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Going Up?

michael posted more than 12 years ago | from the keep-arms-inside-the-car dept.

News 567

jmiyaku writes "The National Post is reporting that NASA has given a Seattle company a $570,000 grant to continue its investigation into constructing a space elevator. Coupled with some production-grade technology from a Japanese car company (carbon nanotube composites), this elevator could be a reality within 15 years..." The Highlift website has some more information.

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woo hoo (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#4060901)

i win!!!!

CLAIMED (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#4061144)

In the name of Sid Meier. Alpha Centauri rocked.

Environmental impact (2, Interesting)

lonely (32990) | more than 12 years ago | (#4060908)


One thing that worries me about orbital towers is the impact on the weather and the local environment. Something that big must affect local rain patters in some way...


Also what about the risk of it falling down? An orbital tower will wrap about the earth more than once if it falls. The description in Red Mars was particularly though provoking.

Re:Environmental impact (1)

breyguhn (411350) | more than 12 years ago | (#4060965)

According to the article, it's a metre wide and paper-thin. Hardly a major contributing factor to global meltdown...

War is bad for children and other living things (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#4060995)

Did ya ever notice...
Every time there's a Bush in office, we're at war with the Arabs and the Economy is in the shitter?

somebody must not like those folks

Re:War is bad for children and other living things (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#4061024)

The current state of the economy exists mostly independent of who the president is.

Re:Environmental impact (4, Insightful)

barawn (25691) | more than 12 years ago | (#4060988)

The Elevator in Red Mars fell down because it had an asteroid at the far end providing counterbalance. Separate the asteroid from the cable, and it's no longer a space elevator, but a really stupidly placed cable. Flop. Splat.

The elevator they're proposing is not counterbalanced - this requires it to be even longer than if it wasn't counterbalanced, but it doesn't require a conveniently placed asteroid. :)

Remember: you're asking what if it falls, right? It is falling. It just happens to be falling at exactly the same rate that the Earth is turning. It's in orbit. In order to make it fall, you'd need to break it.

Re:Environmental impact (2)

Christopher Thomas (11717) | more than 12 years ago | (#4061002)

The elevator they're proposing is not counterbalanced - this requires it to be even longer than if it wasn't counterbalanced, but it doesn't require a conveniently placed asteroid. :)

Um, it's still counterbalanced - by the outer half of the cable. Cut the cable in the middle, and the bottom half goes "splat" just as effectively as if the counterweight was just a big rock.

Re:Environmental impact (2)

trance9 (10504) | more than 12 years ago | (#4061008)


Yeah but imagine if the cable breaks in the middle,
then 50,000 km of cable is going to hit the earth,
and the remainder is going to fly off into space.

Re:Environmental impact (1)

headwick (247433) | more than 12 years ago | (#4061028)

Did you even read the website? This is a ribbon-like cable made of carbon nanotubes, not an enormous tower. The FAQ [highliftsystems.com] will answer your questions.

Impact on the environment (and the ground) (5, Interesting)

Christopher Thomas (11717) | more than 12 years ago | (#4061043)

Also what about the risk of it falling down? An orbital tower will wrap about the earth more than once if it falls. The description in Red Mars was particularly though provoking.

I used to think that this would make space elevators impractically dangerous. However, this turns out not to be the case.

The energy gained by the falling cable will be at most its gravitational potential energy, which is within a factor of two of conventional high explosives (per unit weight). Pick a maximum yield on impact, and you have a maximum cable weight. Use a thin enough cable to meet this weight restriction, and you have an adequately disaster-proof elevator (it'll make a mess, but not wreck the world's climate).

My own calculations with a 10 kT yield/cable weight came up with something that could reasonably be used for space travel and would pay for itself if you could keep the cargo moving.

The biggest problem is figuring out how to move cargo fast enough. I'd be leery of having induction motors mess with the cable itself, and if its a nanotube bundle they won't conduct in the right direction anyways. Winches are much too slow. Sheathing the cable with metal would only be practical for a very thin layer, which ends up being too thin to support the required currents without boiling off (I think). It's an interesting design problem.

Re:Environmental impact (1)

rigelstar (243170) | more than 12 years ago | (#4061177)

From the fax:

What if it falls?
The majority, the long end out in space, gains enough speed that it burns up in the atmosphere, with the lower portion falling into the sea. It will not fall on top of anyone.

For the portion that doesn't burn up in a fall- what effect will it have on the environment?
Honestly, it will make a little bit of a mess. But New York City tickertape parades have made bigger messes. Comparatively it will put much less dust, dirt, debris and chemicals into the environment than wildfires of the American west, any one of the large expendable rockets, or a month of natural meteors hitting Earth. The ribbon is light (7.5 kg/km) so, any pieces that fall to earth will slow down, in the air, to about the same terminal velocity as that of an open newspaper page falling. It will not have enough momentum to cause mechanical damage when it comes down. We have considered other health risks such as inhalation of very small fragments and believe this will not be a problem but we are conducting studies to make sure this isn't a problem. Since we are aware of the possible problems now we can design the elevator to avoid these problems.

