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Report: Space Elevators Are Feasible

Soulskill posted about 7 months ago | from the i'll-order-a-dozen dept.

Space 374

Daniel_Stuckey writes "It's the scourge of futurists everywhere: The space elevator can't seem to shake its image as something that's just ridiculous, laughed off as the stuff of sci-fi novels and overactive imaginations. But there are plenty of scientists who take the idea quite seriously, and they're trying to buck that perception. To that end, a diverse group of experts at the behest of the International Academy of Astronautics completed an impressively thorough study this month on whether building a space elevator is doable. Their resulting report, 'Space Elevators: An Assessment of the Technological Feasibility and the Way Forward,' found that, in a nutshell, such a contraption is both totally feasible and a really smart idea. And they laid out a 300-page roadmap detailing how to make it happen."

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Flying pigs (0, Troll)

arisvega (1414195) | about 7 months ago | (#46342685)

Flying pigs are also doable.

That does not mean that they are a good idea, or that they are easy to make.

Re:Flying pigs (5, Interesting)

Firethorn (177587) | about 7 months ago | (#46342723)

As bigjarom mentioned, what's holding us back right now from cheap lift via skyhook is that we haven't quite gotten our carbon nanotube strength up high enough. It's theoretically quite possible.

After that, it's just a question of how do we get enough materials and probably some sort of ribbon* making facility into GEO to actually do the laying. One idea I have is that rather than having to ship all materials to GEO, only to drop it towards the earth, you have a descending constructor that you supply. Though the orbital mechanics of resupplying it can get quite hairy...

*Modern design philosophies has the cable being more of a flat ribbon than circular.

Re:Flying pigs (1)

goombah99 (560566) | about 7 months ago | (#46342749)

they have a young scientist named Peter Parker working on it.

Re:Flying pigs (0)

gIobaljustin (3526197) | about 7 months ago | (#46342851)

That might be the case, but it might also not be the case.

Re:Flying pigs (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46343291)

Oh you mean the Good Doctor Parker!
I heard a rumour in the FAS backoffice that 250 pages of the roadmap were plagiarized from his research, and he may well be re-assigned.
Apparently the Good Secretary Kerry has a position available for him to doctor-up the Palestine Roadmap. It`s expected that the development of Palestinian fundamental infrastructure, provided no further obstructions by the Israelis, could commence next week and have a National Thouroughfare (highway network), State-water-and electrics, and an independent National Central Bank before next spring. GDP would rise by a minum of 35% this year, and in 2-3 years exponentially. That is, provided, the israelis and aipac do not continue to interfere and violate the Palestinian Struggle to join the league of nations.

FAS is not unaffected by aipac, however not listed as a foreign agency

Re:Flying pigs (1)

lazy genes (741633) | about 7 months ago | (#46343067)

If it was feasible, ancient aliens would have built one.

Re:Flying pigs (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46343399)

What do you think the pyramids were for?

Re:Flying pigs (1)

macson_g (1551397) | about 7 months ago | (#46343413)

What do you think pyramids are foundations for?

Re:Flying pigs (1)

YoungManKlaus (2773165) | about 7 months ago | (#46343251)

Actually, its very easy to make (though depending on your definition of "flying pigs" and if the pig has to be alive in the end; i.e. can we use a cannon or a plain or does the pig have to do its own thing) and might have some good uses.

Why would it be infeasable? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46342689)

The main thing stopping us is funding and lack of materials of the right tensile strength.

Re:Why would it be infeasable? (5, Funny)

fustakrakich (1673220) | about 7 months ago | (#46342707)

Yeah, the plastic they use for retail packaging should be strong enough.

Re:Why would it be infeasable? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46342825)

Problem is that plastic's extremely porous and fragile until it gets to its actual destination. And since the Elevator is effectively always in transit....

Re:Why would it be infeasable? (3, Funny)

Cryacin (657549) | about 7 months ago | (#46342893)

Problem is that plastic's extremely porous and fragile until it gets to its actual destination. And since the Elevator is effectively always in transit....

I believe the plastic in question is the kind of plastic that semi-permanently entombs your purchase in a chrysalis so touch that you need a diamond tipped super electro buzzsaw or a weapons grade baloneyum industrial laser to burn through it.

BestBuy packaging - toughest stuff known to man.

Re: Why would it be infeasable? (5, Interesting)

AudioEfex (637163) | about 7 months ago | (#46342929)

And the desire of anyone with the ability or funds to do it to go to space regularly enough to need it. When I think back to being a kid and how space felt like the future, it makes me sad that typically it seems like no one besides researchers gives a shit anymore. I used to watch Star Trek and knew it wouldn't happen in my lifetime but it felt like that was the eventual goal and the direction we were heading in. Now I see it as the fantasy it is, because without some compelling financial gain in taking trips up there for anything besides tourism for the super-rich, I think we are going to stay stuck on this rock.

