Weekend Walkabout – From India to Broadway…

In this Weekend Walkabout, we travel to India (learning about a Space Conference and why that’s important to fans of the space elevator) and then to Singapore (finding a “space elevator” at the Space Invention Camp) and then on to England (watching a cool video of a carbon nanotube ‘forest’) and finally winding up on Broadway (for a really short story with a space elevator in it).

First up is a Space conference being held early next year in India.  The second International Space Conference is being held on January 8th and 9th at Amity University in Noida, India.  While this conference will be focusing on “normal” space subjects (satellites, interplanetary missions, etc.), the International Space Elevator Consortium (ISESC) will also be represented there by Mr. Sourabh Kaushal.  Sourabh has presented at previous Space Elevator Conferences and was also a contestant in the now-defunct Artsutanov-Pearson competition.  He will have several ISEC publications (ISEC reports and CLIMB – the Space Elevator Journal) to hand out and talk about while he’s there.

I have written about India and the space elevator before, discussing my belief that they could be a real player whenever a space elevator becomes viable.  They have a real space program with many impressive achievements, a real military (necessary to defend a space elevator) and open sea lanes to two locations in the Indian ocean that the Edwards-Westling baseline book indicated as prime possibilities to locate a space elevator.  Add to this their national obsession with beating China in every way they can and I think they must be taken seriously when the materials finally become available to build a space elevator.

Recently I blogged about a study done several years ago extolling the virtues of the island nation of Singapore relating to building a space elevator.  I just found a video of a “space elevator” being part of, I believe, the Wonderswork Space Invention Camp being held in Singapore in November and December of this year.

You can see a Lego poster in the background of the video.  Young (ages 5 and up) children use these Legos and then advance to Lego Mindstorm kits to build various projects, including the ribbon climber shown in the video.  It’s nice to see kids as young as this exposed to these types of technologies.

Next up is a video of a carbon nanotube forest grown at the University of Cambridge in England.  Sadly, they talk about growing these nanotubes for “…their use in various electronic devices…” but Cambridge is also one of the leading research institutions in examining the materials/structural properties of carbon nanotubes (along with Rice University and the University of Cincinnati).

This would be a good time to mention a project I’ve just started and that is a materials review of carbon nanotubes, carbyne, graphene and boron-nitride nanotubes, the leading candidates at this time for becoming strong enough at the macro-level to build a space elevator.  In case you’ve ever wondered why these materials are the best candidates, you should enjoy my multi-part post on this subject that I’m planning.  It’s probably a couple of weeks away, but I’m enjoying putting it together.  Stay tuned!

Finally, we have a (very) short story with a space elevator as a part of it; Yes Way or Nuclear Bomb Called Desire.  I don’t know if Tennessee Williams would have approved, but he probably wouldn’t have minded, either.

The brevity of this story reminds me of the Urban Legend revealing the winner of a concise essay contest combining the elements of religion, sex and mystery.  The winner:

Good God, I’m pregnant!  I wonder who did it?

And with that, I bid you all a good week…

The Space Elevator Translation Project

Many years ago, I started a Translation Project for this site.  My idea was to find all of the translations for the English/American term “space elevator” and publish them here on this blog.

When the ISEC website was initially set up, I “loaned” them this project as they needed content.  Now, however, they have plenty and so I have reclaimed this project for this blog.  You will find the current content of this project on one of the menu tabs near the top of the blog.

I haven’t had new updates in some time – come on everyone – if you know the way to say “space elevator” (or “space lift” or whatever term would be appropriate in your language), please let me know so I can add to this list.

Extra credit for translations into Vulcan, Klingon and Romulan…

Thank you!

A new reference site…

Over the years, I have come across several sites around the web which host questions and answers regarding the space elevator.  Many of these appear to be essentially fact-free and not worth the time visiting.

I have found an exception, however, and that is the Space Exploration site of the StackExchange network.  According to Wikipedia, StackExchange is “… a network of question and answer websites on diverse topics in many different fields, each site covering a specific topic, where questions, answers, and users are subject to a reputation award process. The sites are modeled after Stack Overflow, a forum for computer programming questions that was the original site in this network. The reputation system is designed to allow the sites to be self-moderating.

I haven’t looked at all the categories of the site (there are a lot of them) but the Q&A discourse for the questions tagged “Space Elevator” at the Space Exploration site seems to be more well-thought-out than at other such sites.  If you visit this site, I think you’ll agree…

I currently have three sites listed in my DISCUSSION / NETWORKING GROUPS sidebar category, but am removing all three of them and replacing them with the StackExchange site.  The Liftport forums seem to be no more and there hasn’t been a posting in over a year on either the Twitter or the Yahoo Groups forums.

There is an active, ongoing discussion of the space elevator at LinkedIn, but you need to be a member to partake (I’ll add it to the sidebar category too).  If anyone is aware of other good space elevator Q&A sites/forums, please let me know so I can add it to this blog’s sidebar.

The first 40 kilometers…

The baseline design for an earth-based space elevator calls for a tether that is 100,000 km long.  Just 40 kilometers (four one-hundredths of a percent (.0004)) of that length is within the commonly defined boundaries of the earth’s atmosphere.  And yet this tiny fraction of length is “home” to many special problems which must be dealt with; wind, storms, lightning, ice, etc.

A new study has been released on Astra Astronautica entitled Design Concepts for the First 40 KM a Key Step for the space Elevator discussing these exact issues.  From the reports abstract:

 The Marine Node for the Space Elevator Infrastructure is the base for all activities to load and unload the cargo and climbers. As the basic design of the space elevator power system is solar power only, the first 40 km is hazardous to operations and demands enclosed packaging of fragile tether climbers. A significant question is: how do we place a full-up tether climber, driven by solar power, above the atmosphere? Two approaches, starting at the Marine Node, allow the tether climber to initiate the climb with solar energy above the atmosphere. The third viable approach is to provide a platform at altitude for initiation of tether climb. These approaches would enable solar power to be the source of energy for climbing. The three approaches are:

Option One and Two: Marine Node (MN) Starting Location.

MN – Box Protection – use boxes to protect the fragile solar panel and power the climber directly with a power extension cord to climb out of the atmosphere.

MN – Spring Forward – use the characteristics of the elastic factor of the tether material.

Option Three: High Stage One—develop a platform at altitude.

Dangers for the space elevator during the first 40 km in altitude are discussed, and the options to deploy the tether climber and its solar arrays from the ocean surface to the desired altitude are explained.

The study is very well done and well worth the time for anyone who is at least casually interested in the idea of a space elevator.  The problems discussed are certainly real and were first discussed at length in the Edwards-Westling book, The Space Elevator: A Revolutionary Earth-to-Space Transportation System.

The idea of “Spring Forward” was inspired by this:

By the way, the Acta Astronautica’s study authors were Dr. John Knapman and Dr. Peter Swan.  Dr. Knapman is an ISEC Board Member and the head of the ISEC Research Committee.  Dr. Swan is also an ISEC Board Member and the president of ISEC.

(The awesome image of Church Bell ringers is from here)

Meteorites and the Space Elevator

A couple of weeks ago, I blogged about a new NASA video showing the relative locations and orbits of the space debris they are tracking.  The assumption here is (and I think it’s correct) is that all this space debris is man-made.  Anything natural approaching from the cosmos is either going to hit the atmosphere or just speed on by as it is traveling much too fast to be captured by earth’s gravity.

And there IS stuff that comes by earth from ‘out beyond’ and it happens more often than you might think.  NASA has just released a map of all small meteorites (from 1 meter to 20 meters in diameter) that have impacted the earth’s atmosphere from 1994 through 2013 – a period of 20 years (once again I am indebted to the most excellent SpaceRef newsletter for this story).  In that 20 year period, NASA traced 556 meteorites of this size impacting the earth’s atmosphere, about one every 13 days.  I think that’s much more frequent than most people imagine.

Any one of these meteorites would be capable of damaging or destroying a space elevator and, like space debris, will have to be carefully watched and tracked.  But unlike space debris, where you have areas along the length of the space elevator with much higher (and lower) probabilities of impacts, meteorites like these could literally hit the space elevator anywhere along it’s length.

A Space Elevator Operations Center will have tracking objects like these as one of its primary responsibilities.

And what do you do if you find one that has a finite chance of hitting your space elevator?  Your only option, really, is to move the tether out of the way.  In their baseline-setting book, Edwards and Westling proposed having a movable earth station for the tether in order to avoid severe earth weather and also to be able to induce oscillations in the tether.  The theory is that if you can make the tether “zig” or “zag” when the space object whizzes by, you can avoid it.

While I agree with the principle, I would respectfully disagree with the method.  Why make the tether oscillate over its entire length in order to move a very small portion of it out of the way?  There are going to be multiple climbers on the tether at any one time.  If you give them a method of propulsion (ion engines would be perfect for this), the one(s) closest to the potential point of impact can induce the oscillation (and other climbers can thrust in the opposite direction to dampen out the oscillations once the object is past).  Also, they’ll be able to react faster – you may not have time to have a wave propagate 75,000 kilometers or more to get the job done.

I think a really cool 3D animation would be to show a section of the tether with climbers moving up and down, carrying cargo, examining and repairing the tether as needed and inducing  and removing oscillations as necessary.  My animation skills are not up to this – any takers?