How large a wave/disturbance would it generate?
The wave/disturbance would be nonexistent. As above, there just isn't enough mass, even in later, larger, ribbons, to generate such energy dispersion. There might be a small amount of light as a line in the sky as the ribbon burns up but after that it will be a few pieces of black film fluttering to Earth. Because of the size, distribution and winds, it is conceivable that only a few people would even see the event in any way and just as few would find actual pieces of the ribbon.

How much warning would there be from the time of a break and the time it would take for the lower portion to splash down?
Depending on exactly what happened it could be a few hours to weeks.

What would happen to the surviving portion?
The ribbon that fell to Earth could be recovered for study but because of the amount and distribution it would be difficult to find many pieces. The pieces that do land would eventually degrade but not for a very long time. Keep in mind that this is mostly a stable form of carbon; it doesn't do anything. The debris would resemble long hair and would probably be broken up in interactions with animals, plants, wind, fish and waves. In fiber form it would be much too large to inhale and would probably works it way through a digestive system unaffected. The only debris we have any concern about is if it were reduced to nanotube size. This we don't understand yet so we will study this to see if there is a problem and then probably also design the ribbon to remain in larger pieces if it re-enters.

Guess who can't wait for this!!! (5, Funny)

toupsie (88295) | more than 12 years ago | (#4060909)

If you build it, they [muzak.com] will come...

Re:Guess who can't wait for this!!! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#4060933)

[Cue Love in an Elevator]

Easy target? (0, Redundant)

grumwork (254996) | more than 12 years ago | (#4060913)

Doesn't something like a Space Elevator become an incredibly large and tempting target for anyone looking to kill/injure/destroy American/Western World society? There cannot possibly be away to "guard" the entire length of the elevator on Earth, and if it were to break and come crashing down...

Re:Easy target? (2)

brejc8 (223089) | more than 12 years ago | (#4060944)

The thing is that its geostationary. For it to crash down it would need to first of all be thrown out of orbit by something really really big.
If you cut its connection with earth it will just hover there.

Re:Easy target? (2)

digitalsushi (137809) | more than 12 years ago | (#4060967)

i think it would only just "stay there" if you snipped it twice, at the same moment, at equidistant spots from the center.

Re:Easy target? (1)

digitalsushi (137809) | more than 12 years ago | (#4060984)

heh, you didnt even say that :-P how embarrasing for me

Re:Easy target? (2)

RobinH (124750) | more than 12 years ago | (#4060987)

There cannot possibly be away to "guard" the entire length of the elevator on Earth, and if it were to break and come crashing down...

I would think that it could be controlled militarily. The obvious way would be for any nations that use it to either provide some kind of military forces (several countries have aircraft carriers, for instance, many others have submarines), or they could pay a 'security fee' to help support the operations of the other nations. I definitely think it's feasible.

You are right, though, the catastrophe if it snapped would be enormous. Perhaps you could make the bottom detachable in an emergency, so if you saw an attempt to break it in the middle, you could break the connection at the base and let it float off into space.

Just my $0.02

Re:Easy target? (3, Informative)

Wirr (157970) | more than 12 years ago | (#4061179)

You are right, though, the catastrophe if it snapped would be enormous.


Why don't you all just read the FAQ ? Let me quote:


For the portion that doesn't burn up in a fall- what effect will it have on the environment?
Honestly, it will make a little bit of a mess. But New York City tickertape parades have made bigger messes. Comparatively it will put much less dust, dirt, debris and chemicals into the environment than wildfires of the American west, any one of the large expendable rockets, or a month of natural meteors hitting Earth. The ribbon is light (7.5 kg/km) so, any pieces that fall to earth will slow down, in the air, to about the same terminal velocity as that of an open newspaper page falling. It will not have enough momentum to cause mechanical damage when it comes down. We have considered other health risks such as inhalation of very small fragments and believe this will not be a problem but we are conducting studies to make sure this isn't a problem. Since we are aware of the possible problems now we can design the elevator to avoid these problems.

Re:Easy target? (1)

s20451 (410424) | more than 12 years ago | (#4060992)

If you were really smart, you would design it to be much longer than 35,000 km, where the orbital velocity is much less than geostationary, and apply a counterweight to shift the center of mass. That way, cutting the elevator would cause the entire assembly to be hurled into a higher orbit.

