Progress on Space Elevator Technology

For over a century, space exploration enthusiasts have proposed building an elevator into low earth orbit using a very long cable stretching from the surface of the earth into space. Huge technical (particularly material) obstacles have prevented this dream from becoming a reality. But technology marches on, and some researchers have made progress:


Funded by NASA and the Spaceward Foundation, the yearly contest offers a $2 million first prize to any group whose machine can quickly climb a kilometer-long ribbon tethered to a helicopter, while receiving power remotely from the ground. On Tuesday, LaserMotive became the first team in competition history to qualify for the $900,000 second prize.

The LaserMotive machine consists of a motor that pulls the device up the 2,953-foot-long ribbon, photovoltaic cells that power the motor, and a ground-based laser that provides the light for the cells. LaserMotive set a new record for the competition, and became the first team to ever reach the top of the ribbon. However, they had to settle for the $900,000 second prize, as securing the $2 million first prize requires not only reaching the top of the ribbon, but doing so at an average speed of 11 miles per hour. Sadly, the LaserMotive machine ran slightly slower than that mark.


http://www.popsci.com/technology/article/2009-11/space-elevator-competition-pays-out-900000 | Image: NASA

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While, of course, this is crazy awesome, it would be even better if Lasermotive was seriously working on space elevator technology instead of just using this as a proof of concept for their wireless power transmission technology.

Wireless power transmission _is_ a key technology for a space elevator. Also - they very reasonably want to get paid now, instead of 30-40 years from now: focusing on the building blocks makes a lot of business sense.

I shudder with the very thought.

The real answer is 'nobody knows': we can't say for certain until we know what material the cable will be made out of.

But simplistically, the bit below the break comes down and in, the bit above goes up and out.

We know the material for the cable will be light and strong, yet it won't be able to maintain integrity if it de-orbits: stuff is gonna burn up. The bits that don't, nearest the ground, will make a mess, but can be reeled back in.

So - messy, but not a disaster.
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Not low earth orbit at all. Geosync a full 40,000 km up. It would take a long, long time at 11 mph, but it's definitely a start.

In my opinion, skyhooks/pinwheels are a better way to go since they would be substantially smaller and not have to bother with climbing the cable.
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The thought that came into my mind when i first read this article was what would happen if that cable had to give way? I shudder with the very thought. http://www.cypress.com/
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While, of course, this is crazy awesome, it would be even better if Lasermotive was seriously working on space elevator technology instead of just using this as a proof of concept for their wireless power transmission technology.
http://www.spacecoalition.com/blog/index.cfm/2009/11/7/Uplifting-News-Space-Elevator-Winner-Claims-900000-NASA-Cash-Prize

Still, very cool.
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