89 miles from the Equator

89 miles, that’s how far the capital of Singapore is from the equator, the latitude where ‘conventional wisdom’ says a Space Elevator should be built.  Not very far at all.  And this is one of the main reasons why a 2006 study by Dr. Paul T Mitchell, then a Visiting Senior Fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Nanyang Technological University concluded that Singapore would be a very good location for a Space Elevator.

He summarized why he believed this to be so;

“A space elevator would exploit both Singapore’s proclivity for high technology as well as its only natural resources — human ingenuity and geographical location. While there are many speculative reasons for the construction of such a system, the absence of energy resources would form Singapore’s primary interest in a space elevator: unlimited and cheap power from enormous space based solar arrays.”

And he itemized his reasons for locating it in Singapore;

  1. Energy (solar power satellites – no, I’m not a fan of this idea)
  2. One of the few terrestrial locations near the equator that enjoys political stability
  3. Excellent logistical connections
  4. A strong economy
  5. A highly educated population

He does not mention one of the reasons why ‘conventional wisdom’ (I really like using that term when referring to a Space Elevator) says that one should NOT locate a space elevator in such a location as that because of ease of access for terrorists.  Unfortunately, I think this is a very real concern.  A space elevator (like an airplane) is very susceptible to nut-jobs with explosives and physical isolation will be, IMHO, one of the major ways that such risks can be minimized.

Dr. Mitchell’s study is also available for download.

I mention this 8-year old study in today’s blog post because of this, an item mentioned at the end of Appaji Reddem’s article in The Hindu where he states that ‘according to [unnamed] sources’, an “…elevator to space…still is under the active consideration of the government” of Singapore.

I’ve posted a comment on the story asking about the “sources” for this information – their doesn’t seem to be any other way to contact the author.

It would be very nice if it were true but they’re going to have to deal with the materials problem, just like everyone else…

Weekend Walkabout – Do you want to design a Rocket Ship?

According to Wikipedia, a “Walkabout” is “…a rite of passage during which male Australian Aborigines would undergo a journey during adolescence and live in the wilderness for a period as long as six months“.  But a Walkabout is also, according to the Urban Dictionary, “…a spontaneous journey through the wilderness of one’s choosing in an effort to satisfy one’s itchy feet“.  We all have the urge to explore new territory and, while this is THE Space Elevator Blog, I have occasionally posted items which are not strictly space-elevator related.  They were, IMHO, something which might be of interest to you or maybe just something I wanted to opine about (it’s a FEATURE not a BUG :) )…  These posts have been varied, ranging from How I Installed DSL for My Mother to Blaming NASA for Selfies.  In the future, I’m going to make these types of postings the “Weekend Walkabout” feature of this blog, leaving the weekday postings to ‘strictly’ space elevator related items.  These Weekend Walkabout postings might be related to space exploration or anything else, but I’ll try and keep the Politics to a minimum.

I’ve set up a new Blogroll category; “Weekend Walkabout” and will label all future such postings with it and will also, as time permits, perhaps revisit older postings which fall in this category (posted on a weekend or not) and label them as such…

And without further ado, our first Weekend Walkabout…

Conventional wisdom (if I can use that term while referring to a Space Elevator) says that, once we have a Space Elevator, we won’t need Rocket ships anymore.  Not so.  We (the human race) will need even MORE rocket ships once a space elevator is built.  There will be a much greater need to send people and cargo to really interesting places like the Moon, Mars, the Asteroid belt, etc. and that will still require rocket ships.

So, if you are a fan of space elevators, don’t think of Rocket ships as “obsolete” or “evil” – they have their place, it’s just not where they need to use 95% of their weight (the propellant) to get stuff out of earth’s gravity well…

And that brings me to this; the National Space Society (NSS), an affiliate of the International Space Elevator Consortium (ISEC) has launched a project called “Enterprise in Space“, a multi-year effort to “…design, build, fly, and eventually return to Earth an orbiter containing student experiments.  This project will be a tribute to the many great visionaries of science and science fiction.  It will demonstrate and pioneer new technologies while inspiring and encouraging space enterprise.  It will promote the development of educational curricula and activities contributing to related future endeavors in science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics (STEAM).  This project engages and inspires the next generation – all ages and walks of life – by igniting a renewed interest in space exploration and development.

The NSS Press Release gives this information about the project from the project’s manager, Jim Plaxco:

“My first tip is to do it. Not only are there some great prizes for the contest winner but the winner will have a place in the history of private/personal space exploration.

My second tip is that you don’t have to be a master of 3D or CAD software. I’ll remind you that such software is a very recent invention. It’s the design that counts and that can be illustrated using nothing more complex than paper, pencil, and ruler.

Third is to follow the rules. An important rule is to not design a spacecraft that looks like a spacecraft that is associated with a spacecraft from TV or film. It must be your own original design.

Fourth is to be mindful that the spacecraft you design will be housing somewhere around one hundred student experiments. That means avoiding a design that minimizes internal volume. Once manufactured, your orbiter will physically have as its maximum dimensions 8 feet by 8 feet by 6 feet so be mindful of the factors 8 x 8 x 6 in designing your craft.

So now is the time to either fire up your favorite graphics software or grab your drafting supplies and get to designing a spacecraft that is truly unique. The submission deadline is fast approaching so don’t delay. But first make sure you fully understand the contest by reading the Enterprise In Space Design Contest Rules.”

Designing a rocket ship?  This sounds Über-cool.  The deadline to get your design in is December 7th – not very far away…

Oh, and why did I use that particular picture thumbnail (which I obtained from here) in this post?  Check out the Enterprise in Space website to find out…

Summaries from Space Elevator Conference workshops now posted

Mini-Workshops were held at both the 2013 and 2014 ISEC Space Elevator Conferences.  These Workshops, conducted by a subject expert, delved more deeply into individual topics relating to the Space Elevator.  Summaries of many of these Workshops are now available here on the ISEC Website.  You can find them under the “Activities” tab on the Main Menu.

Summaries of all three of the Mini-Workshops held at the 2013 Conference are available as well as a summary for one of the 2014 Conference workshops.  Two additional Workshops were held at the 2014 Conference and summaries for those will be posted over the next couple of months.

These workshops are very useful exercises and also a lot of fun to participate in.  They have proven to be a very successful part of the Conference and will be, I’m sure, included in future conferences.

2015 ISEC Space Elevator Conference announced!

ISEC has announced the 2015 ISEC SPACE ELEVATOR CONFERENCE!  This event will be held at Seattle’s Museum of Flight from August 21st through the 23rd, 2015.

This will be the fourth year in a row that ISEC has held its conference at this venue.  It’s an incredible place to visit – the facilities are outstanding and the exhibits have to be seen to be believed.  Truly, the Museum is a must-see place.

A very preliminary program outline has been posted on the Conference website.  It’s not too soon to begin planning to attend (or to present at!) the conference.

Be there or be square!

IAC2015 will have a Space Elevator Track

The 2015 International Astronautical Congress will be held next October in Israel and it has a space elevator track, D4.3.:

D4.3. Technology Assessment and Space Elevators Components

The recently completed IAA study, “Space Elevators – Feasibility and Next Steps” looked at engineering, operational, and funding steps towards an operational capability. This session will evaluate the current and near-term potential of the necessary technologies. They will be evaluated with respect to the NASA TRL’s and identify risks associated. In addition, the session can accept the analysis of other issues leveraging this remarkable transportation capability of routine, inexpensive and safe access to our solar system.

Peter Swan
SouthWest Analytic Network — United States
Robert E Penny
Cholla Space Systems — United States

Akira Tsuchida
Earth-Track Corporation — Japan

At this year’s (2014) IAC Conference in Montreal, there was also a space elevator track, with several people who have long been involved in the space elevator effort attending and presenting.  This gives me a good excuse to post a picture sent to me by one of the attendees at that conference, Stephen Cohen.  Stephen presented a paper on Tether Dynamics/Oscillations at a space elevator conference several years ago and has stayed involved in the effort since then.  He is also the Technical Editor for Volume 3 of CLIMB, the Space Elevator Journal.

Left to right are Professors Arun Misra, Stephen Cohen and Hironori Fujii, all experts in tether dynamics.  Incidentally, Stephen is the author of the Engineer’s Pulse.  If you check out the latest post in his blog, you will see a Halloween costume that only a Physics geek would dream up :)

(Click on the picture thumbnail to see a full size version)

The Space Elevator Blog and Social Media

I started this blog in April of 2006.  At that time, blogging was still fairly new and pretty much state-of-the-art in terms of private individuals being able to opine about a topic on the Internet.

But time marches on and blogging has now taken a “side-seat” (I won’t say “back-seat”) to the various Social Media outlets that are now ubiquitous; Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, etc.  I’ve been somewhat oblivious to this in terms of this blog, preferring to “stay pure”, but I’ve been nudged to add options to this site to allow people to share my posts on various social media outlets.

So, you will now find buttons at the bottom of each post allowing you to Share them with your Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn and Reddit accounts and also giving you an easy way to email (gasp, how outdated!) the link of a specific post.

I probably should have done this long ago, but I confess I’m a bit of a dinosaur when it comes to Social Media.  But it really is possible to (occasionally) teach an old dog new tricks and I’m happy to oblige.

