Beanstalk-like 'space elevator' could soon be a reality
Researchers suggest that a space elevator consisting of an Earth-anchored tether that extends 62,000 miles (100,000 kilometers) into space could eventually provide routine, safe, inexpensive and quiet access to orbit.
A new assessment of the concept has been pulled together titled "Space Elevators: An Assessment of the Technological Feasibility and the Way Forward." The study was conducted by a diverse collection of experts from around the world under the auspices of the International Academy of Astronautics (IAA).
The study's final judgment is twofold: A space elevator appears possible, with the understanding that risks must be mitigated through technological progress, and a space elevator infrastructure could indeed be built via a major international effort.
The tether serving as a space elevator would be used to economically place payloads and eventually people into space using electric vehicles called climbers that drive up and down the tether at train-like speeds. The rotation of the Earth would keep the tether taut and capable of supporting the climbers.
The notion of a beanstalk-like space elevator is rooted in history.
Many point to the ahead-of-its-time "thought experiment" published in 1895 by Russian space pioneer Konstantin Tsiolkovsky. He suggested creation of a free-standing tower reaching from the surface of Earth to the height of geostationary orbit (GEO; 22,236 miles, or 35,786 km).
Over the last century or so, writers, scientists, engineers and others have helped finesse the practicality of the space elevator. And the new study marks a major development in the evolution of the idea, IAA president Gopalan Madhavan Nair said.
While it's always tricky to predict the future study lead editor Peter Swan told Space.com that space elevators are more than just a science-fiction fantasy.
(Posted on 24-02-2014)
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