Re:Easy target? (2, Interesting)

csimicah (592121) | more than 12 years ago | (#4061013)

Based on what the article said, the "crash" would be somewhat like a sheet of newspaper falling to the ground. Not too worrisome unless a large piece landed on your windshield while you were driving, perhaps blinding you.

Re:Easy target? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#4061162)

I kind of see the thinking of putting it out in the middle of the sea, but why not section off 10 square miles of some place in the middle of America. It should be very protected.

But on the other hand, I don't see many terrorists going after the Kennedy space center.

Going up? (3, Funny)

bokketies (584972) | more than 12 years ago | (#4060917)

I sure hope it can get you down as well.

Re:Going up? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#4060935)

I sure hope it can get you down as well.

as in "get down to boogie"?

Think About It (2)

virg_mattes (230616) | more than 12 years ago | (#4061111)

Um, getting down from orbit has never posed many problems. We on Earth call that "falling" and the trick isn't getting down, it's getting down slow enough not to vaporize one's arse. In more serious terms, no, it's not likely that anyone will ever use the elevator to reenter Earth's atmosphere. Most likely, if anything needs to come back down in one piece, they'll lift a reentry module with the elevator and then let it drop with the precious payload the old fashioned way.

Virg

Optimistic (1, Insightful)

Fenresulven (516459) | more than 12 years ago | (#4060922)

this elevator could be a reality within 15 years...

Does anyone else think this is really really optimistic?

Re:Optimistic (2, Insightful)

nick-less (307628) | more than 12 years ago | (#4060971)


>>this elevator could be a reality within 15 years...

Does anyone else think this is really really optimistic?


I guess this is why he said "could" and not "will" ;-)

Re:Optimistic (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#4061001)

I think its absurdly optimistic. Unless he's just talking about the design for the elevator. That may take 15 years.

Re:Optimistic (1)

scott1853 (194884) | more than 12 years ago | (#4061034)

I remember reading an article back in 5th grade (1985) about how NASA was going to have affordable trips on the space shuttle by 1995.

Re:Optimistic (0)

Thud457 (234763) | more than 12 years ago | (#4061094)

Yeah, but that was NASA. There was no way a gubbemint bueracracy was going to fulfill a goal like that.

In the whole of recorded history, there is not a single instance of a bueracracy shrinking or becoming more efficient.

Now if Lockheed had been in charge, there was at least the possibility of that happening.

fifteen years? (3, Interesting)

s20451 (410424) | more than 12 years ago | (#4060926)

According to this BBC article [bbc.co.uk] covering the same story, a fifty year timeline is more likely.

Good idea for nuclear waste? (5, Interesting)

pgpckt (312866) | more than 12 years ago | (#4060934)


Well, Yucca Mountain leaves a whole lot to be desired. I suppose the best thing to do would be to shoot the radioactive waste into the sun. You could lanuch self-guiding ships full of the stuff straight into the sun...the sun sure wouldn't care. But how do you get the stuff in space safely?

Perhaps this space elevator? I think it should be safe(r). Use the elevator to take the radioactive waste top the space station, then build a craft to launch the waste into the sun. No more radioactive waste problem! And it would probably be cheaper than the current proposed solution, plus it would be really great for the space program and scientific development. Is this a good idea?

Re:Good idea for nuclear waste? (2, Funny)

zebadee (551743) | more than 12 years ago | (#4060975)



Also a good idea for getting rid of those annoying polititions/celebs etc.

I think the sun was used for this in a Simpsons episode somewhere?!

Re:Good idea for nuclear waste? (5, Insightful)

barawn (25691) | more than 12 years ago | (#4061010)

It's not feasible to send waste into the sun - take a look through a few astronomy texts and you'll see why.

Basically the problem is that any object we lift from the Earth has energy, and angular momentum. If you want to hit the sun, and not just put it in a very eccentric orbit, you need to remove a lot of energy from the object, and the space elevator wouldn't help - it pulls you out of Earth's gravity well, not out of Earth's orbit. You'd require massive amounts of fuel to get it there.

Re:Good idea for nuclear waste? (1)

Fenris2001 (210117) | more than 12 years ago | (#4061046)

Not true - once you get past the midpoint of a long cable like this, you accelerate toward the end. All you do is let go at the right time.

