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Obayashi To Build Space Elevator By 2050

Soulskill posted more than 2 years ago | from the go-ahead-and-book-your-rides-now-it's-a-sure-thing dept.

Moon 488

mattr writes "Japan's Obayashi Corp. has announced plans to build a space elevator by 2050. They are famous for wrecking skylines with the over-sized bullet train station in Kyoto, the world's tallest self-supporting tower Tokyo Sky Tree and just recently, the beginnings of the Taipei Dome. It will take a week at 200 kph for your party of 30 to reach the 36,000-km-high terminal station, while the counterweight [swings along at] 96 km high, a quarter of the way to the Moon."

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488 comments

Is that so? (3, Insightful)

nyri (132206) | more than 2 years ago | (#39121785)

It would be easier to believe that "Japan's Obayashi Corp" are out of their mind if we would have a link to this on their own web site.

Re:Is that so? (5, Informative)

mikael_j (106439) | more than 2 years ago | (#39121801)

Well, here's [obayashi.co.jp] a list of some of their previous projects.

Re:Is that so? (5, Funny)

Cryacin (657549) | more than 2 years ago | (#39121821)

Wow. A week in an elevator. Here's hoping you're not in the elevator with "that guy". You know the one. Who eats about a ton of burrito's or whatever causes his usual gastric disturbances.

Kenny G (5, Funny)

lemur3 (997863) | more than 2 years ago | (#39121949)

if you think "that guy" who ate the burrito is bad..

just wait until you find out that there is only 1 song played over ... and over..

Re:Kenny G (2)

Whiteox (919863) | more than 2 years ago | (#39122051)

A Walk in the Black Forest?
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gS15ACUhTww [youtube.com]

Tra-la-la.... (4, Funny)

macraig (621737) | more than 2 years ago | (#39122123)

Nope, this one.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i1EG-MKy4so [youtube.com]

Re:Tra-la-la.... (1)

Whiteox (919863) | more than 2 years ago | (#39122429)

Just when you thought it was all over, he goes into a refrain.
OK You win.

Re:Kenny G (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39122257)

It's black history month you speak chuckin NIGGERS!

Re:Kenny G (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39122333)

over and over and over....and the person who picked the song is truly sadistic [youtube.com]

Re:Kenny G (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39122445)

I was on a bus from Moldova to Paris once. It took about 48hours. The diver played a mixed cd starting with Bananaramas "Venus". Often he would repeat that first song five or six times in a row. He never changed the cd. I had no idea how horrible it is to listen to one song until that time. It was really really painful by the end.

Re:Is that so? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39122227)

Wow. A week in an elevator. Here's hoping you're not in the elevator with "that guy". You know the one. Who eats about a ton of burrito's or whatever causes his usual gastric disturbances.

To hell with that a week of Musac and I'd go postal.

Re:Is that so? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39122447)

If you think that's bad... wait until you sit next to the guy who can only talk about football.

Re:Is that so? (4, Funny)

r0ball (1848426) | more than 2 years ago | (#39121867)

Ah yes, the Shitsumi dam. That's near the Notami fault, isn't it?

Re:Is that so? (2)

maxwell demon (590494) | more than 2 years ago | (#39122031)

The Shitsumi dam?

Re:Is that so? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39122075)

Congrats, you almost got entire lame joke! ^_^

Re:Is that so? (1)

r0ball (1848426) | more than 2 years ago | (#39122291)

The eminently punnable Shitsumi Dam is another one of Obayashi Corp's projects on the page Mikael linked above [obayashi.co.jp] .

Bring it on (4, Interesting)

arcite (661011) | more than 2 years ago | (#39122213)

I'll be in my early 70's, hopefully still alive...

gotta love the attitude (5, Insightful)

korpique (807933) | more than 2 years ago | (#39121789)

It probably won't hurt your corporate image too much to bolster some idealism every once in a while.

Not going to end well... (4, Insightful)

XDirtypunkX (1290358) | more than 2 years ago | (#39121793)

It's bad enough sharing a lift with 5 or 6 people for 30 seconds, let alone sharing one with 30 people for a week.

Good luck and I want the 13th ride up (4, Insightful)

bruce_the_loon (856617) | more than 2 years ago | (#39121797)

I wish them luck and hope the technology is ready before I'm too old to ride the thing.

Forecast for this thread. 56% never gonna happen. 10% certain it will happen. 18% about how impossible it is. and the rest finding a way to blame MS for the failure.

Re:Good luck and I want the 13th ride up (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39121811)

and the rest finding a way to blame MS for the failure.

Don't forget 1% Gundam.

Re:Good luck and I want the 13th ride up (2)

PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) | more than 2 years ago | (#39121841)

You forgot, "Does it run Linux?", "Imagine a Beowulf cluster of these", "It's good for Global Warming", "It's bad for Global Warming" and "In Soviet-Japanese space, Obayashi elevators YOU!"