So, go ahead and Share away – and if there is a social media outlet connection that you would like me to add to this blog or if you are having an issue with the connection links I’ve provided, please send me an email and let me know.

Geez, a new theme this year and now connection to social media – what’s next?


For the past several months, Wikistrat has been working on building forecasts for the private space industry.  One of their scenarios has been projecting how a space elevator might come about.  In the opening words from their report:

In February 2014, Wikistrat ran an internal simulation led by Bruce Wald, former director of the U.S. Navy’s space research program, in which 75 analysts (including veterans of the sector) were asked to forecast the shape of the private space industry in the second half of the 21st  century. Over 30 scenarios were generated, ranging from very conservative to optimistic projections – such as this one, which examines possible future efforts to construct a space elevator. It was written by this simulation’s supervisor Yoni Dayan, with insights from experts such as Dr. Brad Edwards and Jerome Pearson, as well as Dr. Peter Swan and Ted Semon from the ISEC.

The scenario paints the picture of the Europeans being the first to build a Space Elevator after the necessary material (“Astralyne”) is invented.  It puts the ground station in French Guiana, just a few hundred miles north of the equator (and already home to the rocket base at Kourou), discusses the major business drivers and, in general, gives a very realistic scenario of how we could see something like this play out in the future.  I just hope I’m around to see it :)

I’ve been privileged to work with the author, Yoni Dayan, as he prepared this report (along with such luminaries as Dr. Brad Edwards, Jerome Pearson and Dr. Peter Swan – they’re the real experts) and it’s been a lot of fun.  There have certainly been some differences of opinions along the way, but one of the real positives of this final report is its plausibility – there is nothing in there that you can look at and say “No way”…

The final report has just been released, so read and enjoy…

If you want to connect with Yoni Dayan, to perhaps ask him questions about the scenario or for any other comments you might have on the report, you can find him on LinkedIn.

Wikistrat is an organization that “…is the world’s first Massively Multiplayer Online Consultancy (MMOC). It leverages a global network of subject-matter experts via a patent pending crowdsourcing methodology to provide insights unavailable anywhere else. This online network offers a uniquely powerful and unprecedented strategic consulting service: the internet’s only central intelligence exchange for strategic analysis and forecasting. These ideas and insights are delivered, for the first time, on a real-time, interactive platform.

The answer is “No”

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) has a podcast series they describe as:

Quirky, entertaining and informative, Science Update is a daily, 60-second feature covering the latest discoveries in science, technology and medicine. Produced by AAAS, the world’s largest general science society, Science Update has reported on thousands of scientific and medical breakthroughs—and won dozens of national awards—since its inception in 1988. Science Update even answers listeners’ science questions, phoned in to our toll-free answer line, 1-800-WHY-ISIT (1-800-949-4748), or submitted via our online form on our Contact page. For more in-depth science news, you can also listen to our weekly Science Update Podcast.

I’ve never listened to the podcast before, but an episode released today made me sit up and take notice.  A listener asked if it was possible “…to build an elevator up to the International Space Station (ISS)“.  According to the podcast’s producer, Bob Hirshon, “NASA…says it’s actually something NASA’s investigating in the form of mechanized compartments that climb a cable into space“.  The subject expert Mr. Hirshon was interviewing from NASA was clearly talking about something else (at least I hope she was), making climbers that could crawl up “cable structures“.  He ends the program by saying “So some day sending spare parts up to a space station could be simply a matter of pressing the up button.”  For a space station located along a space elevator, I would agree.  But the listener asked about building an elevator to the ISS.  And the answer to that is no.  No, no, no, no, no…

The ISS orbits the earth at about 4.8 miles per second.  You’re going to build an elevator that somehow attaches to that, or maybe you can “throw” something to the ISS as it whizzes by?  I don’t think so.  And it gets even more amusing.  Imagine an elevator somehow being built “down” from the ISS to the earth.  The bottom end would be traveling greater than Mach 21, assuming it’s at the height of the earth’s surface :)

Even sending something to the ISS from a true space elevator is not easy.  The ISS orbits approximately 205 miles above the earth.  At that height, a point on the space elevator would be traveling .3 miles/second.  So, if you had an item at that height and wanted to send it to the ISS (traveling at 4.8 miles/second), you’d need rockets to accelerate it into the proper direction at an additional 4.5 miles/second and then there’s all that rendezvous trickiness you have to deal with…

So dear listener, what AAAS should have told you is that, while it may be possible to build an elevator to space when the right material becomes available, it will not be possible to build an elevator to the ISS.

Space Elevator disasters are SO photogenic…

Another picture of a potential space elevator disaster has shown up.

Admittedly, this picture of something (meteor, space debris, whatever) striking the space elevator is pretty cool but the ever increasing accuracy of tracking larger sized pieces of space debris should make this a pretty unlikely scenario…

I found the picture here, from a site called 70sSci-FiArt and I think the artist is someone titled “Manchu”…


Dr. John Knapman joins the ISEC Board of Directors

At the recent ISEC Space Elevator Conference, Dr. John Knapman agreed to join the Board of Directors of the International Space Elevator Consortium (ISEC).  Dr. Knapman is the Director of the ISEC Research Committee and has made a presentation at the last couple of Space Elevator Conferences.  His depth and breadth of knowledge are a very welcome addition to the Board.  Some notes from his bio read:

After retiring from IBM, Dr Knapman has worked on a variation of the Lofstrom Loop called the Space Cable. He then adapted this idea to form the bottom part of the space elevator, following a suggestion by Dr. Peter Swan. This is called High Stage One. He is a contributor and co-editor to the recent IAA study and has published several journal papers. He is a Fellow of the British Interplanetary Society. Recently, he became director of research for ISEC. His first degree was in mathematics and his Ph.D. was in Artificial Intelligence.

So he has a Ph.D. in Artificial Intelligence?  I’m glad I’ve been nice to him; hopefully he’ll put in a good word for me when our robot overlords take over…

October ISEC eNewsletter released

The October issue of the ISEC eNewsletter has just been released to the ISEC email list.  Lots of interesting articles in this edition including a summary of one of the mini-workshops from the 2014 ISEC Space Elevator Conference and a call for help with space elevator simulation tools.

You can access the eNewsletter here.

And you can sign up for the email list, of course, if you want to be among the first “in the know” with all the goings on at ISEC.

Space Debris

The October 29th issue of the most-excellent SpaceRef newsletter contains a link to a new video that NASA has posted showing the space debris field orbiting our planet.  It’s the most complete such video I’ve seen, zooming through various orbit levels and showing different viewpoints and perspectives of the debris.

Of course this video only shows the space debris that is known & tracked.  The amount of items too small to be tracked greatly exceed what you see in the video.  It’s important to keep in mind, however, that videos such as this cannot show the vast distances that actually exist between pieces of space debris.  It’s kind of like the pictures you see of the asteroid belt showing asteroids constantly bumping into each other, that’s just not realistic.  Incidentally, on the topic of the distance between asteroids, here is a paper put out by NASA on the probabilities of a collision between asteroids 100 meters or larger in diameter (estimated to be at 30 billion) – they calculate that such occurrences will only happen once every 1.2 million years!  They also give the formulas and assumptions they use so you can have fun figuring out your own asteroid collision scenarios :)  And, as a bonus, the paper shows a picture of two asteroids after a collision.

Anyway, back to earth’s space debris field.  According to the ISEC Report on Space Debris Mitigation (available at the ISEC Store), in Low-Earth-Orbit (LEO), the area with the highest concentration of space debris, there is only piece of space debris (10 cm or larger) ON AVERAGE per 730,000 cubic kilometers.  To put that into perspective, imagine an enclosed corridor, 4.25 km wide and 4.25 km tall, that circles the earth at the equator, a distance of about about 40,000 km.  In that entire area, you would find ONE PIECE of space debris 10cm or larger.  Of course that is an average as there are, alternatively, clouds and voids of space debris.  And the quantity of smaller space debris is, of course, larger.

What does this mean for a Space Elevator?  Well, unlike pieces of space debris that may collide with each other or with a satellite, the Space Elevator is much more vulnerable.  Given enough time, a very long time, EVERY piece of space debris will, sooner or later, impact a space elevator.  Referring again to the ISEC report on Space Debris Mitigation, calculations show that the most vulnerable part of the space elevator to space debris is that portion equivalent to LEO, approximately 200 to 2000 km above the earth.  In that zone, the ISEC report shows that satellites would impact the elevator once every five years, space debris 10 cm or larger would impact the space elevator once per 100 days and space debris smaller than 10 cm would impact the space elevator once every 10 days.  All of these are, again, average numbers.

Does that sound the death knell for the idea of a space elevator?  No, not at all.  What it does mean is that the elevator tether must be designed to cope with this hazard and that CAN be done.  The tether must be robust, able to cope with multiple small impacts and the occasional large one and it must be rigorously monitored and maintained.  I can imagine a scenario where every meter of the tether has multiple monitors viewing it, with Climbers that also examine the tether as it ascends and descends.  As the conclusion of the ISEC Space Debris Mitigation report states;

Space debris mitigation is an engineering problem with definable quantities such as density of debris and lengths/widths of targets.  With proper knowledge and good operational procedures, the threat of space debris is not a show stopper by any means.  However, mitigation approaches must be accepted and implemented robustly to ensure that engineering problems do not become a catastrophic failure event.