Re:Good idea for nuclear waste? (5, Informative)

f00Dave (251755) | more than 12 years ago | (#4061011)

The energy required to actually launch something 'into the Sun' from Earth is enormous. The Earth's orbital velocity is around 30 km/s, or 108000 km/h (~64800 mph). That's a LOT of delta-V to get rid of! I'll leave the details to the science geeks, but even with a gravitational slingshot (say off Venus), you're not gonna kill all that speed without entering atmosphere. The alternative would be to haul shit up to the graviational midpoint then let it slide along the shaft, accellerating and getting whipped off at 1G at the end of it, aiming it to smack into Jupiter or something, instead. ;-)

That whole 'spiraling into the sun' thing bugs me.

http://nssdc.gsfc.nasa.gov/planetary/factsheet/e ar thfact.html

Re:Good idea for nuclear waste? (1)

RickHunter (103108) | more than 12 years ago | (#4061096)

Err... Doesn't a Hohmann-type transfer orbit (which, if I understand correctly, is the least expensive type of transfer orbit we've yet found) from Earth to Jupiter result in a very close (in relative terms) passage to the sun anyway? Wouldn't you just need a (relatively) small change in your orbit to plough into it instead of getting slung back out again?

Sheesh.. (2, Funny)

mrgrey (319015) | more than 12 years ago | (#4060937)

Think of how many times your ears would pop...

Fountains of Paradise (3, Informative)

prwood (7060) | more than 12 years ago | (#4060940)

Fans of space elevators will of course recall Arthur C. Clarke's novel on the perils and political obstacles in the construction of such:

Fountains of Paradise [amazon.com]

Re:Fountains of Paradise (3, Informative)

brejc8 (223089) | more than 12 years ago | (#4060964)

It was also in 3001. In this book they were an essential part of life.
Earth was screwed so the only way out was up.

Re: Kim Stanley Robinson: Mars Trilogy (3, Informative)

debrain (29228) | more than 12 years ago | (#4061130)

Fans of such may also enjoy the space elevators of Kim Stanley Robinson's "Red Mars", "Green Mars", and "Blue Mars".

Elevator vs. Launch (3, Interesting)

chaidawg (170956) | more than 12 years ago | (#4060943)

Does it seem to anyone else that this is less like a space elevator and more of a really large launch facility? Clark envisioned a true elevator, with cars coming up and down. With this proposal explained as it is, you still have to worry about craft that can deal with reentry and landing, instead of a simple elevator ride down.

Re:Elevator vs. Launch (3, Interesting)

barawn (25691) | more than 12 years ago | (#4061047)

Yah, but reentry's easy! It's simply an issue of falling into a gravity well, rather than climbing out of it. You've got all that atmosphere to brake you down!

Think about it, really: the Shuttle is really a very advanced glider on its downward trip - that's all you really need. I imagine you could probably send a few reentry gliders or capsules up the space elevator if you need to.

Anyway, getting up is the important part. We've pretty much got the "getting down" part pretty down pat. Getting up's much harder. Once it's in place, you could start shuttling things upward to build a space station at the top, and then work on downward-bound cars.

First step is to get off this rock. :)

Re:Elevator vs. Launch (1)

PainKilleR-CE (597083) | more than 12 years ago | (#4061165)

Plus you might notice that the biggest uses they're touting for this thing are little things like putting satellites into orbit and launching pieces of space stations, things which are very expensive using rockets, and which they essentially don't want to come down.

Re:Elevator vs. Launch (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#4061149)

We can parachute down!

Cool (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#4060950)

What would be some good uses for this elevator? (besides scientific experiments)
Perhaps we can build a space station around earth...or clean our planet from the garbage buildup.

Re:Cool (5, Funny)

RobinH (124750) | more than 12 years ago | (#4061080)

or clean our planet from the garbage buildup

Illinois, Ohio, and Toronto have found that the best place to stash garbage is in Michigan! They only charge $10 to $20 a ton to dump there (but up to $65 a ton elsewhere). You can't honestly tell me that transporting all the garbage to the middle of the Pacific ocean and launching it into space is actually cheaper than that.

Yearly, out of state garbage dumped in Michigan alone totals almost 10 million tons. This elevator will only lift 250 tons per year. I don't think that launching garbage or nuclear waste into space is very feasible.

Re:Cool (1)

vidnet (580068) | more than 12 years ago | (#4061154)

You can't honestly tell me that transporting all the garbage to the middle of the Pacific ocean and launching it into space is actually cheaper than that.

What if we used our mob connections to obtain a rocket?

Not only Clarke but Hamilton! (2)

Daath (225404) | more than 12 years ago | (#4060960)

Peter F. Hamilton and it's AWESOME Night's Dawn Trilogy sci-fi epic has a space elevator - His goes up to the O'Neil Halo - a "space station" that circumvents the globe in geostationary orbit! See something of the tech here - High Brazil [nights-dawn.com] is one of them - they are towers that ascend the skies ;)
Yes, of course, if you haven't read it - you simply MUST! ;)

going down? (1)

zloppy303 (411053) | more than 12 years ago | (#4060962)

I hope they realize you can't get down again using gravity like with a "normal" elevator...