Re:Good luck and I want the 13th ride up (3, Funny)

sincewhen (640526) | more than 2 years ago | (#39122017)

You left out the most relevant one:

1. Announce plan for space elevator
2. ???
3. Profit

But I hope they do work out step 2.

Re:Good luck and I want the 13th ride up (4, Insightful)

maxwell demon (590494) | more than 2 years ago | (#39122043)

Usually step 2 is get investors believe you and give you lots of money. Note that to profit, you don't need to actually manage to build the space elevator. You just must make sure that it doesn't look like fraud.

Re:Good luck and I want the 13th ride up (1)

FairAndHateful (2522378) | more than 2 years ago | (#39122193)

But I hope they do work out step 2.

I could not agree more, even though I cannot disagree at all with maxwell's cynicsism.

Re:Good luck and I want the 13th ride up (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39122373)

Hopefully, step 2 is actually going to be "build the damn thing".

Re:Good luck and I want the 13th ride up (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39122329)

Even if they don't do it, I'm pretty sure in the process they're gonna find/invent some cool stuff that will probably make them a shitload of money. They are doing exactly what all technology companies should be doing: push the limits and try the impossible. It's always a win-win idea.

Re:Good luck and I want the 13th ride up (1)

findoutmoretoday (1475299) | more than 2 years ago | (#39122455)

Forecast for this thread. 56% never gonna happen. 10% certain it will happen. ...

It's never gonna happen, I mean those stats suppose that slashdot stays on topic.

Wow! (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39121805)

How bootyassious! How bootyassious! I can't even stand the bootyassiousness of this!

Great concept except for .... (3, Insightful)

TechnoGrl (322690) | more than 2 years ago | (#39121807)

1. The fact that we don't have the necessary structural materials yet to actually make a space elevator.

        2. Neither Japan nor any Japanese company has the financial solvency to undertake such an effort

        2. No no wants to spend a week in an elevator even if it means you get to go into orbit. Christ I can barely make it to the 15th floor without some jackass farting. A whole week. Don't think so.

        Every so often some company in need of cashflow creates some nonsensical grandiose concept in the hopes of securing ignorant investor funding (See Moller flying cars). And such companies usually have spent the bulk of the cash on P.R. - hence the slashdot article.

        It's bullshit. It's always bullshit.

Counterpoint (5, Insightful)

SuperKendall (25149) | more than 2 years ago | (#39121831)

The fact that we don't have the necessary structural materials yet to actually make a space elevator.

And we'll continue not having them until someone pays to build a space elevator and does the needed research. By 2050 it's not impossible to think materials will be around to make this feasible.

Neither Japan nor any Japanese company has the financial solvency to undertake such an effort

Possibly, hard to say. They put up some really large buildings. They could get a huge loan.

No one wants to spend a week in an elevator even if it means you get to go into orbit.

I would happily pay 20k to go to said stationary station for a few days. Even if it took a week to get there in cramped quarters.

By then there may be a number of cheaper options to visit pace though, Virgin Galactic is making a go at it. I really only want to go up if I can spend a day or two though, so mere flights up and down do not interest me much...

Re:Counterpoint (3, Insightful)

Fusselwurm (1033286) | more than 2 years ago | (#39121921)

By then there may be a number of cheaper options to visit space though, Virgin Galactic is making a go at it.

I dont believe they will ever be cheaper. Also, they're not even reaching low earth orbit yet (at the moment they're scraping 110km or something).

Space elevators on the other hand will go up to geostationary at least (as the summary says: 36000km), and they're far more efficient, I suspect (rocket motor spewing stuff all over the place versus electrical lift running up a tether).

Re:Counterpoint (2)

SuperKendall (25149) | more than 2 years ago | (#39122107)

Space elevators on the other hand will go up to geostationary at least (as the summary says: 36000km), and they're far more efficient, I suspect

I'm sure they are more efficient at getting people up and down (especially with a counterweight) when built, but it seems like they have a ton of up-front debt in terms of materials that have to be lifted up by said rockets to average out with cheaper trips up once it is running...

SpaceX seems to be doing a good job really driving down the rocket motor cost side.

That said I really would prefer a ride up in a space elevator and I hope we have at least one operational by 2050, and ambitious but hopefully not impossible goal.

Re:Counterpoint (4, Insightful)

JasterBobaMereel (1102861) | more than 2 years ago | (#39122395)

Space elevator : Initial cost is very very high but once built the running costs are negligible

Rockets : Initial cost is high but not that high, running costs are high forever, economy of scale will never kick in to any reasonable degree

Once you have built a space elevator, all rocketry for lifting will be obsolete - most of a rocket is there to lift the rocket into orbit not the payload ... a space elevator will be externally powered so will not need to be any heavier than needed to climb the cable ..and you might be able to drive it and fund it with materials coming down (mining the asteroids)

Re:Counterpoint (1)

Surt (22457) | more than 2 years ago | (#39122215)

The burj khalifa (tallest manmade structure) is less than a KM high. It took 5 years to build the exostructure. In some ways, the space elevator will be simpler, in some ways more complex, but assuming they can build it ten times as fast, they only needed to start a few years ago!

