Over the last ten years, the Space Elevator has moved from being a "far-future science fiction" item to being a very solvable engineering problem.
The concept of a "Space Elevator" was first proposed 111 years ago as I pen these words by Russian scientist Konstantin Eduardovitch Tsiolkovsky (1857-1935). The idea then resurfaced in the 1960s in a paper written by Russian engineer Yuri N. Artsutanov (1929-).
The idea is pretty simple (building one is a tad more complex). Imagine a bunch of keys attached to a piece of string that you are whirling around your head. The mass of the keys coupled with your spinning will pull the string taught. In the case of a Space Elevator, the string is replaced by a ribbon or wire around 62,000 miles or 100,000 kilometers long (give or take a meter or two) made out of a super-strong material such as carbon nanotubes or some esoteric composite. One end is tied to the ground, the other is attached to a weight in space. The rotation of the earth means that the weight will pull the wire/ribbon taught.
One of the guys working on this project just pointed me at a Scale Drawing that he says "Is accurate – give or take a pixel – to length" (if it looks fuzzy, make sure you have your browser set to look at it full size).
Once you have this ribbon in place, you can use electric vehicles called "climbers" to crawl up and down the ribbon conveying things into space. Currently, it costs around $20,000 to lift a kilogram into space using conventional rocket propulsion, which means it would cost ... well, let's just say "a lot" ... to get me up there. By comparison, once built, a Space Elevator is expected to be relatively cheap to operate, starting at around $100 per kilogram and eventually falling to only $10 a kilogram as volumes increase.
But is this all possible or is it just a pipedream? Well, over the last ten years, the Space Elevator has moved from being a "far-future science fiction" item to being a very solvable engineering problem. In fact, the folks at Elevator 2010 believe that all the fundamental problems will be solved by the year 2010, and that it should be possible have the first fully functional Space Elevator up and running by the year 2020.
Mega Cool Beans! This means that we could afford to take a day trip into space. Maybe there will be a restaurant selling things like "Out of this world milk shakes!" Excuse me while I go and pack my bags!
Questions? Comments? Feel free to email me – Clive "Max" Maxfield – at firstname.lastname@example.org). And, of course, if you haven't already done so, don't forget to Sign Up for our weekly Programmable Logic DesignLine Newsletter.