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Dec 02 2015

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Nothing in the news…so my take on Space Elevators

And by “nothing in the news”, I mean nothing space-related that’s worth commenting upon from over two dozen of the news sources I review. Everyone seems to be holding their breath for tomorrow Cygnus ISS resupply launch. About the only thing that even remotely qualifies as news today is that LISA’s launch has been pushed back a few hours and now will be around 9:04 pm (Pacific) tonight.

In this post from 24 November, where it is reported that a diamond thread only a few molecules wide may be strong enough and light enough to use for a space elevator cable, I said I’d get around to writing why I thought a space elevator is impractical. Well, today’s the day I get around to it.

My case is pretty simple and straight-forward. I do believe that we will develop the materials and tools to make a space elevator viable, but they’ll never be used for a space elevator. Here’s a pretty decent drawing on the basics of a space elevator:

Do you see the problem?

How about if I provide a bit more detail?

Now I’ll complete the picture by adding all the uncontrollable space debris out there right now:

Putting up a space elevator for Earth would be like putting a post in a raging river and expecting it not to get wet. There is no way you’d be able to divert all the LEO and MEO satellites around a space elevator’s cable without impacting the lifetime and operations of those constellations. Even if the space debris issue is removed (and I believe we can engineer solutions to that issue before it is a real problem), you still have the issue of hundreds (and in the near future, thousands) of satellites having to negotiate themselves around this big cable in space.

You can either have satellites or space elevators, but not both. Actually, more accurately, you can have satellites in lower-than-GEO orbit or you can have space elevators, but not both.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.newspaceraces.com/2015/12/02/nothing-in-the-news-so-my-take-on-space-elevators/

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