Re:Counterpoint (4, Insightful)

TheTurtlesMoves (1442727) | more than 2 years ago | (#39122231)

And we'll continue not having them until someone pays to build a space elevator and does the needed research. By 2050 it's not impossible to think materials will be around to make this feasible.

Not true. The utility of a 63GPa material with the density in the 3000-2000kg/m3 department is so ridiculously awesome that its is indistinguishable from magic compared to today's materials. Think *easy* to build SSTO RV rockets for starters. Even if expensive its just plain awesome. You don't need space elevators for motivation.

However it is not a given such a material is even possible. Bulk material strength is always far less that perfect theoretical strength. There has already been a paper suggesting that SWCN may not be up to the task due to "dislocations".

Also it may not be economical even if you have the material. The same material makes alternatives much cheaper too, such as plain old boring rockets. Or more exotic ideas such as launch loops or tethers.

Finally there is the problem with transit time. If you spend too long in the radiation belts, this is probably the last thing you would do..... A week sounds too slow.

Re:Great concept except for .... (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39122117)

The fact that we don't have the necessary structural materials yet to actually make a space elevator.

We have the materials, just not the means to produce them in the necessary quantities. I'm pretty sure the ancient Egyptians didn't have the necessary materials to build giant stone tombs either, but they built them so large that it took the rest of the world to build something bigger.

Neither Japan nor any Japanese company has the financial solvency to undertake such an effort

Well, if nobody wants to finance something so obviously profitable a few decades in the future then we really need to rethink our economic system, because at this rate, humanity isn't going anywhere in every sense of the word.

No no wants to spend a week in an elevator even if it means you get to go into orbit. Christ I can barely make it to the 15th floor without some jackass farting. A whole week. Don't think so.

Think of it as another form of transport then. Nobody wants to travel for a week, but people have been riding cruise ships on month long trips just fine.

And such companies usually have spent the bulk of the cash on P.R. - hence the slashdot article.

Make no mistake. The primary use of a space elevator is not for amusement. Setting up orbital infrastructure and mining resources in space would skyrocket Earth economy to unimaginable levels. Once we have that set up, we can think of building more of the things, and use knowledge gained in the first one, to improve future designs. As a bonus, building one means we already have the necessary infrastructure to produce the required materials. Somebody is going to make a killing.

Re:Great concept except for .... (5, Insightful)

TheTurtlesMoves (1442727) | more than 2 years ago | (#39122249)

We do not in fact have the materials. No matter how much money you spend you cannot get even a foot of +6GPa strength cable. Not only have we not ever made such a material, but we don't know how yet either. It is a R&D project. It is also not a given that it is even possible.

Re:Great concept except for .... (5, Insightful)

ray_nicov (732928) | more than 2 years ago | (#39122149)

No no wants to spend a week in an elevator even if it means you get to go into orbit. Christ I can barely make it to the 15th floor without some jackass farting. A whole week. Don't think so.

To get from Vladivostok to Moscow on the train you would need 9 days. It used to take a couple of weeks or more. One train carriage carry approximately 30 people and the either share cabins with 3 other travellers or the whole carriage is one big cabin. People used to travel this way all the time before flying started to be an option. I suppose with our iPads etc the journey will be even less difficult

Re:Great concept except for .... (4, Insightful)

AmiMoJo (196126) | more than 2 years ago | (#39122189)

No no wants to spend a week in an elevator even if it means you get to go into orbit.

Cargo doesn't care. One of the main attractions of a space elevator is that you can lift very heavy loads into space very cheaply and at little risk.

Re:Great concept except for .... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39122197)

Elevator could be much bigger, like a train or a steamer, with living, bathing and dining quarters. It's only in the last 40 years that flights of 36hrs have replaced train passages of weeks.

I would gladly spend two weeks on one if I could see the Earth from space for a low cost. Actually, I wouldn't mind saving up for the next forty years for this.

I only wish that this would actually be possible in my lifetime.

Re:Great concept except for .... (1)

Tim C (15259) | more than 2 years ago | (#39122349)

No no wants to spend a week in an elevator even if it means you get to go into orbit.

Are you kidding? Where do I sign up? Besides which while it's an elevator in that it's pulled up a string, it most certainly won't be a 3m-cubed metal box.