If you want to learn more about this, visit the ISEC Store to purchase the entire report.  You can use information from it the next time one of your friends tells you that a space elevator is not feasible because “space debris“…


Space Elevator Art – Part II

Yesterday, I posted several space elevator themed artistic creations and have some more for you today.  Without further ado…

First up is a very cool Anime creation drawn by Fatimi Kito. I don’t know anything else about it, but found it here.

Next up we have a creation from Don Dixon.  According to his website, “Don Dixon is a Fellow and founding member of the International Association of Astronomical Artists (IAAA). Honored by NASA and the New York Society of Illustrators, his artwork has been featured on the covers of Scientific American, Astronomy, Sky and Telescope, Bild der Wissenschaft, and dozens of books, ranging from physics compendiums to science fiction novels.His painting Red Mars, cover art for the first book in Kim Stanley Robinson’s award winning trilogy, rode the Phoenix spacecraft to a successful landing in the arctic region of the Red Planet in 2008 as part of the Planetary Society’s digital ‘Martian Library.’”  That’s quite a resume!

Finally, I present to you two images from French artist Ludovic Celle. He has created several images of a Martian space elevator which you can view on his website. The first one is entitled Descent at Dusk while the second, inspired by the destruction of the Martian Space Elevator in Kim Stanley Robinson’s Red Mars, is labeled Mars – Space Elevator Cable Fall (Horizon). There is another view of the fallen space elevator at his site too.

Clicking on any of these images will display a full-size version – enjoy!

Space Elevator Art

Over the past months, I’ve come across several space elevator concept images and have collected them together into two posts, one for today and one for tomorrow.

First up is an image from a July post on one of my favorite websites, io9Joao Silva is the Brazilian artist who created this – his caption reads: “If you want to get a good look at the long tether linking the space elevator platform planetside to the orbital station they built inside a hollow asteroid, you really need to be in orbit. I come to the forward viewing deck to see it whenever I can.

Next up is one of a series of images (alternative website here) from Némo Tral, a French (I believe) artist.  These images were submitted to the 2012 eVolo Skyscraper competition. and depict a space elevator in the African republic of Gabon.

Then, of course, there is Gundam, that absolutely awesome Japanese anime creation about giant robots.  A space elevator plays a prominent role in the Anno Domini timeline episodes.  There are a lot of Gundam – Space Elevator images on the web, one of my favorites is shown below.  Check out the Gundam Orbital Elevator page to see more.

And, as Gundam is to the Anime world, Halo is to the gamer world and Halo also has its own space elevator.  The Mombasa Orbital Elevator (aka the “Mombasa Tether”) is located “at the heart of the East African Protectorate city of New Mombasa on Earth“.  The Halo Wikia Orbital Elevator page has many graphics you can enjoy, one of my favorites is this one:

Clicking on any of these images will display a full-size version – enjoy!

More tomorrow…

Space Elevator 20XX – “Additional Reading”

In yesterday’s post, I talked about the new crowd-funding campaign to create Space Elevator – 20XX, a “dialogue driven web game“.  Reading about this new project and then writing the blog post caused me to think about life on a space elevator and the books I had read which had this as theme.  The ones I can recall are:

Horizons by Mary Rosenblum.  I blogged about this back in March of 2007 (Has it really been 7&1/2 years since then?  Geez…).  Check out my blog post for a brief review of the book, but suffice it say that I remember really enjoying it.  The concluding line in my review was “Overall, however, I quite enjoyed the book and would recommend it to anyone who wants to see how a future, Space-Elevator based civilization might develop.

Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson.  It’s been a long time since I’ve read this – too long in fact, but as I recall, there was some description of life aboard the Mars Space Elevator, that is until it was sabotaged and the space station (Apex Anchor) went flying off into space.  I’ve never posted a book review but have made my feelings known in this blog post, detailing a new TV series which is supposed to be based on this book.


Running The Line, a collection of ‘Selected stories and images from the 2005 Clarke-Bradbury International Science Fiction Competition‘ edited by Dr. Brad Edwards and David Raitt.  I had blogged about this book in a very brief post in April of 2007 and, in that post, had leaned on a more detailed review of this book by “Dr. Coburn”.  Sadly, the link to that review no longer works.  It’s been many years since I’ve read this collection, but as I recall, many/most of the shorts dealt with a specific aspect of living on a space elevator.

There might be other books with these theme, but I can’t think of them at the moment.  So, if you want a primer on how you might want to navigate through this ‘dialogue driven web game’, these books might provide you with some clues.

Space Elevator – 20XX

The last several weeks have seen three crowd-funding campaigns for projects related to the space-elevator.  The two Kickstarter projects for creating Documentaries relating to the space elevator, Sky Line and Shoot The Moon, have been successfully funded and we should be seeing the fruits of the donations in the coming year.  In addition, we have the ongoing Indiegogo funding campaign for Open Source The Way Up which I blogged about several days ago.

And now we have a FOURTH space elevator-related crowd-funding project, this one much different than the other ones.  Space Elevator – 20XX is, in the words of the creator, David Ly;

“Stories about space elevators! A dialogue focused web game: make permanent choices and create parallel universes!

Mankind has completed their greatest monument, a 62,000 mile (100,000 km) long space elevator. How would everyday people react? Find out in this first episode.

What’s a dialogue driven web game? Imagine taking all the dialogue options from Bioware’s Mass Effect or Telltale’s The Wolf Among Us, and and adding branching story line/ parallel universes on top of that.”

I’ve never played (or even heard of) a “dialogue driven web game” before now.  It doesn’t sound like my ‘cup of tea’, but I guess I won’t really know until I try one, and hey, why not try one related to the space elevator?

So, if you’re at all interested, head on over to the Space Elevator – 20XX Kickstarter website and check it out.  There are the usual rewards for donations at various levels, and also a very detailed Accountability section which I would advise you read so you know what your donations are going to be spent on.

Four crowd-funding projects related to the space-elevator in the past several weeks – I like it…

The Dire Earth Cycle Trilogy

Something else to put on my reading list…

American Author Jason Hough has penned a trilogy which seems to have not one, but two space elevators as central objects in the plot.  The Dire Earth Cycle, released in three parts in July, August & September of 2013 (yes, I know, I’m late to this, but hey, the Prequel won’t be released until November of this year!), tells us the story of:

Part 1 – The Darwin Elevator: In the mid-23rd century, Darwin, Australia, stands as the last human city on Earth. The world has succumbed to an alien plague, with most of the population transformed into mindless, savage creatures. The planet’s refugees flock to Darwin, where a space elevator—created by the architects of this apocalypse, the Builders—emits a plague-suppressing aura.
Skyler Luiken has a rare immunity to the plague. Backed by an international crew of fellow “immunes,” he leads missions into the dangerous wasteland beyond the aura’s edge to find the resources Darwin needs to stave off collapse. But when the Elevator starts to malfunction, Skyler is tapped—along with the brilliant scientist, Dr. Tania Sharma—to solve the mystery of the failing alien technology and save the ragged remnants of humanity.

Part 2 – The Exodus Towers: The sudden appearance of a second space elevator in Brazil only deepens the mystery about the aliens who provided it: the Builders. Scavenger crew captain Skyler Luiken and brilliant scientist Dr. Tania Sharma have formed a colony around the new Elevator’s base, utilizing mobile towers to protect humans from the Builders’ plague. But they are soon under attack from a roving band of plague-immune soldiers. Cut off from the colony, Skyler must wage a one-man war against the new threat as well as murderous subhumans and thugs from Darwin—all while trying to solve the puzzle of the Builders’ master plan . . . before it’s too late for the last vestiges of humanity.

Part 3 – The Plague Forge: The hunt is on for the mysterious keys left by the alien Builders. While Skyler’s team of immune scavengers scatters around the disease-ravaged globe in search of the artifacts, Skyler himself finds much more than he expected in the African desert, where he stumbles upon surprising Builder relics—and thousands of bloodthirsty subhumans. From the slums and fortresses of Darwin to the jungles of Brazil and beyond, Skyler and company are in for a wild ride, jam-packed with daunting challenges, run-and-gun adventure, and unexpected betrayals—all in a race against time to finally answer the great questions that have plagued humanity for decades: Who are the Builders, and what do they want with Earth?

So, an Australian AND a Brazilian Space Elevator, what’s not to like? :)

And, as noted above, there is a Prequel coming out in November.  The Trilogy has received many favorable reviews on Amazon and I’m looking forward to reading it.  As it is set in the twenty-third century, I don’t know how much the story will match up with what is currently considered the most feasible way to build a space elevator, but the author did state in an interview,I needed somewhere reasonably close to the equator for the physics of a space elevator to work” so he has been paying attention.

I’ll be buying the books on Amazon, that’s my favorite shopping place.  However, they are offered for sale in many locations, detailed on the author’s website, so you have options.  And, when I do read them, I’ll post my thoughts about them here…

(Click on the Cover thumbnails to see a larger version)

Elevator To Space

Several years ago, 4 comics (Alex Koll, Sean Keane, Louis Katz & Chris Garcia) got together to create several short, funny, space-elevator vignettes entitled Elevator To Space.  The premise was four guys in a (building) elevator, riding it up to space.  They created 39 of these videos and they range from mildly humorous to laugh-out-loud funny.

