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Elevator to the universe: Roof terrace on the 10.000th Floor

Until today missile launchings are expensive, complex and still risky. Journeys to the universe will perhaps already run off completely different in some years: by elevator...



 Space elevator operated by laser beam from the earth
Picture by NASA

What can we do for you? – We could offer a weekend trip with view to the Chinese wall to the Hubble telescope into 300.000 meters height. Perhaps an all-inclusive club vacation in the "Stardust Hilton" on 500.000 m with NASA's gourmet chef's five-course menus from the tube. Or maybe, "Homesickness for Advanced", our program for individualists, bringing you to the vitrified roof terrace in the 10.000th Floor? However you must take at least two months into consideration; solely the journey takes two to three weeks. Therefore we guarantee absolute weightlessness, all three stages of the space-sickness and the ultimate solitariness. -"What a blast, such a thing you have not yet experienced..."

In 2052 the beginning of a reservation booking in a space travel agency could start just like that, if everything follows the plan of our space visionaries. So many times the Utopian film scripts of Science Fiction authors have already caught up decades, sometimes only years later, by reality. But a space elevator, which climbs into 100,000 kilometers height at a carbon volume from the earth out to the universe? Even Hollywood claims that to be too "wild" until now. And yet the plans for the 10 billion US dollar expensive project are already far beyond the concept stage, development millions are being invested, expert meetings are called up and sponsors have been searched.

Nasa-idea of module of transport on the space elevator
Picture by NASA

The basic principle of the space elevator is relatively simple (see accompanying diagram): From a basis station, a specially designed anchor ship in the Pacific, which can also change its position if necessary, leads a special tear-firm volume perpendicular upward into a "geostationary" orbit (starting from approx. 36.000 kilometers height), where at the other end of the volume a satellite can move-along in the same speed as which the earth turns. The centrifugal force of the satellite and the gravity of the earth to the construction must be approximately balanced. Similarly as with a hammer thrower, that turns and does not release its hammer, the connection line remains tense and the satellite stays in comparison to the ground station on a fixed course.

The elevators, from which one can bring multiple in a row into operation at the same time, are self-propelled. Wedged on the volume and with a speed of 30 to 200 km/h – depending upon the effect of force of gravity -and at first with up to 13 tons of freight, they climb into the sky. As "fuel" serves a bundled laser beam, which emitted from the earth, meets a with solar cells equipped disk of 13 meters diameters on the lower surface of the elevator, with which the captured light produces current for the engines.

Carbon-Nano-Tubes
Picture by Integrated Microsystems Austria

"The cost for a missile transport of a Kilo of freight from the earth into space, is actually somewhere between 10.000 and 100.000 US dollar (depending upon the goal), whether it is sensitive electronics or simply astronaut food supply. What is really expensive is to overcome the force of gravity, which consumes enormous amounts of fuel, assumes "physicist Dr. Brad Edward, who works for the research company" Eurika Scientific "and the NASA-Institute for future concepts on the elevator project. "If once the system is in enterprise, a Kilo cargo will only cost 100 to 500 dollar. That again makes fields of application profitable, about which we so far only dared to dream at the most. "

Space elevator layout with elevation
Picture by NASA

NASA expert David Smitherman: "It would be possible, to catapult probes directly from the moving elevator further apart outside into the universe, for example towards the Mars, one would only have to correct the direction afterwards with the help of small power supply units. At this price it would be possible to decontaminate radioactive waste towards the sun for example. There it would be spoiled without a problem by too high annealing temperatures... " Even "BP solar", a subsidiary of the oil-multi already thinks about using such an elevator. BP technician Bill Rever: "Theoretically it would be possible to install football-field-large satellites with solar cells in the earth orbit, which could then convey the clean into microwaves converted solar energy power that has been gained to collectors on earth." – Also that is only realizable, if the price for the upward transport is correct.

Professor Dr. Helmut Detter, Austria's father of the micro-system technique engineering and nanotechnology expert: "The key for this spectacular idea to really succeed lies in the carbon volume, which connects the earth with the outermost satellite. For that one needs a material, which exhibits a tremendous firmness and is at the same time extremely light. Only by the recent development of so-called "Nano -Tubes", one can arrange carbon atoms to molecules, so that they have these characteristics and thus are a hundred times firmer than steel. This is a building method, which will still affect some technical revolutions in the coming years.

Physicist Dr. Brad Edwards from Eurika Scientific
Picture by Brad Edwards

Dr. Edward: "That sounds rather unbelievable, but the volume we talk about, needs to be only as wide as about a meter with this technology and is thereby thinner than paper. Such a volume would altogether weigh 800 tons, tearing only with a load of 40 tons and would also safely get over collisions with smaller meteorites. Actually the thing is not a classical space project, but rather a task for civil technicians and construction engineers. At the transfer of deep-sea cables one already works for a long time with such dimensions. Suspension bridges processed comparable quantities of steel cable already years ago. San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge for example incorporates 129.000 kilometers of cables. To one of these companies we enumerated to be processed and transported quantities and they did not even bat an eye."

While NASA at present still fiddles about with the successor of the older space shuttle, it can be that future space shuttles look completely different and space trips by elevator become a tourism big hit in the late 21st Century.


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© A report by Tobias Micke (20-10-02) – Contact