Too Expensive, Too Primitive and Too Dangerous (0)

qbitslayer (2567421) | more than 2 years ago | (#39122355)

But then again, so is rocket technology. Pushing stuff out the back (propellant or elevator cable) in order to move forward is lame. We need something better, much better. We are certainly not going to colonize the solar system, let alone the stars and galaxies beyond, with a bunch of cockamamie rockets or space elevators that will never be built. But there is no need to despair. We are on the verge of a breakthrough in physics that will make every current approach to energy production and transportation obsolete.

There is clear evidence that we are swimming in an ocean of clean energy, lots and lots of it. This is a consequence of a reevaluation of our understanding of the causality of motion. It turns out that Aristotle was right to insist that motion is causal. As a result, we are immersed in an immense lattice of energetic particles without which nothing could move. Soon, we'll learn how to exploit the lattice for propulsion and energy production. We'll have vehicles that will move at tremendous speeds and negotiate right angle turns without slowing down and without incurring any damage due to inertial effects. Space elevator? Bleh. Floating sky cities, unlimited clean energy, New York to Beijing in minutes, earth to Mars in hours... That's the future of energy and travel. And it will happen in your lifetime. Click on the link below if you're interested in this new exciting science of motion. You don't understand motion, even if you think you do.

The Problem with Motion [blogspot.com] .

English? (4, Insightful)

zakkie (170306) | more than 2 years ago | (#39121817)

WTF does that last sentence even mean?

Re:English? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39121847)

WTF does that last sentence even mean?

Looks perfectly ok to me... It will take a week, that is, 7 days, to reach 36000 km high position. With group of 30 persons. And this is 1/4 distance of the moon.

Re:English? (5, Informative)

ChatHuant (801522) | more than 2 years ago | (#39121887)

WTF does that last sentence even mean?

It's just the editors being up to their usual standards of quality. The elevator cable doesn't end at the geostationary station (at 36000 km); it continues beyond it for another 60000 km, and terminates in a counterweight. This counterweight is supposed to be positioned 96 THOUSAND kilometers from the surface, hence the mention of the quarter of the distance to the moon.

Re:English? (0)

Barryke (772876) | more than 2 years ago | (#39121945)

Its the metric system. Learn it.

Me gusta (1)

Barryke (772876) | more than 2 years ago | (#39121987)

I only now realize it says 96km. :/

Earth moon distance is 392937km. ChatHaunt said it best: http://science.slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=2685249&cid=39121887 [slashdot.org]

Re:Me gusta (1)

maxwell demon (590494) | more than 2 years ago | (#39122073)

Yeah, it obviously should have been 96 Mm. :-)

Actually I wonder why the standard SI prefix "mega-" is never used on the standard SI unit "meter".

Re:Me gusta (1)

pmontra (738736) | more than 2 years ago | (#39122273)

They teach M to us at school but kilometers are more convenient than meters for long distances so we think about a 1,000 km flight and never think about a 1 Mm one. In all my life I think I used M only for Mega bytes. The common units for distances are mm, cm, m and km. Anything else is used almost only by professionals in their own fields of activity.

Re:Me gusta (1)

maxwell demon (590494) | more than 2 years ago | (#39122359)

I've not even seen "megameter" used by professionals. Actually, the largest metric distance used seems to be "kilometer", used up to distances where the non-SI Astronomical Unit (distance earth-sun), and then later the Parsec (distance at which the earth orbit would be seen at a parallax of one arc second) start being used. For the latter, of course the Mega prefix is used again.

Re:Me gusta (1)

Canazza (1428553) | more than 2 years ago | (#39122451)

Once you hit distances that could best be described using Mm (like say 100,000km) you're probably best using fractions of AU.

Re:English? (1)

maxwell demon (590494) | more than 2 years ago | (#39122055)

Except that in proper metric system, "kph" should be "km/h".

Re:English? (1)

Hermanas (1665329) | more than 2 years ago | (#39121965)

I'm pretty sure they were trying (and failing) to say the following:

It will take a week at 200 km/h for your party of 30 to reach the 36,000-km-high terminal station. Also, the elevator will need a counterweight at a height of 96,000 km, a quarter of the way to the Moon

Re:English? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39121997)

What, you never used Bing to translate Japanese before?

Re:English? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39122299)

What, you never used Bing ...?

Rest of sentence redundant.

Re:English? (1)

1u3hr (530656) | more than 2 years ago | (#39122387)

WTF does that last sentence even mean?

It means read TFA rather than the gibberish that the submitter, and Slashdot "editors" turn out. You'll find out, for instance, that:

"while the counterweight along 96 km high, a quarter of the way to the Moon"

should read:

"while the counterweight extends 96,000 km higher, a quarter of the way to the Moon"

! "world's tallest self-supporting tower " (1)

Fusselwurm (1033286) | more than 2 years ago | (#39121837)

world's tallest self-supporting tower

submitter has it wrong. tfa states that it's ONE OF the tallest, with a meagre 600-odd meters.