They used to be kept at www.elevator2space.com, but some time ago let that URL lapse and it is now owned by a cybersquatter.  Most of the videos are posted on Vimeo, but you have to hunt for them a bit.  I’ve finally gathered together all the links to the videos and they can now be found on this blog’s sidebar, near the bottom.

I could only find Episode 27 on YouTube, so it has that very annoying commercial in front (which you can bypass after a few seconds).  And, of course, there is no EPISODE 13 for obvious reasons.  So peruse them and enjoy.

Some of my favorites:

EPISODE 2 – How to get rid of that annoying Elevator Music.

EPISODE 12 – Mexican birthday celebration!

EPISODE 26 – Oops!

EPISODE 32: – Violence!

EPISODE 19: And, of course, their very special Public Service Announcement.


Down to the wire again…

A few days ago, I was able to share the happy news that the Space Elevator Documentary Sky Line had been successfully funded via Kickstarter.

Regular readers also know that there is another Space Elevator Documentary, Shoot The Moon, which is also trying to get funded via Kickstarter.

As of posting this, there are only 31 hours to go in this campaign and it is closing in on it’s funding goal of $37K.

If you’re interested in helping a Documentary targeting the Michael Laine / LiftPort effort to build a lunar space elevator, please consider donating to the effort, as I have.

Thank you!

New European Space Elevator competition planned

Details are very sketchy, but the good folks who ran the previous EUSPEC (European Space Elevator Challenge) have announced a new competition for 2015.  From their webpage:

“The next European Space Elevator Challenge will take place in 2015!

We are currently in the planning phase of EUSPEC 2015. Details regarding competition dates, rule book and team registration will be announced shortly on this website and on our Facebook page. Stay tuned!”

Of course this blog will be covering any and all developments with this event.  I would end this post with my tagline “Stay tuned!”, but EUSPEC used it already :)

Crowd Funding and the Space Elevator

Yet another space-elevator-related crowd funding effort has gotten underway, this time on Indiegogo.  Whereas the three previous space-elevator-related crowd funding efforts have been fairly modest in their goals ($8K for the initial LiftPort effort, $20K for the Sky Line Documentary and $37K for the Shoot The Moon Documentary), this new effort is trying to raise $1,000,000 – yes, a million dollars!

It is called “The Space Elevator: Open Source The Way Up” and, beneath the airy hyperbole, the ‘space elevator tower’ it’s proposing seems to be a variant of Nelson Semino’s concept known as “The SpaceShaft”.  The idea behind it is this: when Konstantin Tsiolkovsky originally proposed his tower that reached from the earth to Geostationary orbit (GEO), he was using the Eiffel Tower as a model, an actual building.  An earth-to-GEO tower is not possible as there is no material known (or theorized) that is strong enough to handle the weight of such a structure.  Of course, this hasn’t stopped some physics-challenged people from proposing one anyway – here is an article describing the recent idea of a “…Bollywood singer and part-time inventor…” for a 160km tall elevator called the ‘Telescopic Exo Shell’.  I do plan on putting up a separate blog post showing why this is just not possible.

The SpaceShaft attempts to get around this problem by building the tower out of lighter-than-air blocks filled with (in Semino’s case) Helium or (in this Open Source project) Hydrogen.  It sounds plausible at first rub, but even a cursory look at the idea starts to reveal problem after problem.  For example, system stability.  Wind is an issue, a real one.  The Space Shaft tries to solve it with a multitude of guy wires, Open Source by “Using sensors around the tower we can detect incoming winds and power the vertical blades to cancel any force that would bend the tower. If the capability of the wind blades is overwhelmed by the wind then magnetic flux interactions at each module connection will further counter act the bending.”  The proposal goes on to say that if this is not enough, the units will separate by repelling themselves magnetically and floating away, to be reconnected when things calmed down (presumably with quad-copters as stated in the video).  Professor Emmett Brown would be proud…

Another thing Open Source doesn’t address is the lifting capacity of the hydrogen modules.    Open Source wants to power the climbers electromagnetically.  If you’re talking about any reasonable sized payload (metric tons, at least), you’re going to need enormous magnets and then some way to power them.  According to the Video, the lower quarter of the tower will be wind turbines – will that generate enough power?  And they have weight too.  All of that has to be supported, plus the Climber & Payload of course.  Lots and lots and lots of weight.  And, at essentially 1G all the way up (gravity at 50km is 98% of earth-normal).  Open Source also says that the tower/tube is ‘evacuated’  That means that there has to be some sort of door and opening/closing mechanism at the top and also means the modules themselves must be reinforced as external air pressure will try to compress them inwards.  More weight.

And then, of course, Open Source is proposing a 50km tall tower, filled with hydrogen, subject to lightning strikes and using electricity to power the magnets.  What could possibly go wrong?

I love some of the rewards specified:  If you contribute ‘just’ $500, you get ‘2 days above the atmosphere in high quality hotel comfort and restaurant all inclusive‘ – and your safety is guaranteed!  And if you contribute $100,000, you get a ‘Carbon Fiber Floating House‘ with ‘free satellite internet for life‘ – such a deal!  And you won’t have long to wait.  The Hotel is supposed to be ready in December, 2018 and the Floating House in January, 2019.  And hey, they accept BitCoin!

I could go on, but I think I’ve made my point and am being generous in saying that this is just a crazy proposal.

To be clear, I’m not knocking Nelson Semino’s SpaceShaft.  He’s done a lot of work with this and people I respect think there is some merit to his idea.  But this Open Source project is a different animal altogether; trying to raise $1,000,000 based on nothing more than a video and some kumbaya verbiage.

One last problem; the crowd-funding campaigns I’ve participated in are structured so that if the total amount of money pledged by the campaign deadline does not reach the funding goal, pledged funds are returned to the donor.  But Open Source is an Indiegogo Flexible Funding campaign – that means that the project will keep all money donated (minus Indiegogo’s 9% cut), regardless of how much is donated.  I think I’m very safe in saying that anyone foolish enough to donate to this project is going to be very disappointed…

Space Invaders meets the Space Elevator

This popped up in my Google Alerts today…

There is a gaming website called Ludum Dare.  It is:

“…a community of game developers best known for the accelerated game development event (Game Jam) of the same name. During a “Ludum Dare”, participants create games from scratch in a weekend, based on a theme suggested by the community. Ludum Dare events take place regularly, every April, August and December.

Founded in April 2002 by Geoff Howland, the Ludum Dare community has been running its brand of Game Jam for more than 12 years now (before the term Game Jam had even caught on). The website is run and maintained by Mike Kasprzak, an original participant and part of the team that has been bringing you the event since the beginning.”

Their latest offering is called “Space Elevators – An LD30 Jam Game“.  Aliens are coming to invade earth and you have to build a giant spaceship to evacuate humanity.  And, of course, you need a space elevator in order to get some of the required resources from another planet.

The game is pretty rough (for example, there doesn’t seem to be a way to play it in Easy mode – you have to click on Normal mode – otherwise you get only instructions, there are some spelling errors, etc.), but given their modus operandi, that’s perfectly understandable.  If I have time this weekend, I will play this and see what kind of success I can have.

The graphics really remind me of the old Space Invaders game; low-resolution, jerky movements, gaudy colors, etc. – it was one of my favorite games and I was sorry when the controller bit the dust.

Anyway, enjoy!

Sky Line is funded!


by Jesse Gelaznik


Sky Line, the space elevator documentary film being produced by Going Up! Films, has been successfully funded!  They raised more than the $20,000 they needed and, as a result, it’s officially a “go” for the film.

Thank you to all of you who, like me, donated to getting this project finalized.  Can’t wait to see the film!

Painting with lasers…

On today’s edition of Marc Boucher’s most excellent SpaceRef eNewsletter, there was a video of the International Space Station being ‘painted’ by a green laser.

This gets a 9+ on my cool-o-meter…

One of the ongoing debates about an earth-based space elevator is how will the tether climbers be powered.  Lasers were the possibility originally suggested by Dr. Brad Edwards in his and Eric Westling’s reference work and they still may be the way to go, at least for part of the journey.  But alternatives now, especially the solar power solution originally suggested (I think) by Ben Shelef may replace or augment laser power.

And, a related ‘oldie but goodie’.  This is from the 2009 Space Elevator games and shows airborne targets being laser painted by the LaserMotive and Kansas City Space Pirates teams.


Down to the wire…

Pun intended.   We’re in the last few days of the Kickstarter campaigns for two space elevator documentaries.  Status updates from the producers:

First from Sky Line:

SPACE ELEVATOR by Richard Bizley



Greetings Backers!

We want to take a moment to thank all 139 of you for helping to get us so close to the 75% mark!  As we close in on 15k raised, we’re left with LESS THAN THREE DAYS to reach our funding goal — the campaign ends Wednesday night.  So as always, PLEASE SHARE our project link and together we can finish this movie! (LINK FOR SHARING: http://kck.st/1BXblCZ)

We are still getting some great press, including this excellent article on SKY LINE by noted festival programmer and film consultant Basil Tsiokos… “In the Works: SKY LINE” –

Please note that there are just two pieces of art left for contributors to the campaign at the $500 level: SPACE HOTEL by David A. Hardy and SPACE ELEVATOR by Richard Bizley.  These gorgeous prints, which also appear in our film, were generously donated by the artists and signed especially for this effort.