Re: Why would it be infeasable? (3, Funny)

no1nose (993082) | about 7 months ago | (#46342983)

My kingdom for mod points. This is sad but true. If we do ever leave it will be to mine unobtanium like in the movie Avatar, not to further mankind in general.

Picard tries to explain to Ralph Offenhouse from the 20th century that there would be no need for his law firm any longer: "A lot has changed in three hundred years. People are no longer obsessed with the accumulation of 'things'. We have eliminated hunger, want, the need for possessions." (TNG: "The Neutral Zone") - http://en.memory-alpha.org/wik... [memory-alpha.org]

Re: Why would it be infeasable? (5, Interesting)

asmkm22 (1902712) | about 7 months ago | (#46343069)

Financial gain may be the most likely reason for advancement now, but it won't take more than another 50 to 100 years for it to become a necessity due to any combination of pollution, population, warfare, and resource depletion. Humans have always been really crappy at innovating unless we absolutely have to. When we aren't faced with some kind of crisis, we tend to get really good at perfecting known technologies and ideas, but that's about it.

So yeah, space exploration is pretty much out of the question as long as people (both investors and consumers) are more interested in mobile phone games and reality TV. As soon as shit hits the fan again -- and it will -- we'll see another big leap in advancement.

The super-rich are just paying to be first ... (2)

perpenso (1613749) | about 7 months ago | (#46343149)

The super-rich are not the only potential market, people of modest means engage in tourism as well. All the super-rich are doing is helping to pay for the necessary r&d and initial infrastructure. Costs will come down with improved technology and greater experience. Even **IF** tourism was the only potential space industry there would still be a potential market of millions of travelers. Its just a matter of time as costs work their way down the willingness-to-pay curve.

That said, I do not believe the commercial utility of space is limited to tourism. And whether we are dealing with tourism, scientific research or industrial application there will be a point where getting the resources locally will make more economic sense than lifting the resources from earth. That will open up even more commercialization of space.

Re: Why would it be infeasable? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46343189)

Maybe you didn't realize it at the time, but in Star Trek the only people going to space were scientists, politicians or the military. And only a handful of them. The bulk (99.9999%?) of the population was stuck in their native rocks, even in the utopian world of Star Trek.

Re: Why would it be infeasable? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46343209)

Everything seems doable as a kid.

Re: Why would it be infeasable? (1)

Jane Q. Public (1010737) | about 7 months ago | (#46343253)

"Now I see it as the fantasy it is, because without some compelling financial gain in taking trips up there for anything besides tourism for the super-rich, I think we are going to stay stuck on this rock."

What a silly thing to say.

There are already real commercial proposals to mine the moon. There are also private, commercial proposals to mine asteroids. Sure, neither one will happen tomorrow but the important thing is that it's beginning to look feasible.

Further, just because Obama is myopic and wants to ignore the moon, that doesn't mean other nations are. Which is just yet another strike against him. Get a President with a head on his shoulders in office, and maybe we'll be back there within a few years.

Re: Why would it be infeasable? (2)

captainpanic (1173915) | about 7 months ago | (#46343389)

And the desire of anyone with the ability or funds to do it to go to space regularly enough to need it.

It's like proposing to the East India Company to build a modern mammoth tanker. They would not understand why anyone would want to transport such quantities of material across the ocean. You can't really blame people for not having a clear vision of the future though.

When I think back to being a kid and how space felt like the future, it makes me sad that typically it seems like no one besides researchers gives a shit anymore. I used to watch Star Trek and knew it wouldn't happen in my lifetime but it felt like that was the eventual goal and the direction we were heading in. Now I see it as the fantasy it is, because without some compelling financial gain in taking trips up there for anything besides tourism for the super-rich, I think we are going to stay stuck on this rock.

I disagree.
Firstly, we have some exciting missions to planetoids. Pluto and Ceres are about to be visited (spacecraft is already on its way).
Secondly, the ISS is a great success of global cooperation. And now it is being supplied by commercial parties, at lower cost than ever. And the fact that it's up there (it's huge in comparison to anything else we've put in space) is a sign we're moving forward.
And then the Chinese are breathing down the necks of Western space agencies, and catching up quickly. Thereby ensuring that we don't get lazy.

And finally, I really believe that this idiotic Mars One program can be a success. The global budget for advertising is simply insane, and if they would only capture 1% of the advertising money, they can totally build a Mars mission. It needs to gain popularity, but in this modern age, that is not rocket science.

Sure, the massive budgets of the golden days of the space race are over. It's all a bit more sensible now. Until the entertainment industry steps in!