Re:! "world's tallest self-supporting tower " (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39122001)

Name one self supporting tower that's taller

Re:! "world's tallest self-supporting tower " (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39122025)

You'd better tell Wikipedia [wikipedia.org] about all those taller towers you know of.

Re:! "world's tallest self-supporting tower " (1)

loufoque (1400831) | more than 2 years ago | (#39122405)

You realize those towers aren't self-supporting, right?

Re:! "world's tallest self-supporting tower " (1)

loufoque (1400831) | more than 2 years ago | (#39122415)

Sorry wrong place in thread...

Is this technically possible right now? (2)

GodfatherofSoul (174979) | more than 2 years ago | (#39121849)

I was under the impression that we didn't have materials with the tension strength to build a space elevator?

Re:Is this technically possible right now? (3, Insightful)

dbIII (701233) | more than 2 years ago | (#39121911)

You are correct. However some dream that the market will provide in some mysterious way without paying materials scientists to find something that will make it technically possible and some engineers that can turn that it a workable design. Then we need an offplanet project big enough so that the huge project of making a beanstalk is worth it.
These stories bring out a lot of clowns that think you can just throw stuff in the air and it won't come down, and reader, if you don't want to be seen as one of those clowns I suggest you look at the wikipedia page on these beanstalks then read and understand the very simple maths and physics before posting. A rotating frame of reference is a bit hard to get used to initially, so get your head around it before posting stuff that anybody with an engineering or physics background here will scoff at as magical thinking.

Tea, Earl Grey, hot. (5, Funny)

Hognoxious (631665) | more than 2 years ago | (#39122163)

It'll be a small matter of downloading the plans from an interweb and running the 3D printer overnight. A long weekend at most.

As for the financial aspects, bitcoin will solve all that.

Re:Is this technically possible right now? (2)

1u3hr (530656) | more than 2 years ago | (#39122401)

These stories bring out a lot of clowns that think you can just throw stuff in the air and it won't come down, and reader, if you don't want to be seen as one of those clowns I suggest you look at the wikipedia page on these beanstalks then read and understand the very simple maths and physics before posting

Actually, you can "you can just throw stuff in the air and it won't come down". That's what an "orbit" is. The beanstalk just connects the ground to the 24 hour orbit at 36000 km. The concept is simple and correct. The problem is making the beanstalk strong and light enough.

Re:Is this technically possible right now? (1)

ShooterNeo (555040) | more than 2 years ago | (#39122141)

We have laboratory samples of the needed materials. They are hard to grow, but are possible in theory.

Now, whether these materials will be PRACTICAL or not is another story. What will happen when they are subjected to constant tensile stress, enough stress to rip through nearly any known substance, 24/7 for a period of years and then decades?

Gundam (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39121859)

This was actually last episode of Gundam.

Return to the moon (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39121913)

How about demonstrating the viability of the space elevator concept by building the first one at a lunar base? Ideally the orbital 'anchor' could be placed a Lagrange point LR1, although escaping the gravity of the moon could be achieved at much lower altitude. Well, this probably won't work since I can't quite come up with a car analogy or express this idea in terms of human hair widths, libraries of congress, etc.

The towering mentalities at Obayashi -- (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39121915)

I think all low and mid altitude satellites would be at risk of colliding with it.

How to install it? (1)

npwa (1017242) | more than 2 years ago | (#39121929)

even when technology is mature enough to manufacture a carbon nanotube cable of this magnitude, how can it be set into the required position? An outline that is confirmed to work once it is built is nice, but I have seen no plan how to actually install it... How does one get started to place the first part of the cable?

Re:How to install it? (1)

MagusSlurpy (592575) | more than 2 years ago | (#39122021)

Build it from the counterweight asteroid placed in geostationary orbit, building down towards its socket on the planetary surface.

Re:How to install it? (1)

Surt (22457) | more than 2 years ago | (#39122279)

Elementary!

(We'll just use our well proven asteroid manufacturing plants. After we park an asteroid in orbit the way we always do. By 2050.)

Re:How to install it? (3, Informative)

dbIII (701233) | more than 2 years ago | (#39122111)

The sanest proposal I've seen is to send a "string" of it up on a reel into geostationary orbit and unwind it outwards and inwards with a highly controlled descent under tension for the portion that descends to earth. I suppose from then the plan is to attach other fibres and move them up in some way until it is strong enough to take full loads.
It's a cool idea but requires a material that does not exist yet fabricated to lengths not yet possible while requiring techniques to get things up the beanstalk that have not yet been developed. However carbon nanotubes, if they prove to be strong enough, are highly conductive so the power for a climber may be able to be delivered from the ground without any weird laser or microwave wireless power advances required.
Anyway, just ignore the "possible now" or "indian rope trick" freaks and enjoy the cool newtonian physics thought experiment while hoping this doesn't create too many scams on the fringes.
Just treat it like cool SF with some real world constraints and a minor bit of handwaving to ignore a few of the more inconvenient real world constaints. Such a massive (pun intended) project needs to be just a tiny fraction of the mass intended to be moved beyond geostationary orbit for it to be worth doing instead of just using rockets. The "indian rope trick" fanboys in paticular forget that a hell of a lot of mass has to be moved up there by rockets in the first place just to get started. Unless we are lucky enough for a relatively small asteroid to sit for long enough at a lagrange point for us to catch it and slow it down enough for it to be used as a counterweight then truly vast amounts of mass have to be accelerated to very high velocities to build a beanstalk. Even with the captive asteroid option that's still ludicrous amounts of fuel to get it to where it can be used.