… and a big THANK YOU from The Sky Line Family.

And from Shoot The Moon!

The campaign is going so well! We’re over 50%, with hundreds of backers. If everyone convinced one person to back at $15, we’d be made in the shade!

Here’s some big news:

1) Benjamin and Idil are headed to Seattle this week to film some more scenes for the documentary. We wouldn’t be planning this trip if we hadn’t been filled with confidence by the outpouring of support we’ve gotten in this campaign!

2) Reddit AMA! Tomorrow, Wednesday, at 10:00 EST, 7:00 PST, we’re doing an AMA on Reddit. We’ll post the link here, but you can also follow @ShootTheMoonDoc on twitter to get updates.

3) Google Hangout 2! On Thursday at 12:00 EST, 9:00 PST, we’re doing our second on-camera hangout where you can meet us and learn more about our project. Missed the first? It’s right here!

Thanks again, and keep spreading the word. We’re doing so well, now let’s make a strong push to the finish line!

-Benjamin and the Shoot The Moon Team (Kickstarter campaign here)

Just a few days left.  Please donate to one or both of these efforts and share this with your family and friends – thank you!

ISEC 2014/15 Strategic Plan

Now posted on the ISEC website is ISEC’s Strategic Plan for 2014/15.  The “ISEC Year” starts and ends at the yearly space elevator conference it sponsors, the most recent being at the end of last August and held at Seattle’s Museum of Flight.

As part of the Strategic Plan, ISEC decides on a “theme” for the upcoming year, a topic of interest that ISEC will focus on for the next 12 months and also the subject of the ISEC report for this year.

For this coming year, ISEC has decided upon two themes; “Marine Node Design Considerations” and “Tether Material Status Update“.  I don’t expect an ISEC report to be produced about the Tether Material, but it’s good to periodically revisit this subject as it continues to be (pun intended), the “long pole” in the tent…

Dr. Peter Swan, the President of ISEC, has recruited Vernon Hall to head up the Marine Node Design Considerations effort (I blogged about this earlier) while ISEC Director Dr. Bryan Laubscher will be heading up the Tether Material Status Update project.

So, go take a look at the current ISEC Strategic Plan, and if you see something that interests you and you want to get involved, send an email to pete.swan@isec.org.


In January of this year, I blogged about a new short film, Auroras, which was running a Kickstarter campaign to get funded.  They succeeded and a few months ago released their (very) short film.

“In a metropolis at the north pole on planet Earth, a female cyborg (“The Occupant”) is called on a mandatory long term mission to travel along a space elevator through the Aurora Borealis to serve aboard Space Gate Auroras. Forced to leave her pregnant partner, another female cyborg (“The Loved One”), they say goodbye for an extended period. Two women, human or not, in love, are forced to separate and say goodbye for an extended period of time as one departs on a life changing journey to a place that redefines imagination.”

The graphics artistry in this film, especially of the space elevator, is superb.  I’m pretty sure that a ‘real’ space elevator is not going to look like the one in this short production, but it ranks pretty high on my cool-o-meter.  View their Kickstarter page to learn more about the production and what inspired it.

There are two versions of the film, one with a voice-over and one with a musical backdrop (which the writer/director, Niles Heckman, says he now prefers).  The short, especially in the beginning, strongly reminds me of the Harrison Ford Film, Blade Runner  (This reviewer also thought it reminded him of Blade Runner).

First is the voice-over version, followed by the instrumental backdrop version.  Make sure your sound is turned up and you watch it in full-screen mode, the graphics will blow you away…

Space Elevator Documentary updates

As many of you know, there are currently two Space Elevator documentaries in the works and both of them are hoping to raise enough funds via Kickstarter to help them finalize their project.

A brief update on both:

Sky Line is a documentary about the people trying to build an earth-based space elevator.  According to their most recent update, this project has 124 backers, has raised a little over $12K (out of the $20K they need) and has 7 days to go to get fully funded.  In addition, they just sent out this status report:

As you may have heard, SKY LINE won indieWIRE’s Project of the Week on Monday, and it’s all thanks to YOU.  It was certainly a photo finish, as we pulled ahead by 17 votes by the time the poll closed.  We’re heartened by this growing community we’re building together, and look forward to continued success as we race toward the home stretch…

Speaking of finish lines, ours is only a week away!  We’re so pleased to have broken the 12k funding barrier (again thanks to all 122 of you) but that also means we have another 8k to go if we want to collect the funds — which is crucial for us to complete this movie and enter it into festivals. So as always, PLEASE SHARE this project with friends and colleagues, and together we will get there.  Here’s a handy link for sharing:  http://kck.st/1BXblCZ

Shoot the Moon is a documentary about the people trying to build a lunar-based space elevator.  According to their most recent update, this project has 294 backers, has raised a little over $18K (out of $37K) and has 13 days to go to get fully funded.

Please consider supporting one or both of these worthwhile projects – I have!

Obayashi and the Space Elevator

In February of 2012, the Japanese construction company Obayashi announced plans to build a space elevator by the year 2050 (I had previously blogged about this announcement here, here and here).  Recently however, there have been a flurry of stories about the Obayashi project and several readers pinged me about them, wondering “what’s new”.

As it turns out, nothing is new.  The story that started the press avalanche was this one, released on September 22nd by ABC-Australia North Asia correspondent Matthew Carney.  All of the other Obayashi-Space Elevator stories we’ve seen recently were spin-offs, pick-ups from this one.  I contacted Mr. Carney and asked him what prompted him to write the story; was there anything new to report?  He replied:

There was no specific development about the Obayashi space elevator project that prompted the story that was first made known in 2012.   I ran the story because the ABC has never reported on it and simply because it [is] an amazing story that I assumed an audience would appreciate.  In fact the story has been the third most popular story over the entire network in last month.  Pretty amazing so looking at doing a follow up.

So, that’s the scoop, no “new news”.  It’s still very encouraging of course, if this is a real project and not a publicity stunt.  It’s all going to come down to the materials – if the Japanese engineers (or anybody) can solve this problem, then it all becomes possible…

Incidentally, the Obayashi plan is one of the architectures being compared and contrasted in the current ISEC study, “Architectures and Roadmaps“.  It is being primarily coordinated by Michael “Fitzer” Fitzgerald.  At the recent Space Elevator Conference, Fitzer gave a presentation as to the status of the study and held a mini-workshop where conference participants could look at, critique and offer suggestions to the report as it stood at that time.  I believe the goal is to get this report published sometime early next year.  This report will be added to several others produced by ISEC and will be available in both printed and electronic format. (Click on the picture thumbnail of Fitzer giving his presentation to the 2014 ISEC Space Elevator Conference to view a larger version)

The Eight Millionth Floor

ISEC Director and EuroSpaceward liason Dr. Martin Lades sent me this article which he was a technical resource for and which was recently published in the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine.

The title of the article, “Die achtmillionste Etage” (The Eight Millionth Floor) refers to (roughly) the height of Geosynchronous orbit above the earth (assuming a floor height of 4 meters).

Dr. Lades also sent me these ‘fun facts’ about the publication:

“Conservative over-regional newspaper, with a circulation of ~400k, first shipped 1949, old school, second largest in Germany. Much closer to ‘The Financial Times’ if you would compare it and published in Frankfurt, the economic center for Germany.”

Wikipedia states:

  • “It is the German newspaper with the widest circulation abroad, with its editors claiming to deliver the newspaper to 148 countries every day.”
  • “The F.A.Z. promotes an image of making its readers think. The truth is stated to be sacred to the F.A.Z., so care is taken to clearly label news reports and comments as such.”

Dr. Lades concludes by writing: “…being published in that newspaper certainly counts as a step towards ‘people to stop laughing’ about a space elevator concept according to Clarke’s path for new endeavors.

So, if you read German (or can run it through one of the automated translators), enjoy.

(Thank you Martin!)

New Tether experiment planned

This is interesting…

A Tether project proposed by Shizuoka University in Japan has been chosen by JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) to “…test space elevator technologies.”

From the article:

HAMAMATSU, Japan — Shizuoka University’s idea has been selected by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) for a project aimed at releasing an artificial satellite from the International Space Station, all with the aim of testing space elevator technologies.

A team led by Yoshiki Yamagiwa, a professor at the university’s graduate school of engineering, proposed using for the experiment two, 10cm cube-shaped satellites tied with a synthetic fiber…

There’s not much more to the article and a quick check around the internet shows no other english-language articles about this.  They do write that this experiment will be in fiscal 2016, so that means anytime from April 1st, 2016 on…

Reader Darren Coste sent me this story (in Japanese) a few days ago, but when I ran it through the Google translator, it was difficult to understand.

Of course this is very cool, but I am not 100% sure that this experiment is really to test “space elevator technologies”.  Readers may recall the 5-year Spaceward/NASA partnership, the “Space Elevator Games”.  Even though they were called the space elevator games, NASA was not interested in ‘space elevators’ nor did they create the prize money fund for ‘space elevators’.  Rather they were interested in furthering power-beaming and strong tether technology and Spaceward’s Ben Shelef leveraged that into the Space Elevator Games.  Similarly, this may be “just” a tether test, not a space elevator technology test.