Money, politics - tech is the least problem (2)

petes_PoV (912422) | about 7 months ago | (#46343437)

the desire of anyone with the ability or funds to do it to go to space

Not only the desire to go, but some destinations ("space" is not a place) are necessary, too. I would expect that the main use of this device would be for freight, not people. For a start the safety requirements are much less stringent (apart from if it collapses on top of people) and therefore the implementation costs would be less.

There's also the little matter of geography. A space elevator would have to be built on or near to the equator. At present none of the equatorial countries have the will, means or need to build one. In the past the imperial powers have created global infrastructure, but there are no more imperial powers and there is not sufficient political stability for others to want to risk 10's or 100's of trillions of <insert name of preferred currency here> in some tropical location outside of their control.

Re:Why would it be infeasable? (1)

YoungManKlaus (2773165) | about 7 months ago | (#46343261)

afaik this is getting fixed as we speak. eg. for carbon nanotubes there is some minimum length to make using them feasible (because you have to knot a whole lot of them together), and these lengths were first reached around a year ago or so iirc (according to the the awesome german space-blog "raumzeit")

Arthur C. Clarke introduced me to space elevators (5, Informative)

bigjarom (950328) | about 7 months ago | (#46342697)

For anyone interested in the concept of the space elevator, The Fountains of Paradise (1979 Novel) by Arthur C. Clarke, is a must-read!
It's a very well-written novel that focuses on many of the technical aspects of building a space elevator.

Re:Arthur C. Clarke introduced me to space elevato (-1, Flamebait)

icebike (68054) | about 7 months ago | (#46342739)

Or, just read the linked report by a team of ACTUAL scientists instead of a SCIENCE FICTION story written 35 years ago.

Re:Arthur C. Clarke introduced me to space elevato (2, Informative)

phantomfive (622387) | about 7 months ago | (#46342791)

Or, just read the linked report by a team of ACTUAL scientists instead of a SCIENCE FICTION story written 35 years ago.

You can't, unless you want to pay for it.

Re:Arthur C. Clarke introduced me to space elevato (0)

icebike (68054) | about 7 months ago | (#46342805)

Yeah, a whole 10 bucks for the Kindle version.

Re:Arthur C. Clarke introduced me to space elevato (0)

phantomfive (622387) | about 7 months ago | (#46342849)

Have you read it? Let me know if it's any good. To me, it just looks like a scam to get people's money.

Re: Arthur C. Clarke introduced me to space elevat (1)

AudioEfex (637163) | about 7 months ago | (#46342933)

You are confusing a space elevator with BitCoin.

Re:Arthur C. Clarke introduced me to space elevato (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46343155)

Have you read it? Let me know if it's any good. To me, it just looks like a scam to get people's money.

No money involved, they give it away for free if you know where to look:
http://www.virginiaedition.com/media/spaceelevators.pdf

Archived here:
http://www8.zippyshare.com/v/72888832/file.html
http://www.sendspace.com/file/16c8xj
http://wikisend.com/download/118300/spaceelevators.pdf

Re:Arthur C. Clarke introduced me to space elevato (4, Funny)

Bite The Pillow (3087109) | about 7 months ago | (#46342971)

Clarke had 256 pages and apparently conveyed the general ideas. Paying for 300 pages seems like a stupid thing to do if you want a general idea.

If they cannot communicate how it is feasible in an elevator speech, I don't expect to learn much in the manifesto.

3 pages has sufficed to explain the Higgs (excluding cartoons); I expect to understand the space elevator, in big boy words, in 2 or less. Anything else is hiding something, or so poorly written it cannot be trusted.

Superfluous vocabulary is ostensibly a plausible alternative, however a great many potential readers may find themselves sidetracked by such unnecessary verbosity. As such, I have expectations of a concise manner of thought conveyance as would be warranted by the writers. Vis a vis- said writer probabilistically desires their audience foremost not fall immediately into slumber.

Re:Arthur C. Clarke introduced me to space elevato (2)

icebike (68054) | about 7 months ago | (#46343033)

Well you might also remember that Clark predicted FTL drive in your rush to find a pedestal tall enough.

And maybe you should actually READ the study before dismissing it because it has too many big words.?

Oh, wait, this is Slashdot, we don't do that, do we.

Re:Arthur C. Clarke introduced me to space elevato (2)

blackraven14250 (902843) | about 7 months ago | (#46343197)

I almost feel bad whooshing someone with a 5 digit ID. Almost.

Re:Arthur C. Clarke introduced me to space elevato (1)

icebike (68054) | about 7 months ago | (#46343329)

And thus another duplicate ID is outed.

Re:Arthur C. Clarke introduced me to space elevato (1)

Jane Q. Public (1010737) | about 7 months ago | (#46343243)

"You can't, unless you want to pay for it."