:) :)

Gravity WILL bring you back down (2)

CausticPuppy (82139) | more than 12 years ago | (#4061016)

...as long as you don't go any higher than geosynchronous orbit, gravity will let you come back down. Geosynchronous orbit is right where the centripetal force exactly balances the force of gravity while on the ribbon. If you go higher than geosynch, chances are that your intent is to be flung off toward another planet anyway.

Think about it....

Better 'mass construction' project (2)

CaffeineAddict2001 (518485) | more than 12 years ago | (#4060963)

Wouldn't it be easier to bridge the atlantic ocean than to build an elevator to space? Probably safer and more practical too.

Re:Better 'mass construction' project (3, Insightful)

barawn (25691) | more than 12 years ago | (#4061066)

Dear God no. We can get across the Atlantic ridiculously easy: boats, planes, anything. There's no need to bridge it, and even if you did, then you've got stability against wind, gravity, anything else. It'd be engineering hell, and you can probably work out that it's impossible.

A space elevator is a cute idea: it's quite safe, since, well, it's in orbit. It just happens to be in orbit above one spot over the earth (geosynchronous) and really long, so that one side of it touches Earth. And practical? Man. Launch costs go from "huge" to "free". The world would change in a year after this thing being built. Seriously. It'd look like science fiction in no time: space hotels, lunar bases, Martian missions - everything becomes easy.

Re:Better 'mass construction' project (1)

EatHam (597465) | more than 12 years ago | (#4061091)

Wouldn't it be easier to bridge the atlantic ocean than to build an elevator to space? Probably safer and more practical too.

Geez, can you imagine what would happen when someone runs out of gas or has an accident? "Today on TrafficWatch - the Atlantic Bridge is seeing brake lights all the way from Portugal to New York. You're looking at a two-week delay, so pack a lunch!"

Re:Better 'mass construction' project (1)

farnsaw (252018) | more than 12 years ago | (#4061152)

Actually, no. Building a bridge 3000+ miles long over ocean depths that average more than two miles and often are much deeper is a task much more difficult than an elevator to space. The one true task left for the elevator is the material to use for the "Cable" and it seems they have a handle on that. The Channel Tunnel or "Chunnel" took 7-10 years to build and it was only 31 miles. Granted it was a tunnel, not a bridge, but it also let them avoid things like storms.


Another problem is the usefulness of the bridge. You would basically have to be able to drive 3000 miles straight, which most truckers cannot do, or design artificial islands about every couple of hundered miles or so as rest stops. This means 15-30 islands and it would take about 5 days to drive accross, more if there were violent storms. You could make it a train bridge and put drivers on in shifts with sleeping quarters and cut this down, but even at 200 MPH it would take 15 hours to cross.


The Space Elevator would require manufacturing a single island as the base. Granted, building the cable/ribbon is still a daunting task at 100,000 km, it is something that would probably be done on site.

Location, location, location (2, Funny)

Sandlund (226344) | more than 12 years ago | (#4060968)

Finally, something to put on the World Trade Center site.

Re:Location, location, location (1)

sirsex (550329) | more than 12 years ago | (#4061083)

Two of them, of course.

People need to read the FAQ... (5, Informative)

agilen (410830) | more than 12 years ago | (#4060970)

http://www.highliftsystems.com/faq.html [highliftsystems.com]

This talks about what will happen if it falls, what terrorists can do to it, etc. It actually seems fairly honestly done, not all marketing-speak.

Re:People need to read the FAQ... (2)

Peyna (14792) | more than 12 years ago | (#4061062)

Where did they find a place with no high winds, hurricanes, tornados, or lightning? And, with ocean front property? I think I want to live there.

Re:People need to read the FAQ... (2)

mikeboone (163222) | more than 12 years ago | (#4061090)

This was an interesting FAQ. Now I think we should make predictions as to its location, based on what they described:

  • Unaffected by hurricanes
  • Receives little or no lightning
  • If it breaks, the lower portion falls into the ocean
  • The anchor station will be an unlikely target to terrorists due to its isolation
  • Not in the path of any existing launch "programs"

Re:People need to read the FAQ... (2)

mcfiddish (35360) | more than 12 years ago | (#4061156)

I assume it would be over the equator; otherwise it wouldn't be in geostationary orbit.

Re:People need to read the FAQ... (2)

Aceticon (140883) | more than 12 years ago | (#4061168)

It's anchored in a floating platform in the middle of the Pacific ocean.

When do i get my prize?

Great news, but (-1, Flamebait)

PhysicsGenius (565228) | more than 12 years ago | (#4060972)

I look forward to the day when space travel is cheap, profitable and tourism-capable. I can see the scientific value in researching blue-sky proposals. That said, space elevators will never work.

