An Elevator To The Stars
It’s Friday so it must be “Science & Space Friday” here at the West Chester Technology Blog.
Massive elevators, connecting the surface of the Earth with outer space, have been a staple of “hard science fiction” since 1895 when Konstantin Tsiolkovsky published a proposal for a free-standing tower reaching from the surface of Earth to the height of geostationary orbit. While such structures might be hard for us to imagine, they might someday actually provide us with a transport into space more cheaply and efficiently than any rocket. This has been the center of many of great science fiction novels I have enjoyed over the years. Two of my favorite novels featuring “space elevators” in our future include Arthur C. Clarke’s “The Fountains of Paradise“ and Joe Haldeman’s “Marsbound”.
A new study into the possibilities of space elevators has recently concluded, giving us a glimpse of what these impossible-seeming structures might actually look like someday.
Conducted by a diverse field of experts working for the International Academy of Astronautics (IAA), the study has come to two encouraging conclusions.
First, space elevators seem possible. Or at least, there’s no scientific evidence that the IAA researchers found that rules them out. Second, if we band together as an international community, we could actually fund one of these almost unimaginable elevators.
Why are space elevators so exciting to so many people? It is because unlike rockets, a space elevator would travel at speeds similar to a high speed train. A trip from the surface to Geostationary Earth Orbit (GEO) would take as long as a week. That may not sound very fast at all, but in terms of cost, it is more efficient and safer than a rocket. A space elevator would run on solar power generated by a solar array on the orbital docking platform. Along with carbon nanotube tech (for the cable), advances in solar panels are the chief technology that needs to advance in order for a space elevator to become a reality.
Maybe, in another ten years, reports study leader Peter Swan, another such study will find that technology has advanced enough to start construction on humanity’s first elevator to space. Then again, it might take us until 2050, or even 2100. Either way, Swan and his team seem confident that, if we want one, humanity can someday have its own elevator to the stars.