And quite a bit. Around $30 is a lot for a "report".

Makes me think this is yet another attempt to sneak in an ad disguised as a discussion piece. We've been seeing an awful lot of those lately.

Re:Arthur C. Clarke introduced me to space elevato (4, Informative)

phantomfive (622387) | about 7 months ago | (#46343301)

Someone found a free copy of the report [virginiaedition.com] . Enjoy.

Re:Arthur C. Clarke introduced me to space elevato (1)

Platinumrat (1166135) | about 7 months ago | (#46343373)

Arthur C. Clarke was actually a scientist who wrote science fiction. The actual bulk of his work was science education.

Re:Arthur C. Clarke introduced me to space elevato (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46342811)

I assume you are NOT denigrating SCIENCE FICTION, but just to be sure, I will point out that Clarke also wrote about using geosynchronous communication satellites long before anybody had launched one.

Re:Arthur C. Clarke introduced me to space elevato (4, Informative)

macraig (621737) | about 7 months ago | (#46342943)

Or, just read the linked report by a team of ACTUAL scientists instead of a SCIENCE FICTION story written 35 years ago BY AN ACTUAL SCIENTIST.

FTFY.

The Beta (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46342699)

Dripped from Alice Hill's sweet pussy when she came one night sometime ago.

Arthur C. Clarke said it best (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46342701)

"It will happen - probably about 50 years after everybody quits laughing"

Re: Arthur C. Clarke said it best (1)

Nodsnarb (2851527) | about 7 months ago | (#46342765)

Ha! Ha! (Damn!)

Plenty of scientists (1)

Buck Feta (3531099) | about 7 months ago | (#46342705)

Perhaps it is true that "plenty of scientists take the idea seriously" - but the summary links to a book commissioned by the International Space Elevator Consortium.

Re:Plenty of scientists (1, Interesting)

phantomfive (622387) | about 7 months ago | (#46342735)

And as far as I can tell, it costs $9.95 to even look at their ideas. I'm going to hypothesize this isn't worth taking seriously.

Which is really too bad. I was looking forward to seeing how they would handle the problem of harmonic resonance in the cable, and wind blowing the cable, and cable breakage (which would be a matter of when, not if), and what technique they were proposing to get the cable up there in the first place.

Re:Plenty of scientists (1)

Wolfrider (856) | about 7 months ago | (#46343423)

--I would love to see a space elevator happen in my lifetime, but I'm also concerned about terroristic threats. All it takes is a few maniacs to decide they're willing to fly some planes into the cable, or bombing the base of it. Vidgame Halo 3 had a few scenes where the space cable had come down after a Covenant attack and debris was lying all over the landscape for miles. What kinds of safeguards do you put in place for contingencies?

Re:Plenty of scientists (1)

icebike (68054) | about 7 months ago | (#46342769)

Perhaps it is true that "plenty of scientists take the idea seriously" - but the summary links to a book commissioned by the International Space Elevator Consortium.

Well to be fair, it says:
This study was conducted under the auspices of the International Academy of Astronautics (IAA) and benefited from review and comments by numerous members of the Academy, as well as the International Space Elevator Consortium.

I've never heard of this IAA, but the wiki page says they have been around since 1960:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I... [wikipedia.org]

Rockets won't be loved at (1)

billyswong (1858858) | about 7 months ago | (#46342729)

How else are you to land and/or launch from a new planet/moon? We still need rockets. Unless stargate

Re:Rockets won't be loved at (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46342903)

How else are you to land and/or launch from a new planet/moon?
We still need rockets. Unless stargate

How much volume does the ribbon/cable part of the space elevator have to take and can it be folded or rolled up? If the volume is manageable and it can be fit into a nice shape for transportation it seems like it would be feasible for all spaces elevators after the first to be designed to be deployed from space. All future landings could then use these deployable space elevators to land on and return from the surface of planets and moons. No rockets needed.

Some complicated math would need to be done to keep a deploying elevator in a relatively stable orbit until it's anchored and the line is taught, but we'll need something for all the former rocket scientists to do anyways.

Great (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46342733)

The elevators in my building are slow and get stuck once a week. I can just imagine getting stuck on the 1,200 floor. No thanks.

Laughable what? (5, Insightful)

Rosco P. Coltrane (209368) | about 7 months ago | (#46342741)

It's the scourge of futurists everywhere: The space elevator can't seem to shake its image as something that's just ridiculous, laughed off as the stuff of sci-fi novels and overactive imaginations.

I've first heard of space elevators decades ago, and not once have I read or heard anyone saying it's a ridiculous or laughable idea. All I've heard is that it'd be a really great, smart and economical way to access space, if only a strong and light material could be found to prevent the cable from being several miles across in diameter at the base and collapse under its own weight. Where did the story's submitter get that from?