First of all, you have the technical issues. There are no NEO objects strong enough to support hanging an elevator from. Computer control to keep the Earth end at a constant height (which essentially requires solving the n-body problem where n = several dozen) in real time is impossibly hard. Not to mention the fact that the engine to lift the elevator car has to put out the same energy that a rocket engine does (conservation of energy, heard of it?).

Even assuming these issues could be magically fixed somehow, we have the socio-political issues. In order to be geosynchronous it has to be over the equator. Which is either in the ocean, in South Africa or in the middle of the Amazon. The ocean is inconvenient for mass transit on the elevator. The Amazon is needed for biodiversity. Which leaves South Africa--a political hotbed. Not that they'd want it--it'd be a huge eyesore, hovering on the horizon from hundreds of miles away. Even if we paid them to take it the PC crowd would say we were "exploiting the poor blacks" in SA.

Why don't they funnel more of that money into anti-gravity, that's more promising.

Re:Great news, but (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#4061040)

South Africa is nowhere near the equator.

Re:Great news, but (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#4061072)

Energy isn't the same as power. The energy needs may be the same, but it can spend the day climibing the cable. As they say, you could use the motor in an electric razor to move a tank up Mt. Everest with the right transmission (and ignoring friction & practicalities like that). Don't get the idea that I think it'll work, though.

And Puh-leeez don't start that anti-gravity crap again - I don't want to vomit into my keyboard.

Re:Great news, but (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#4061108)

amazing what one can gather from the article... Unlike the science fiction version, this space elevator need not be anchored improbably both to Earth and an asteroid.

Instead, it would be tethered just to Earth from a floating platform in the equatorial Pacific Ocean.

From there, a 100,000-kilometre-long ribbon about one metre wide with the thickness of a sheet of paper would be propelled by rockets beyond the point in space where orbiting objects remain above a fixed point on the Earth's surface, the so-called geosynchronous orbit.

The elevator would be kept in place by the competing forces of gravity at the lower end of the shaft, and, at the far end, outward acceleration.

Re:Great news, but (1)

mikeplokta (223052) | more than 12 years ago | (#4061133)

Check an atlas.

The equator passes through northern Brazil, some distance from the main Amazon basin. It also passes through Colombia and (obviously enough) Ecuador.

It goes way north of South Africa, and actually passes through about six different countries in Africa -- none of them models of political stability, admittedly.

There are also parts of Indonesia and Kiribati on the equator.

Re:Great news, but (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#4061188)

There are no NEO objects strong enough to support hanging an elevator from.


they dont propose hanging it from anything. Instead they will use the competing forces of gravity at the lower end and outward centripetal acceleration at the farther end keep the ribbon under tension and stationary over a single position on Earth.

Not to mention the fact that the engine to lift the elevator car has to put out the same energy that a rocket engine does (conservation of energy, heard of it?).

The amount of energy may be the same, but it will be expended in a much safer manner.

Even assuming these issues could be magically fixed somehow, we have the socio-political issues. In order to be geosynchronous it has to be over the equator. Which is either in the ocean, in South Africa or in the middle of the Amazon.


An ocean-going platform based on the current Sea Launch program would be used for the Earth anchor and located in the equatorial Pacific.

All of this information is easily available at the High Lift Systems [highliftsystems.com] web site. You should check it out. It's a good read and it sounds like you're interested in the subject.

wow... (1)

bsDaemon (87307) | more than 12 years ago | (#4060977)

a whole $570,000. I know that's all it would take to put a man on Mars. I bet they'll have a whole lot of change left over since all they're doing is building a space elivator.

Re:wow... (2, Funny)

thnmnt (62145) | more than 12 years ago | (#4061150)

Consider then that Pfizer [pfizer.com] spends $4.7 billion dollars a year getting earthbound objects to 'elevate' into space. Why not just give them licensing rights for a Viagra [viagra-nascar.com] elevator, stick Bob Dole [bobdole.org] on it for the maiden voyage and have the whole thing sorted in a year?

it just seems so fragile (0)

jedie (546466) | more than 12 years ago | (#4060980)

doesn't it? An accident might be disasterous with objects of this size.
And not everybody would be too happy with it being built, (I think) it would be very easy to sabotage this.

I would love to see it become operational though..
(Or perhaps they should rather invest those billions of dollars in quantum teleportation? :))

Just dont take a picture! (1)

MrP- (45616) | more than 12 years ago | (#4060983)

Hopefully no one will take a picture of the elevator, it might explode [slashdot.org] .

Cheap (2)

brejc8 (223089) | more than 12 years ago | (#4060986)

I think it was AC Clarke who said that it would be about $100 to get someone into space and about $50 for a return journey.
This does blow your average $1 million for a five day rocket based space holiday out of the water.