A quarter of the way to the Moon??? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39121971)

36.000 km is 1/10 of the distance to the moon on a good day...
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moon

Re:A quarter of the way to the Moon??? (1)

maxwell demon (590494) | more than 2 years ago | (#39122085)

The counterweight is 1/4 the distance to the moon. Not the terminal station.

Moon rotation to pull it up (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39121973)

Make cable go all way to moon. Moon's rotation can help elevator pull weight up.

If something go wrong and elevator cable break, only consequence is moon swinging long cable around smashing enemy spacecraft or rogue meteor so help protect Earth from enemy.

300 km is fine (1)

meteormarc (1715840) | more than 2 years ago | (#39121975)

You do not have to go to 36000 km height to have a space experience. The international Space Station orbits at 300 km height and provides us with fantastic pictures. The authors mention the 36000 km height because geostationary satellites are at that height. And, apparently, something big like the terminal staion must be at that height to hold the elevator cable in place.

Re:300 km is fine (1)

maxwell demon (590494) | more than 2 years ago | (#39122131)

Good luck building a 300km high self-sustaining building.

The counterweight must be beyond the geostationary orbit because otherwise your elevator rope would not be stabilized. And if you have to go up there anyways, then why not put a terminal station there?

Well, I know a reason: It is also useful to go beyond, in order to use the sling effect for launching interplanetary space probes, or even just going to the moon.

Not well thought out (3, Informative)

Wolfling1 (1808594) | more than 2 years ago | (#39121993)

Whilst geosynchronous orbit [wikipedia.org] is achieved at about 36,000 Kms, the atmosphere ends [wikipedia.org] at roughly 120kms. Using some kind of rail to continue to elevate the payload will be hideously inefficient outside the atmosphere.

Furthermore, using the term 'elevator' is clearly an attempt to dumb-down the technology (kind of like called a Philosopher's Stone a 'Magic Stone').

Don't have a citation, but I believe that even using carbon nanotubes, the tether cable needs to be about 10 metres thick. This would mean that the project would require some 36 x 10 ^ 8 cubic metres of carbon nanotubes. Idaho Space Materials makes about 50gms per hour - at a cost measured in hundres of $ per gram.

I don't know that this is all practically do-able yet.

Re:Not well thought out (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39122105)

  • If it were that easy to build a space elevator, then we would be talking about making one in 2020, not 2050. The point of the exercise is to clarify exactly which engineering hurdles must be overcome. Nanotubes are very new technology. We still have ~30 years in which to mass produce it.
  • "Elevator" is indeed a slight misnomer in that the there is no external mechanism to pull the car up. The car propels itself on the cable, which makes it more like an electric train that propels itself on a pair of rails. That said, this is hardly a dumbing down of the technology--the word "elevator" accurately conveys the fact that the car is electrically operated on a motor along a piece of cable. What is your beef?
  • Please do propose an alternative method to elevate the payload once you get outside of atmosphere that is less "horribly inefficient" than space elevator. The only other proven method known to humanity is chemical rocket, which is orders of magnitude less efficient than electric rail because the rocket requires you to carry the propellant with you, whereas with the rail system the rail delivers the electricity to you.

Critical (1)

burisch_research (1095299) | more than 2 years ago | (#39122005)

If we're ever to permanently escape the cradle of humanity, this is the way to do it. I'm just disappointed that they're setting their target date 28 years in the future!

There will be nay-sayers, of course -- "It can't be done" "It will be too expensive" etc... but I believe that once we actually get down to accomplishing this, it will turn out to be both easier and cheaper than we expect. And, of course, once we have ONE elevator, putting up new ones will be much quicker & cheaper than putting up the first one.

Then I can finally move to L5!! ("Home on Lagrange" : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Home_on_Lagrange_(The_L5_Song)) [wikipedia.org]

Re:Critical (1)

ShooterNeo (555040) | more than 2 years ago | (#39122183)

See my post. From day 1, another way looks like it is a LOT cheaper and easier, both per launch and overall. Google for "ablative laser propulsion" : like a space elevator, but with more lasers, and no cable.

Re:Critical (2)

Surt (22457) | more than 2 years ago | (#39122283)

I hate to break it to you, but 50-12 is frequently 38, not 28.