Re:Laughable what? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46343265)

> not once have I read or heard anyone saying it's a ridiculous or laughable idea.

So you're a liar. Way to start.
It's a ridiculous and laughable idea, even today.

> if only a strong and light material could be found

You mean, exists. The problems are not theorizing what materials, but putting it into practice beyond the simple calculations for it existing. Diameter is the least of your problems, since it's an algebra problem countless engineers have worked out. Congrats. Maintenance is the start of the rabbit hole.

"Feasible" doesn't necessarily mean "Advisable". (4, Insightful)

hey! (33014) | about 7 months ago | (#46342755)

One of the things I don't see discussed much is the potential failure modes for such a system.

My wife is a physical oceanographer, and one of the failure modes for instruments deployed on cables from a ship is a 'wuzzle' -- a large tangle of steel cable. Given the nature of the stuff, a length of cable that fits nicely in a spool on deck can twist itself into a knot larger than the ship.

So one thing I'd like to know is what are the potential hazards a couple thousand miles of elevator cable falling to the Earth's surface? Could we end up with tangles miles in diameter?

I think a space elevator is a great idea if it's feasible, provided that in the criteria for "feasible" we include being prepared for the conceivable ways the project could fail.

Re:"Feasible" doesn't necessarily mean "Advisable" (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46342835)

Like maybe one of those unexpected asteroids or meteors happening by ... ?

Re:"Feasible" doesn't necessarily mean "Advisable" (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46342837)

Awesome point. I recall calculating the tensile strength required as a project assignment in mechanical engineering undergrad 20 years ago, but do not recall discussing how to deal with the fallout of failed attempts.

Now just wondering, at a certain point, would the tangle fall up? Presumably the cable is in tension once set up.

http://xkcd.com/697/

Re:"Feasible" doesn't necessarily mean "Advisable" (2)

Harlequin80 (1671040) | about 7 months ago | (#46342909)

If the break is below the half-way point it will go up if the break is above the half-way point it would come down.

Also the process that seems to most likely for construction would be to deploy from the mid point of the cable and then spool in both directions at once. This way the overall forces remain in balance.

Also everything I have read about planned space elevators has it based in the middle of an ocean. This allows some movement if necessary to avoid something large in space but also gives some safety in the event of a failure. If the cable broke below the mid point controlled explosions all the way along the cable would reduce most of the damage with the a large % of the resultant bits burning up in the atmosphere or landing in the ocean. It would probably be much worse for things in orbit than things on the ground.

Taking space elevators to their logical conclusion though would see them being the bases of super towers that reach into space. The cables end up being the foundation supports of the tower.

Re:"Feasible" doesn't necessarily mean "Advisable" (-1)

Chas (5144) | about 7 months ago | (#46342985)

Yeah, if you want a materials strength nightmare, forget about the elevator cable.
Think about a foundation strong enough to withstand the pressures of a 100-200 mile high tower pressing down.
Now think about whether the bedrock UNDERNEATH that foundation is going to be able to support that...
Now think about the earthquakes that much pressure on the Earth's crust and mantle are going to set off (and hopefully the foundation is resilient enough to handle THAT too!

Oh wait! Lemme get my unobtainium!

weight of elevator is pulling up, not pushing down (3, Interesting)

SethJohnson (112166) | about 7 months ago | (#46343061)

Think about a foundation strong enough to withstand the pressures of a 100-200 mile high tower pressing down.

Connected to a platform in space, the mass of the platform is to spin with the Earth's rotation. Centrifugal force is actually pulling on the elevator 'cable'.

Re:"Feasible" doesn't necessarily mean "Advisable" (2)

Absolutely.Geek (2913529) | about 7 months ago | (#46343169)

If engineered correctly, the total force applied at ground level could be "up" rather then "down".

Re:"Feasible" doesn't necessarily mean "Advisable" (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46343199)

The concept is to hang the cable from space, not build up.

Re:"Feasible" doesn't necessarily mean "Advisable" (3, Informative)

drinkypoo (153816) | about 7 months ago | (#46343283)

Yeah, if you want a materials strength nightmare, forget about the elevator cable.
Think about a foundation strong enough to withstand the pressures of a 100-200 mile high tower pressing down.

Why don't you think about familiarizing yourself with the concepts behind the space elevator? There won't be anything like that. The end of the cable "floats" in the receptacle. It hangs from its anchor asteroid.

Oh wait! Lemme get my unobtainium!

Why don't you instead get a quick education in the topic we're discussing before you flap your yap?

Re:"Feasible" doesn't necessarily mean "Advisable" (1)

dbIII (701233) | about 7 months ago | (#46343427)

Easy - you have it pulling up.
Then you have a different nightmare :)

People who live within a few hundred kilometres had better not be scared of spiders.