Oh, well.. (2)

olman (127310) | more than 12 years ago | (#4060999)

I like space stories as much as the next person. However, this one reads like a company sales spiel more than a serious initiative. And everyone shoulds know what "within 10-20 years" really means, no? That's how much longer to fusion it's been for quite a few decades. And it's still 10-20 years from commercial applications.

No matter, this nano-material they're plugging should be quite useful for a few real-life applications right now. If there's no "well, you see.." about it somewhere.

short circuit (2, Interesting)

the_Bionic_lemming (446569) | more than 12 years ago | (#4061006)

I seem to remember someone commenting that a space elevator would act like a bridge between the ionosphere and the earth - Making a giant "short circuit" - does anyone have a link to the article that was posted?

offtopic linux (debian) question (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#4061009)

I'm trying to install debian, i have 3 cds that i downloaded. I'm installing it on my other PC that isn't able to boot CD-ROMs, so I want a floppy that will let me install from the cdrom. I've done this with other distros easily, they always included boot.img or something similar, but i cant find that for debian ANYWHERE (cds, web, ftp sites)

I've tried using what I could find, root.bin which doesnt work at all, and rescue.bin which boots but isn't for installing and it panics when it cant find a ram drive or something.

Where the hell can I get the boot.img (or whatever) for debian??

Re:offtopic linux (debian) question (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#4061121)

just get rid of that ancient POS compooooter and get something more modern, you will be happier than fiddling with ancient hardware, and forget debian it is crapware for wannabe hackers...

get a real distro like Slackware or if you just want to slam a distro in a machine and forget about it go with either Redhat or Mandrake...

Very Unlikely (1)

dduardo (592868) | more than 12 years ago | (#4061012)

It seems to me that this project will never work. There are to many forces at play. The elevator would probable snap in half do to all the strain. If we did manage to build it there would be a HUGE problem: Earth's rotation would slow down, forcing us toward the Sun. Imagine the Earth as an ice skater in rotation. The person keeps their arms close to their body to rotate fast. What happens when the person's arms raise away from their body? They slow down. It is a simple concept of centripetal acceleration. The elevator would act as an arm of the Earth, thus causing it to slow down.

Re:Very Unlikely (1, Troll)

onion2k (203094) | more than 12 years ago | (#4061068)

Woah. I hope they hire you as a consultant. I'm sure none of these things will have occured to them at all.

Actually.. knowing NASA..

Re:Very Unlikely (1)

perfects (598301) | more than 12 years ago | (#4061070)

Even if it did cause the Earth's rotation on its axis to slow (by an incredibly small amount) that would not affect the Earth's orbit around the sun in any way.

Re:Very Unlikely (2, Informative)

zloppy303 (411053) | more than 12 years ago | (#4061082)

This effect is caused by the redistribution of the mass of the rotating body (de arms are relocated), I don't think the mass of the elevator will be anything significant in relation to the mass of the rotating earth.

Re:Very Unlikely (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#4061117)

Probably would snap, but I don't think we have to worry about Earth slowing down.

Angular momentum of a 1,000,000 kg object at the end (100,000 km) of the cord -> less than 10^10 kg.m/s

Earth's angular momentum (just from spin) -> about 6 x 10^33 kg.m/s

Re:Very Unlikely (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#4061135)

Yes, I suppose it would very slightly reduce the rate of rotation of the earth (as putting anything into orbit from the earth's surface by any means must do). It only slows the rate of rotation of the earth around its axis (the poles). It doesn't slow the earths orbit around the sun.

Re:Very Unlikely (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#4061147)

The Earth's rotation would indeed slow down... but not by very much! The earth has a mass of 6e24kg. How much mass would the elevator have?

Area = 100 000km * 1m = 1e8 m^2
Density = 100g/m^2 (like paper? probably lighter)
Mass = 1e7 kg (10 000 metric tonnes)

So the earth would be about 1e17 times heavier than it's "arm".

The original NIAC paper (2)

MarvinMouse (323641) | more than 12 years ago | (#4061026)

This idea originally came from NASA's institute for advanced concepts. [usra.edu]

There are a lot of funky stuff going on there. But, here's the original space elevator paper [usra.edu] . I personally thought it was an interesting read.

Problem. (2)

teamhasnoi (554944) | more than 12 years ago | (#4061030)

...and believe this will not be a problem but we are conducting studies to make sure this isn't a problem. Since we are aware of the possible problems now we can design the elevator to avoid these problems.

Houston, I think we have a problem.

another 1st ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#4061032)

I want to be the first a$$hole that bangs the sh*t outta some slut on that thing!

beam me up (2, Funny)

crea5e (590098) | more than 12 years ago | (#4061036)


"Scotty one to beam up."

"I'm doing the best I can captain but the elevator is stuck on floor 3."