Regardless if it is ‘really’ a space elevator experiment or not, testing tethers in space is absolutely essential to further our understanding of this crucial technology.  The article does not say what type of material  the ‘synthetic fiber’ is – it would be Über-cool if it was carbon nanotubes.

And, there is a decent possibility that the tether WILL be made of carbon nanotubes.  Long-time readers may remember that Shizuoka University brought a carbon nanotube tether to the Strong Tether competition in 2009.  It didn’t perform well, but the fact that it was there was important (the picture thumbnail, left, is the tether that Shizuoka entered in the competition – click on it to see a full-size version).

I will be pinging my friends at the Japan Space Elevator Association to see if they know more about this upcoming experiment – stay tuned!


Geese and the Space Elevator

This past Friday, Kate Knibbs over at Gizmodo posted a story about “The Quest to build an elevator to space”.

Kate covers most of the basics but one thought she posted kind of leaves me scratching my head.  “Wayward flocks of geese…could smash into it“.  I’m not sure why anyone would be concerned about this.  A tether strong enough to support a space elevator would not be concerned with a goose flying into it.  A plane, yes, a goose, no.  Think about a goose flying into a half or three-quarter inch steel cable.  The goose would be killed or severely injured.  A carbon nanotube tether (or whatever is used) will be much, MUCH stronger than a steel cable and won’t be concerned with bird strikes.

Note that this is not the same as bird strikes on commercial or military airplanes.  First of all, the force is much greater when a goose hits a plane in flight – the plane is flying several hundred miles per hour.  And second, the materials used to build a plane are not anywhere near as strong as what a space elevator tether would need to be.

Space debris IS an issue; this stuff is traveling thousands of miles per hour and will thus have a lot of energy, enough to damage or even sever the tether (if it is not designed correctly).  Ensuring that space elevator can survive space debris hits (because it WILL get hit) will be one of the “must” design criteria (the International Space Elevator Consortium did an in-depth study on this topic and published a report on it).

Finally, I have to mention one of the comments on the story – I found it very amusing.  People who regularly read this blog know that I am no fan of space-elevator disaster scenarios, but this is just too good to ignore.

Whoever came up with this, I salute you!

Leonard David on the Space Elevator at space.com

And I’m late on this, but now finally starting to catch up on my postings…

Noted science writer (and Keynote speaker at the 2014 ISEC Space Elevator Conference) Leonard David put up a story at space.com about the space elevator.  He attended all three days of the conference and used what he learned there as a basis for his thoughts about the space elevator.  Money quote from the article:

“The next steps for the development of space-elevator infrastructures are focused around the creation and funding of a Space Elevator Institute,” [Dr. Peter ]Swan said. The institute would fund research projects addressing critical issues.

The development of prototype experiments, including tether material design for tensile strength, would be funded by the Space Elevator Institute, he added.”

It’s a very good article about the conference and space elevator technology.

Shoot the Moon!

Another Space Elevator Documentary is being produced and needs support for its Kickstarter campaign.  Producer Alexis Santos of Bad Character productions, supplied me with this information about the effort:

I’m working on a feature-length documentary about a space elevator (yes, the one that was Kickstarted). It’s called Shoot The Moon, and it’ll follow Michael Laine and the LiftPort team as they tackle their biggest experiment yet: sending a robot up 30,000 feet on a tether.

It’s never been done before, and when they do it, it’ll be the tallest free-standing human structure in existence — not to mention the highest a robot has ever gone without the help of rockets or an airplane. The chance of failure is real. The robot could come crashing down 5.68 miles to Earth and crush a 14-year dream, the space elevator idea… and our crew. If it’s a success, we could well be watching a revolution in commercial space.

We’ve just launched a Kickstarter campaign to complete the film, complete with miniature model-based effects.

Funding for this project closes Thursday morning, October 23rd.

Vote for Sky Line!

I have blogged earlier about Sky Line, the new Space Elevator Documentary being produced by Going Up! Films and have asked all of you to support their Kickstarter campaign (and I do so again – this is a very worthwhile project and something that needs to be done).

Earlier this week, indieWIRE had chosen this project as its “Project of the Day” and now it has a chance to win the “Project of the Week” award.  This would be a very good thing for this Documentary campaign, bringing it increased visibility and assistance in their digital distribution.

But to win, they need you to vote for it.  Please visit the voting site and cast your vote for Sky Line.  Voting ends Monday morning – thank you!

The Space Elevator in the Washington Post

The online Washington Post today posted a piece about the Space Elevator by Dominic Basulto.  It’s a good, generally accurate overview of the Space Elevator and was brought about by Dominic’s learning about the Diamond Nanothreads, the new “wonder material’ being much discussed these days.

Dominic contacted me while writing the story, asking my opinion on whether or not Space Elevator’s were feasible, given today’s technology.  I answered that the materials are just not there yet, though work in the lab shows much promise, and he accurately quoted me in his story.

Nice to see the Space Elevator make the Washington Post.  One item of note; he linked to a story about a Russian Space Elevator (I blogged about this way back when) and in that article, they fail to mention Yuri Artsutanov, the true father of the modern-day concept of the Space Elevator.  The man just gets no respect, even in the Russian press.  When he attended the ISEC Space Elevator Conference in 2010 (and what a treat it was to meet him), he told me (via his translator) that he and his family were essentially “persona non grata” in the old Soviet Union and that seems to have carried over to Russia.  They should treat him better and acknowledge his contributions – he’s a national treasure for that country.

The picture, above, is from the 2010 Conference.  Yuri is sitting with Roger Gilbertson, the person responsible for tracking down Yuri’s original article and having it translated into English.  At the conference, Yuri pointed out a few mistakes in the translation and worked with Roger to get them fixed.  The entire story of how Roger was able to get this article translated is fascinating and is chronicled in Volume 1 of CLIMB, the Space Elevator Journal.

Incidentally, Roger is now working for SpaceX, in charge of Public Relations I believe.  You can click on the picture thumbnail to see a full-size version of the picture.

ISEC September, 2014 eNewsletter now out

The September, 2014 ISEC eNewsletter has now been published and is available here.

Among other topics, the eNewsletter discusses TWO space elevator documentaries with ongoing Kickstarter campaigns to help them finish up (I’ve blogged about one and am soon going to blog about the other) and also asks people to contribute to a new feature; “Why should we build a space elevator”?

You can sign up here if you want to get on the ISEC mailing list so that you’ll be among the first to be “in-the-know”!

Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars Trilogy Is Becoming a TV Show

I must admit, I have mixed feelings about this.  On one hand, the trilogy was EXCELLENT.  Exciting, thought-provoking, outstanding science-fiction.  On the other hand, the destruction to the Planet Mars following the sabotage of the Martian Space Elevator was gloriously, elaborately, excruciatingly described.

Current thinking dictates that a “real” space elevator would not be built like the one that Robinson described in Red Mars but I fear that is going to get lost in the shuffle.  I can already imagine the reaction once this production goes live; “See, we must never build a space elevator because it’s too dangerous – look what could happen!

On the other hand, there is the old saw about “There is no such thing as bad publicity”.  Yeah, right.  Maybe we can seize it as a “teaching moment”? :(

Still, I’m looking forward to it – I hope they do justice to the book and it doesn’t turn out to be one of these “loosely based upon…” productions.

And, if you haven’t read the Red/Green/Blue Mars trilogy, you’re missing a treat.  It really is wonderful reading, well deserving the many awards it received.

65th International Astronautical Congress gets underway

The International Astronautical Foundation is hosting its 65th International Astronautical Congress in Toronto, Canada, from September 29th through October 3rd at the Metro Toronto Convention Center.

The Space Elevator, and progress towards building it, will be well represented during this Conference. Dr. Peter Swan, the President of ISEC, will be giving a couple of presentations and Stephen Cohen, Technical Editor of Volume 3 of CLIMB, the Space Elevator Journal will also be presenting.

A new look!

I haven’t updated the “look-and-feel” of this website in, well, forever.  I’m a guy who always recommends to my friends that they keep their software up-to-date, but I guess I’m also like the carpenter and his own home…

Anyway, we’re now on WordPress 4.0, the current version, and have a new theme for the site.  I tried many of the ones out there (both free and for-fee), but wound up using the 2012 theme packaged with WordPress.  Clean, simple, neat, just the way I like it.  And the masthead, designed by Susan Seichrist, which looked really great with the old site theme, looks absolutely awesome (IMHO) with this new site theme (Thanks again Susan!).  The old site was a bit too condensed and this one is much more ‘airy’, maybe even too much.  I might be slightly modifying some of the .css over the next few weeks as I get more used to this new theme.  Or maybe not :)

I still have a few minor tweaks to do; conference pictures from this year are not yet appearing (those pesky spaces in file names) and several posts can now be made to ‘look better’ with the new theme.

Anyway, hope you like it – and now back to posting – I have a lot of new items for everyone!

A new space elevator documentary needs your help!

A new space elevator documentary is being created and it needs your help!  The good folks over at Going Up! Films have been following all of the efforts in the space elevator arena for the past several years, interviewing and filming, and they are now ready to finalize the documentary film they are creating.

They have started a Kickstarter campaign and we need everyone who is interested in the space elevator (or just cool projects in general) to participate and DONATE!