Re:"Feasible" doesn't necessarily mean "Advisable" (1)

spitzak (4019) | about 7 months ago | (#46342997)

I believe everything below the break point will fall to the ground and also in a path that wraps around the earth. Everything above will go up and stop at a new higher equilibrium point, still straight and under tension.

Re:"Feasible" doesn't necessarily mean "Advisable" (1)

dbIII (701233) | about 7 months ago | (#46343415)

Not so simple. Gravity varies with distance along the length of the beanstalk. Also whether it snaps in two unequal lengths or fragments depends on a few things. Being designed to fragment and burn up (like your suggestion) sounds like a good idea, and it's likely without explosives since there's not likely to be any room for overdesign. Large stresses from other then the direction it's designed to take it are going to rip things apart if it's something like carbon nanotubes.

Spoiler for "Red Mars" by Kim Stanley Robinson (2)

Michael Woodhams (112247) | about 7 months ago | (#46342841)

In the above book, a Martian space elevator fails (more specifically, is induced to fail by the deliberate application of high explosives.) The result is highly destructive. The Martian equator is no longer an imaginary line, but rather a prominent physical feature.

Re:Spoiler for "Red Mars" by Kim Stanley Robinson (1)

dargaud (518470) | about 7 months ago | (#46343285)

I've read this excellent book. But the outcome of a failure highly depends on the construction mode. It's more likely that the 'elevator' would look like a thin tape. In case of failure it would be akin to drape falling. No big deal even if there's lots of it, the middle part simply burning up in the atmosphere, the upper part getting in orbit.

Re:"Feasible" doesn't necessarily mean "Advisable" (1)

asmkm22 (1902712) | about 7 months ago | (#46343097)

I don't think these elevators would operate like a normal elevator, where you have cables pulling a structure up, so you wouldn't have to worry about a spool of anything getting tangled. Most designs have the structure actually "crawling" up the cable.

Re:"Feasible" doesn't necessarily mean "Advisable" (1)

phantomfive (622387) | about 7 months ago | (#46343101)

Given the nature of the stuff, a length of cable that fits nicely in a spool on deck can twist itself into a knot larger than the ship.

lol that's kind of hilarious

Re:"Feasible" doesn't necessarily mean "Advisable" (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46343153)

Falling to Earth? Why would it? The elevator itself is in geosynchronous orbit. It won't fall like a tree, or fly away like a kid's balloon. Severing it close to Earth might make a few miles deorbit due to air resistance, but you'd have to read something on space elevators for more details. Literally anything, this question is raised in every discussion I've seen about space elevators because it's the first question most people ask, and I'm certain the linked report discusses this scenerio ad nauseum.

Re:"Feasible" doesn't necessarily mean "Advisable" (1)

phantomfive (622387) | about 7 months ago | (#46343327)

Falling to Earth? Why would it?

Because the cable would break as a result of fatigue from the massive strains placed on it. Seriously, we're talking about a 22,000 mile cable where a single fault could cause the whole thing to come crashing down.

Re:"Feasible" doesn't necessarily mean "Advisable" (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46343157)

Well fuck... we ran out of cable to finish the job

Red Mars (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46343233)

Read Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson.

He describes a scenario in great detail where a space elevator (on Mars, natch) is sabotaged and it falls to the ground. Because of the length of the cable, it winds its way around the planet several times; at first, quite slowly; by the time the end of the cable hits the ground, it's falling at greater than the speed of sound, and causes an impact crater that completely destroys the cable and anything underneath, a kilometres-wide path of destruction around the planet's equator.

It was an amazing passage to read.

Re:"Feasible" doesn't necessarily mean "Advisable" (1)

redback (15527) | about 7 months ago | (#46343287)

In a novel by Frederik Pohl, one of the heechee series, terrorists set off a bomb at the ground terminal of a space elevator and it causes the rope to fall to the ground.

Re:"Feasible" doesn't necessarily mean "Advisable" (2)

dbIII (701233) | about 7 months ago | (#46343379)

One of the things I don't see discussed much is the potential failure modes for such a system.

Probably because it's best modelled as a lot of little chunks each with different gravitational force on them and forces from the elements above and below - and that's not trivial if the thing has a break in it somewhere.

The simplest mode of failure is if the thing is under a huge amount of tension and somebody cuts it off at the base - as in at least one movie. In that case the entire thing flies off into a high orbit (for the counterweight, trailing the ribbon behind it) or escapes entirely. Having a huge amount of tension make sense in keeping it straight, but of course constraints of reality would get in the way if we finally have a real material that comes close to having the right properties for an Earth based space elevator.

