s final judgment is twofold: A space elevator appears possible, with the understanding that risks must be mitigated through technological progress…and a space elevator infrastructure could indeed be built via a major international effort.
The tether serving as a space elevator would be used to economically place payloads and eventually people into space using electric vehicles called climbers that drive up and down the tether at train-like speeds. The rotation of the Earth would keep the tether taut and capable of supporting the climbers.
Rooted in history
The notion of a beanstalk-like space elevator is rooted in history.
Many point to the ahead-of-its-time “thought experiment” published in 1895 by Russian space pioneer Konstantin Tsiolkovsky. He suggested creation of a free-standing tower reaching from the surface of Earth to the height of geostationary orbit (GEO; 22,236 miles, or 35,786 km).
Over the last century or so, writers, scientists, engineers and others have helped finesse the practicality of the space elevator. And the new study marks a major development in the evolution of the idea, says IAA president Gopalan Madhavan Nair. [10 Sci-Fi Predictions That Came True]
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