Does anyone feel that this is a good concept? (4, Interesting)

ShooterNeo (555040) | more than 2 years ago | (#39122019)

Look, ultimately you can't know if a technology is a good idea without actually building the tech, full scale, and spending the time and money to create revised versions to fix the major problems.

After you do that, some technologies are still a dog, no matter how you try to hide it. Nuclear power is an instance of that : sure it works, but the risk of catastrophe overshadows everything, and means that if you try to build and run a reactor everything costs too much because of the dangers. In the long run, nuclear is not feasible because other technologies will keep getting cheaper.

I feel a space elevator is a dog for a similar fundamental reason : there's one 36,000 km high structure.

Any serious failure to a manufacturing defect along 36,000 km of cable, and you lose every last dime invested in the project. (not to mention the falling cable might cause some nasty problems). If someone ever wants to attack a space elevator, it's a perfect terrorism target. One homemade cruise missile (in 2050, I suspect making a cruise missile won't be much harder than RC airplanes are today. Heck, some garage tinkerers already have done similar projects) and the ENTIRE elevator falls.

Not to mention laser fire, railgun fire, bad weather, etc etc. There's a lot of things and it only has to fail at one point.

Furthermore, you have to complete the elevator project before it is worth anything. Invest all that money to FINISH the cable, you can't get incremental results. And this multi-billion dollar structure (realistically probably hundreds of billions) has a rather limited cargo capacity : one load of passengers a week is NOT a rapid movement to space.

So, no. It's an idea that has somehow gained traction, but it is most likely a non-starter.

I propose a much simpler idea : rather than use lasers on the ground to transmit power to the elevator climber car, scale up those laser arrays a few orders of magnitude to the point that they can vaporize propellant off the bottom of the spacecraft. Pulse the beams right, and planar shockwaves will be created, giving net thrust without any kind of nozzle.

Advantages :
    1. Ablative Laser propulsion doesn't require anything in the spacecraft in the way of aerospace hardware but a small instrument package to report attitude and accelerations back to the ground. Gyroscopes for stabilization would be nice, but not essential.
2. If a laser module on the ground fails or wears out, the launch continues..10 or 50% redundancy is entirely feasible.
3. You can do one launch every few minutes, assuming you use LED diode pumped fiber optic lasers, and have sufficient cooling capacity to remove the waste heat and sufficient power generation. That could be a metric ton or so to orbit every 15 minutes, 24/7, 7 days a week.
4. You do 1000 or 10,000 unmanned cargo launches before you send the first man up in a spacecraft identical to the one used for cargo (well, with life support inside, but identical flight hardware). This kind of sampling size allows you to honestly evaluate the safety of the system. In the event of a problem, you turn the beam off instantly and deploy parachutes. (such as beam heating of the side walls or something). No rocket to explode.
5. Each spacecraft will be extremely cheap, just a block of an inert solid bolted to the bottom, and a small instrument package (an iphone has all the circuitry needed, although of course you would use more sensitive accelerometers) and a radio. Obviously, some kind of orbital maneuvering system is also needed, but you can get to orbit without it.

Disadvantages :

1. Reflected beams from the lasers might cause problems for observers on the ground. Might have to create a large exclusion zone around the launch site, with air travel forbidden in a large radius. Not a big deal, tons of places in the Arizona desert. Still, with so many people involved, it seems likely a few people would be blinded if the lasers used were visible light.
2. It would require tens of thousands of dollars of electric power for every launch. Meaning, a ticket to space would still cost tens of thousands of dollars just to launch the capsule + life support for yourself, plus supply capsules. Even though this technology would make it orders of magnitude cheaper than anything we have now, it would still be too expensive for a member of the middle class to routinely go to space.
3. If the laser array fails or has to be shut down RIGHT after lift off, the capsule will be moving too slowly for parachutes to work, and so it would plummet to the ground and kill passengers. One proposal is to use a simple steam catapault to launch the capsule vertically at a high enough velocity that parachutes can be used. Then, if anything goes wrong, you turn off the lasers and deploy chutes.
4. A cost effective system won't launch more than 1000 or so kilograms of payload per launch. You get the volume by doing many launches. This means that astronauts have to be launched one at a time in separate spacecraft that rendevouz in orbit. Large satellites have to be sent as several separate modules. In a few cases, this could pose a problem that cannot be easily solved, for instance spy satellites need a single mirror that may weigh more than 1000 kg alone.

With that said, the cost estimates I have seen say that for a mere 200 billion or so, at current prices, enough lasers could be bought to launch a space-shuttle load every launch.

Anyways, space elevators aren't ever going to be built, if a superior alternative like this is feasible.

Re:Does anyone feel that this is a good concept? (2)

maxwell demon (590494) | more than 2 years ago | (#39122225)

One homemade cruise missile (in 2050, I suspect making a cruise missile won't be much harder than RC airplanes are today. Heck, some garage tinkerers already have done similar projects) and the ENTIRE elevator falls.