No, they're still laughing (0)

DerekLyons (302214) | about 7 months ago | (#46342775)

This basic concept hasn't changed much since Arthur C. Clark's 1979 novel The Fountains of Paradise first popularized the idea of an elevator to spaceâ"though no one took it seriously. Decades later, in 2003, Clarke stated, "The space elevator will be built ten years after they stop laughing ⦠and they have stopped laughing."

If they've stopped laughing, it's only because they stopped paying attention. Otherwise, we're still stuck where we have been for decades - we barely know how to make promising materials at laboratory test quantities, let alone in the kiloton lots that a space elevator will require. Presuming of course that one of the many "promising materials" turns out to actually work, rather than falling by the wayside like so many others. Like fusion power, elevators have been "a decade away, maybe two" for decades.

Re:No, they're still laughing (2)

noh8rz10 (2716597) | about 7 months ago | (#46342815)

i say let's get fusion right first, then invest in SETI programs, then make contact with another intelligent force, then see how they approached the space elevator problem. Then we can apply alien civilization best practices to leap-frog the current space elevator timeline.

Re:No, they're still laughing (2)

dadelbunts (1727498) | about 7 months ago | (#46342877)

SETI as fun as it is seems pretty pointless to me, at least in its current form. I doubt any advanced civilization would use radio communications for more than 200 years. IMO we would be better off looking for other signs, such as Dyson Spheres.

Re:No, they're still laughing (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46343213)

Seems like you are familiar with one overrated part of popular culture and completely whooshed by another.

Re: No, they're still laughing (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46342885)

ETI says "WTF we thought YOU were going to invent the space elevator!"

Re:No, they're still laughing (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46342895)

One would have thought that the odds of SETI succeeding were lower than mankind successfully building a space elevator.

Re:No, they're still laughing (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46343295)

I say we get AI right first. Once we reach the singularity, we can let a computer figure out all those other things.

No, they're not (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46342861)

I just wrote a 300 page document that proves that if I earned 6000000$ an hour, I'd be really rich.

1) 300 pages or 3, it's nonsense either way.

2) 500 authors from the best universities in the world, or 5 college dropouts, it's nonsense.

And yes, space elevators are an utterly ridiculous and completely impractical laughable "technology" that is nothing more than comic-book science.

But wait! Computers got better and my uncle's friend has a 3D printed belt buckle! Well then let me pack my bags for Mars!!!!

This is nothing but Space Nuttery, and I eagerly await the impotent howls of protest about the "species" and the "eggs in one basket" and "the Death asteroid" from the pasty, friendless, nostalgia-fueled geeks that cling to '70s space propaganda like a drowning man clings to a 2x4 in the Pacific.

Look, we can't even get fusion power to work a half century after we built fusion bombs. You loons haven't even built an upper atmosphere elevator and you're already sending out the purchase orders for unobtainium from Utopia Planitia Shipyards????

Re:No, they're not (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46343095)

upper atmosphere elevator

I get the impression that you don't quite understand how a space elevator would work.

Re:No, they're not (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46343293)

I think you wooshed by the prerequisite.

Re:No, they're not (1)

black3d (1648913) | about 7 months ago | (#46343363)

>>You loons haven't even built an upper atmosphere elevator
Right, because an "upper atmosphere elevator" is completely infeasible. A space elevator would have to be taken into space in pieces, constructed there, and the cables rolled "down" to earth from an anchor point a hundred thousand miles out. The science behind it is perfectly sound - unfortunately we lack the material necessary for the "cables", at least in any manufacturable form.

But an "upper atmosphere elevator"? The science behind that is not sound. Besides making a pyramid with a base of 10,000 square miles, there's no way to stabilize a structure at that height without something anchoring it in place from the space end.. you'd need... a space elevator to do that. :p

land prices (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46342949)

I see land prices fall for people living under that cable fall direction..... demonstrations on horizon, or they could build it far in the desert

Re:land prices (1)

rossdee (243626) | about 7 months ago | (#46343343)

Apart from Ecuador or Africa, the equator is mostly ocean

Just... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46342993)

Make a so called "elevator", that's actually a super powered magnetic slingshot, and swing spacecraft into orbit with it... At least you won't have to deal with the structure failing... just the extreme Gs the passengers will be subjected to.

Re:Just... (1)

edibobb (113989) | about 7 months ago | (#46343009)

Why do we need a Space Elevator if we have Transporters?

Re:Just... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46343249)

'Transporters' theoretically have very high energy requirements (read up on energy to matter conversion mechanics, or our limited understanding of them for a very limited number of particles - and you'd get a vague idea of how complex and energy consuming it'd likely be to materialize arbitrary objects).

A correctly engineered space elevator has construction costs, and minimal power related costs that are theoretically much less than that required to launch a shuttle into space (which is something we already do regularly enough).