Atmospheric Conductivity Issues (3, Offtopic)

Uttles (324447) | more than 12 years ago | (#4061038)

Mr. Laine said the material, expected to be highly conductive and 30 times stronger than steel, is not yet in production...

Highly Conductive... the article also states that they are looking for a region of the planet for the anchor where storms and high winds are uncommon. I'm not so sure this is going to eliminate any risks. It seems to me they are going to have to develop this thing so that it can withstand being struck by lightning many, many times. A perfect solution would be something that could actually store and use the power generated by multiple lightning strikes.

My point is just that we don't really know everything about lightning, and just assuming that because there aren't many storms in the region the cable will not get struck doesn't seem smart to me. A highly conductive lightning rod extending into space seems to me something that would attract electricity, no matter what the weather conditions. I'm just picturing something like a Van de Graaf generator attracting all the loose electrons in the area. They need to develop the system so that it accepts lightning and other electric charges and distributes them somehow, causing no damage, even while cargo is in transit.

fix my work elevator first, please (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#4061063)

dang thing sounds and feels like it is in its death throws. Even people who ride it all the time and put on that fake aire of confidence and conchalante attitude will often look worried. Its slow as hell too.

SlashSnot (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#4061065)

i think this idea is ridiculous, what a load of horseshit, it will never fly Orville, i wish these scientists would pull their head out of their collective ass' and start thinking about more plausible projects...

Falling down - why does it not fall down? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#4061079)

Could some1 please explain me why this "elevator" wont fall down. As we pull from the rope according to Newton we transfer momentum and so it should fall down, shouldn't it?

What am I not getting here?

Flashbulbs (0)

DavidLeblond (267211) | more than 12 years ago | (#4061087)

Just don't take any pictures. If I remember correctly, they "fall down" pretty quick because they dislike having their pictures taken more than Sean Penn.

NO FLASH PHOTOGRAPHY (1)

jolshefsky (560014) | more than 12 years ago | (#4061092)

Hopefully they're planning to put up a big sign that says, " NO FLASH PHOTOGRAPHY [slashdot.org] ." I bet the second picture you take would look pretty cool, too.

is it just me... (2, Insightful)

Drunken_Jackass (325938) | more than 12 years ago | (#4061102)

...or wouldn't you have to locate the anchor point to be at a location that makes sense for the "drop off" point of the satellites to establish a useful orbit?

Why wouldn't we have a bunch of satellites in the same planar orbit?

I'm assuming that the elevator gives the sats a ride up, and then simply releases them. Is there another release mechanism that "points" the satellite in the right direction?

Also, could you use the elevator for geosynchronous orbit birds?

15 years - yeah right (2)

ryanvm (247662) | more than 12 years ago | (#4061124)

Sounds great and all - but 15 years? Yeah right. I'm still waiting on flying cars, jetpacks, and robotic sex slaves. (Oh wait - I don't think that last one was on the Jetsons.)

Uhm... (1, Interesting)

Dark Lord Seth (584963) | more than 12 years ago | (#4061131)

Is it in any existing flight paths?
One of the nice things about our anchor site is that it is in the middle of nowhere, approximately 400 miles from shipping or plane routes.

So how are they going to get stuff over there? Drive it through the middle of nowhere on a truck? I'm pretty sure equatorial conditions (high temp, high humidity) aren't the best thing that could happen to any satelite or other object bound for space. Besides, wouldn't a nice 20 Billion USD worth satelite be a nice target to attack? Once simple ambush with a 100 USD rocket launcher and poof goes 20 billion bucks. Are they going to provide every transport military cover all the way to the anchor site? Same thing applies to shipping and I don't think airplanes would be allowed near the anchor site... How do they intend to secure it all?

Are they going to set up massive defences at the anchor site? SAM batteries against air attacks? Will they station ground forces at the anchor station? If so, who will provide these forces? The US goverment? NASA? ESA? Or an independent body?

Also, suppose it all does work out after all, how are we going to deal with things in space? Is everybody going to do his thing or are we going to learn from history and immediatly develop some standards for cargo storage up there like container size, weight and capabilities?

Live free or die my ass (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#4061138)

VA and IBM are taking different directions. VA, whose roots lie in the open-source world of Linux, is trying to move more toward proprietary software in an effort to boost its revenue. Meanwhile, IBM, which earns considerable revenue from licensing its patents and from selling proprietary software such as DB2 and WebSphere, is embracing open-source projects such as Linux and Apache.

http://news.com.com/2100-1001-949505.html?tag=fd _t op

NASA has given money??? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#4061187)

Hmm.. NASA has given money? ..but where does NASA get it's money? The TAXPAYERS pay it, yeah! They are the ones who pay again! I'm sick and tired of taxpayers money being wasted on something like this. If we can't live peacefully on this tiny planet do you think we would live peacefully in space?
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