Why a cruise missile? I think a small remote-controlled toy plane with a little bit of explosive on it would probably suffice. Remote control might be via satellite internet.

Re:Does anyone feel that this is a good concept? (3, Insightful)

ShooterNeo (555040) | more than 2 years ago | (#39122275)

Fair enough. Basically, the cable is always going to be stressed to a large percentage of maximum loading. It will also be made of carbon, which is flammable. I suspect that many kinds of weaponry could cause just enough damage to cause it to unravel and fail in short order. An incendiary charge placed against the side of the cable with a swarm of R/C helicopters might work just as well.

In any case, it's the ultimate in single point failure. Yes, you can attempt to secure the cable with missile defenses and other weaponry, as well as elaborate security checks of everyone allowed near it. I just can't see such an effort working when it's so trivial to actually destroy the cable, however.

Even a few 20mm rifle rounds in the same spot might be all it takes.

More Detailed Article. . . (4, Informative)

MagusSlurpy (592575) | more than 2 years ago | (#39122037)

. . . is located here [mainichi.jp] . It includes a bit more about the proposed construction, starting date, and other interesting bits.

96 km DANGER ZONE (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39122157)

Where ever they build the land-based part, I'd not go within 96km of that location.

When/if the cable falls, it won't be good.

Re:96 km DANGER ZONE (1)

maxwell demon (590494) | more than 2 years ago | (#39122255)

Why 96km?

Re:96 km DANGER ZONE (1)

1u3hr (530656) | more than 2 years ago | (#39122427)

RTFA

Passage to geosynchronous orbit (2)

fotoguzzi (230256) | more than 2 years ago | (#39122165)

Great destination! The view never changes! Sun rises and sets once per day; just like home!

Wrecking Skylines? (4, Informative)

KeithIrwin (243301) | more than 2 years ago | (#39122241)

Really? With the train station in Kyoto? Seriously? I've been there, both in the train station and in the surrounding area. It's big, but it's not exactly skyline wrecking unless you happen to live in an apartment which directly faces it. There are plenty of other buildings nearby which are close to the same height and once you get about two blocks away, you can't even see it from the street. If you don't believe me, here's a picture [obayashi.co.jp] from above which shows the surrounding area. Plenty of other 8+ story buildings in the area. Here's a view [tripadvisor.com] from the top of the hotel in the train station. What skyline is it that they're destroying exactly?

Kyoto is a lovely city. It has myriad beautiful temples and gardens and the nearby country-side is lovely. People flock to it to see the cherry trees when they are in bloom. But none of these things are very tall. Most of the famous temples aren't even visible when you're half a block away from them, nevermind part of the skyline. It does not now have an impressive skyline and if it ever did, it must have been centuries ago, and although the train station big enough to be clearly visible for a couple of blocks around, it's not exactly a sky-scraper. Honestly, its width and shininess stand out as much as its height. So, if the person writing the article thinks that the Kyoto train station (which has far more non-shinkansen platforms than shinkansen platforms) is too big or too shiny, then fine, but saying that it wrecks the skyline is just dumb.

Obayashi Maru (1)

jprupp (697660) | more than 2 years ago | (#39122267)

The elevator has 150 people trapped in it, and your ship gets a distress call. You go to the rescue, and five Klingon ships appear from nowhere and start firing proton missiles at you. What do you do?

Re:Obayashi Maru (1)

a_hanso (1891616) | more than 2 years ago | (#39122367)

+1 For beating me to it.

Answer: Alert sickbay to prepare to receive all crew members aboard the elevator.

Not a chance in hell. (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39122293)

Without substantial advancements in material research, this cannot happen. No current or upcoming material exists that can withstand the extreme shear forces that would be exerted on a space elevator.

Space elevators are currently the realm of science fiction, and will likely remain so even in 2050. If we had the technology and materials to build it right now, a 2050 completion would still be unlikely. And we have neither the tech nor the materials.

Re:Not a chance in hell. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39122423)

Oh the shear forces may be beatable.

Monotomic oxygen - probably not. There may not be a lot of atmosphere at altitude but what there is is ferocously reactive.

Where will they build it? (3, Interesting)

Chrisq (894406) | more than 2 years ago | (#39122411)

My understanding is that it will have to be the equator, which gives them a choice of [infoplease.com] Ecuador, Colombia, Brazil, Sao Tome & Principe, Gabon, Republic of the Congo, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda, Kenya, Somalia, Maldives, Indonesia and Kiribati. Or maybe they're going to build an artificial island and port, I would imagine that's child's play compared to the elevator itself.

Fire escape stairway (4, Funny)

flyingfsck (986395) | more than 2 years ago | (#39122471)

Imagine the fire escape. How long will it take to walk up/down in a space suit?
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