Scorge of Futurests? (1)

Irick (1842362) | about 7 months ago | (#46343023)

Really? I was always under the assumption that space elevators were considered a good design and that we were just waiting for materials to present themselves that would be ideal for the conditions.

The Tall Tower (1)

Required Snark (1702878) | about 7 months ago | (#46343063)

What's the tallest thing we could build right now?

Neal Stephenson and Keith Hjelmstad who is at Arizona State University have looked into this. The thought is to build a structure that reaches the stratosphere and then launch rockets from the top.

The Tall Tower [asu.edu]

I have no idea if this is easier or harder then a fulls space elevator. I would guess not as hard. Sadly, the web site has little activity since I firsrt saw it. Still, it's interesting in the context of a space elevator.

Re:The Tall Tower (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46343211)

Best known materials have sheer and compression strengths in the low GPa region, while carbon nanotubes could in theory reach 300GPa tensile strength. This means it's orders of magnitude easier to build a hanging, flexible structure such as a tether than it is to build a rigid, upwards structure of a given length.

Re:The Tall Tower (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46343357)

Probably not a lot cheaper. And thats the problem.

  We are always on the verge of something better and cheaper.

  Look at Spaceship2. It gets a lift up to 16 km, and then launches from there. Whiteknight2 is a heck of a lot cheaper than a 15 km high tower. And with hypersonics on the way you might be able to get the carrying craft up to 25 km at a launch velocity of 6000 kmph. Or maybe get a hypersonic craft to go directly to orbit.

  We can build a space elevator today. Just not on earth. We can build one on the moon today, with existing technology. But would it ever be viable? Why not just use rockets, or rail guns or hypersonic aircraft.

  Space elevators will never be used for humans, who wants to take a week to get to orbit! Sitting in the radiation belts for days!.

Never gonna happen (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46343151)

All it will take is 1 guy with an RPG and it's game over.

Predictions (1)

jklovanc (1603149) | about 7 months ago | (#46343159)

Nanomaterials are strong and light enough, but the rub is that scientists can't get them to scale yet. Luckily, billions of dollars are being poured into this area of research. The report predictsa suitable material will be ready by the 2020s.

Materials are the sticking point and they can predict anything they want. Will those predictions come true? We will only know if and when it happens. I think it is doubtful. From what I can find they have made carbon nano tubes about 130cm long. Extending them to 62,000 miles might not be possible.

Saying something is feasible based on prediction of scientific progress is dubious at best.

Specifications - Discuss (1)

12WTF$ (979066) | about 7 months ago | (#46343227)

Length: 100,000km, anchored on the Earth with a large mass floating in the ocean and a large counterweight at the top end, called an Apex Anchor.
Width: One meter
Design: Woven with multiple strands to absorb localized damage and curved to ensure edge-on small size hits do not sever the tether.
External Power: The power must be external as the gravity well is extreme and lifting your own power is a non-starter.
Dr. Edwards’ approach was to use large lasers pointing up to the climber with a “solar panel like” receiver on its nadir position.
Cargo: The first few years will enable 20ton payloads without humans [radiation tolerance an issue for the two week trip] with five concurrent payloads on the tether for the two-week trip to GEO. [Currently, the plan is seven concurrent payloads for one-week travel.]

What could possibly go right?

Bible story makes it too scary! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46343237)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tower_of_Babel

Radiation shielding not feasible (3, Informative)

nomaddamon (1783058) | about 7 months ago | (#46343345)

Using the elevator for transfer of goods - will work but the goods will get a huge dose of radiation

Using it for transfer of organic matter (i.e. humans) above LEO is not feasible due to the speed/shielding needed

The worst part of Van Allen belt is about 19000km wide and starts at around 7000km high. Apollo moon missions passed trough it at roughly 15km/s, spending roughly 2*21 minutes in it.
The astronauts received roughly 1rem of radiation through 3 layers of thick aluminum radiation shielding.
That is 1/5 of the yearly the limit in US for people working with radiation.
At reasonable speed (~200m/s) the elevator would take ~26h to pass through the belt, meaning it would need at least 75x more radiation shielding than Apollo did and that the lift would need 15m thick aluminum honeycomb walls (using 70's technology).

Even with todays technology the shielding will be way too bulky/heavy for elevators to be viable alternative to rockets for above LEO human transfer.

Single point of failure (1)

Framboise (521772) | about 7 months ago | (#46343433)

A robust system should not totally break because of one point of failure. A single elevator is fragile because any natural (meteorite), man-made (space junk) or intentional (war) cause acting anywhere along the 100'000 km long cable can totally destroy it with dramatic consequences on Earth when parts of the cable impact the surface. The elevator design could be made more resistant by building a network of cables, not a single cable.

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