Space Elevators

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  • Topic: Space elevator, Counterweight, Spacecraft propulsion
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  • Published : April 3, 2013
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McNaughton 1
Evan McNaughton
Mr. Hupton
English 10 period 4
28th of January 2013
Better Take the Stairs
These are the infamous words of ambassador Spock, "Space, the final frontier. These are the voyages of the Starship Enterprise. Their ongoing mission to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life forms and new civilizations. To boldly go where no one has gone before"(Spock). Could space travel ever reach a level shown in the popular T.V. series Star Trek? Unfortunately no one knows yet, but the idea of space travel would be more tangible if we built a space elevator. A space elevator, or space tether, is quite literally an elevator that goes from the lobby to Earth’s upper atmosphere. A space elevator is the best way to send supplies and people to an upper orbiting space dock. A space elevator will be feasible to build, allow us to build space ships that would require a space dock, and fulfill our dream of living among the stars. A space elevator is an old idea first theorized in 1895 by the Russian rocket scientist Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, the father of rockets. His initial idea was simply a giant Eiffel tower. However another Russian scientist, Yuri Artsutanov, created the famous space tether design. Both Yuri and Konstantin knew that a space elevator would greatly reduce the cost of sending weight into space. Kevin Bonsor of, How Stuff Will Work, has this to say, “ Non-reusable spacecraft costs approximately 10,000 dollars per pound, and a space elevator could do the job at 100 to 400 dollars per pound”(Bonsor). This is an efficiency increase of any where from 25 to 100 times. McNaughton 2

McNaughton 2
Currently there are five different foundations that hold yearly conferences. At these conferences, competitive games are held that include the latest in space material, and climbing technology. Unfortunately NASA is considering cutting back on their funding for space elevators due to the statement of David Smitherman of NASA/Marshall's Advanced Projects Office. “Construction is not feasible today but it could be toward the end of the 21st century”(NASA). Though David smitherman’s comment may have altered NASA’s view on space elevators, the space elevator community is still optimistic with Google X proposing to start construction by the year 2050. There are quite a few colossal challenges in the construction and powering of a space elevator. The biggest one would definitely gathering the material needed, as either Boron or Carbon nanotubes are still not production ready. Which is unfortunate since, as David Smitherman has said. “Carbon nanotubes have the potential to be 100 times stronger than steel and are as flexible as plastic”(Bonsor 1). So this means that until nanotubes are production ready there will never be a space elevator. The economics of building a space elevator is almost as daunting. Industrial strength multi-walled nanotubes currently cost 125,000 per ton. A space elevator would take 5,204.08 tons of Carbon nanotubes, at today’s prices that’s 650,510,000 dollars just for the material. The price of construction could bring it up to anywhere between 10 to 50 billion dollars. The last major issue for construction is the weather. In all space elevators modules the lower segment is still susceptible to high winds and like all structures Earthquakes. If the space elevator would tumble down it would circle the Earth 4.16 times. McNaughton 3

McNaughton 3
Those problems appear to keep a space elevator from every being constructed. The price tag itself is enough to keep from construction because any new product is most expensive when it first comes out. So Carbon nanotube prices should fall to only a few hundred dollars per ton. As the United States accounting office stated in their letter to congress about the cost of the International Space Station, “ Although the actual cost is unknown the annual maintenance and supply cost will be 1.3 billion dollars”(treasury5). The current price of the...
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