The film is to be called “Sky Line: The Space Elevator Documentary” and will cover (in their words):

“For the past several years, the SKY LINE team has been following the space elevator community as they pursue a seemingly impossible vision. From attending various scientific gatherings, to covering NASA’s high-stakes Space Elevator Games, we got to know the major players and watch their successes and struggles, both personal and professional.  As we wrap up filming and head into post-production, we’re asking for your help with finishing funds, so we can bring this fascinating story to life.”

If you support the idea of a Space Elevator, if you want to help get the word out to everyone, please DONATE and support this project.  I have and I hope you will too.

Visit their Kickstarter website to donate and to see the (very cool) trailer…

NASA Spinoffs

While this topic is not directly related to a space-elevator, I thought you would find it as interesting as I did.  And, with the recent news that NASA has chosen Boeing and SpaceX to ferry astronauts to/from the Space Station, it’s pretty timely.

Krista Coleman sent me a link to an infographic, a portion reproduced below, detailing some of the spinoffs that have been created due to NASA’s efforts over the past several decades.  Some I already knew, some were surprises to me.

Who knew that we could blame NASA for selfies!

To see the entire infographic, click here.

Thanks Krista!

The Space Elevator appears in the NSS Ad Astra magazine

In the Fall, 2014 issue of the National Space Society’s Ad Astra magazine, there is a four page article on the Space Elevator.

Unlocking the potential of space elevators is a four page article, written by Peter Swan (president of ISEC) and Cathy Swan, that referenced and summarized the recent IAA study on Space Elevators.  The whole article (which you can read here) is very good, but for me, the “money quote” was:

“The mission [for space business] for success is simple: Reduce the price for access to GEO to $500/kg while changing the model to: daily, routine, smooth-riding, less dangerous, environmentally sound, open size/mass criteria and mission enabling.”


GEO, the SE center of mass and tether taper…

One of the items which popped up in my FeedDemon Reader a while ago was a Blog post from a group called Sustainable Nano. They are: “The Center for Sustainable Nanotechnology is an initiative funded by the National Science Foundation to carry out research that will enable the development of sustainable, societally beneficial nanotechnologies. We are a group of well-connected but geographically diffuse scientists—at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (Hamers & Pedersen groups), University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (Klaper group), the University of Minnesota (Haynes group), the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (Murphy group), Northwestern University (Geiger group), and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (Orr).” It’s a neat website with plenty of interesting posts – I do like poking around in it.

Anyway to the post in question: “Space Elevator: A Lasting Dream for a Sky-reaching Tree“. The post describes the basics of the space elevator and how a product like carbon nanotubes, one of their group’s focus, could make it all possible. Pretty standard stuff, but the graphics are worth commenting on…

The first graphic shows how a space elevator is “held up” by using the comparison to holding a stick with a rope attached to it and, the other end of the rope attached to some sort of counterweight. Spin the rope about your head (or, in the post’s example, spin your entire body) and, if you’re going fast enough, the rope will stick out straight from you towards the counterweight simulating the appearance of a space elevator. This is a common enough analogy, but does have its flaws. A space elevator is held up by balancing the forces of gravity and centrifugal force but this analogy is only demonstrating the centrifugal force portion. You (or the stick) have taken the place of gravity by holding the “earth-end” of the tether and keeping the counterweight from flying away. But I can’t think of a better way to demonstrate it and it does have the advantage of quickly being able to demonstrate the basic idea. In the graphic though, it shows Geostationary orbit (GEO) much closer to the counterweight than to the earth and the center of mass of the system at GEO (that’s where the arrows in the graphic seem to be pointing to). Using the standard Edwards/Westling model, the elevator tether is 100,000 km long while GEO is approximately 35,700 km above the surface, i.e. much closer to earth than to the counterweight at the end of the tether. Regarding the location of the center of mass of the system, it needs to be above GEO.  I, myself, used to erroneously think that the center of mass would be at GEO and have visited this topic before. Dr. Blaise Gassend wrote up a simple explanation of why the center of mass has to be ABOVE geosynchronous (geostationary – GEO) orbit.

The second graphic, the one referring to the almost-certainly necessary taper of the elevator tether is one that I’ve seen in similar format several times before. I’ve wanted to address it before, but just haven’t – I’ve been too lazy to try and draw my own version of the “correct” ratios for a tethered taper (I’m just familiar enough with Photoshop to be dangerous…). You’ll note that the blog post shows the tether increasing from a point at the earths surface to something much wider at GEO and then reducing back to a point at the counterweight. Ignoring the location of GEO (the same as in the first graphic), the idea of the tether widening from the earth to GEO and then narrowing from GEO to the counterweight is correct. But the ratio is wrong:

Creating my own model took me a lot longer than I had first thought – I redid it a half-dozen times before I had something I thought was worthwhile. Of course it’s not to scale either, but the ratio of the taper width at the earth’s surface (13.52) to its width at GEO (35.44) to its width at the counterweight (23.88) is correct. Also, given the shown length of the tether, the location of GEO is correct. The graphic is greatly “squooshed” of course, being much shorter than a real tether in this scale (by several orders of magnitude). But the difference between the length and the width of the tether demands this type of alteration.

One other thought; I think when most people look at drawings of tether taper, they assume that it’s the width of the tether which must alter. That’s not necessarily the case. It can also be the thickness and that, I think, would have advantages. If the width of the tether was constant (once you’re above the atmosphere – in the atmosphere it may well be a cable), then you don’t have to design a climber which can accommodate varying widths; much easier, I think to design a climber for a tether with a varying thickness. But then again, maybe it will be something like a Hoytether.

Anyway, enough. Where did I get my numbers? They came from the most excellent spreadsheet developed by long time friend of the space elevator Maurice Franklin and which you can find by clicking on its page link at the top of blog (The SE Analysis Spreadsheet). I’ve blogged about this before, and I’d like to encourage readers to play around with it – when you do, you really begin to get a feel for the physical constraints that engineers and scientists have to deal with in the real world. I used his Edwards/Westling Baseline model with no changes.

Dr. Brad Edwards at ideacity

Some months ago, Dr. Brad Edwards made an appearance at the ideacity forum in Toronto and gave a talk on Space Elevators.  You can view the video here – it’s not long, less than 20 minutes.  I always enjoy hearing Dr. Edwards speak about the Space Elevator, but I do have a couple of issues with his presentation.

To listen to the talk, one would think that the idea of a Space Elevator was first explored in science fiction.  He did not mention either Yuri Artsutanov or Jerome Pearson, the first engineers who came up with the modern-day idea of a Space Elevator and who, in the vernacular of the field, “ran the numbers” (especially Jerome Pearson).  Both of them did so long before Sir Arthur C. Clarke popularized the idea in his book The Fountains of Paradise (both authors, by the way, corresponded with Sir Arthur about space elevators).  There can be no disputing Dr. Edwards contribution towards the effort to build a Space Elevator; he (and Eric Westling) wrote THE book on space elevators, but he wasn’t the first person to describe what a real space elevator might look like.

According to his talk, we now have the carbon nanotubes necessary to build a space elevator.  Oh, if only that were true. I wish, I wish, I wish…  Yes, there have been carbon nanotubes built which are 55 cm long and yes, there have been carbon nanotubes which have tested out at 200 GPa, but not at the same time.  And, even if you can get CNTs to grow to this length and have perfect (no defects) structure, they’re still not going be aligned – and alignment is key to making threads of macro-strength.  I do agree that we’re getting closer, but I don’t think we’re all that close yet.  Spinning CNTs into threads is a whole different kettle of fish than spinning normal animal or plant fibers into threads.

And finally, let’s talk about my “favorite” subject, space-based solar power (SBSP).  I’m already on record as being very skeptical (to say the least) about SBSP being able to provide power except under unique, niche circumstances.  Dr. Edwards talked about the Obayashi project to build a space elevator and provide SBSP for Japan.  Let’s run the numbers for “just” Japan.  The most current electric generating capacity I could find for Japan was for 287,000,000 kW (for 2013).  Energy available at earth’s orbit is 1.3kW/m2.  What efficiency number should we use?  Let’s say 40%.  I think that’s generous.  Yes, I know there are cells out there which are slightly more efficient, but they are expensive and, when you see how much we’re going to need, I think that cost economy will play a role here.  So, to generate 287,000,000 kW will require about 440,000,000 m2 of solar cells (or 440 km2).  This is roughly equivalent to the land area of the Seychelles or of New Orleans.  How much mass?  If you figure 5 kW / kg (see the Space Elevator Feasibility Condition for details), you come up with 57,400,000 kg (or 57,400 metric tons).  Now that’s just for the cells themselves.  There will also need to be a massive structure holding them together, an enormous amount of cables, antennas to beam the power to earth and also some sort of propulsion / steering system (along with the propulsion mass) so that you can keep the collection array pointed at the sun and the transmission array pointed at Japan.  The best I can do here is a guesstimate – 50% more for the ancillary mass?  I think that’s probably ballpark.  So, a total mass of about 86,000 metric tons.  If you have an elevator that lifts 100 tons to GEO every week, then it’s going to take you 860 weeks (16&1/2 years) to just lift the mass up there.  Then you have to either lift personnel to put it together and maintain it or else robots to perform the same.  You’ll need to periodically replace the panels due to space debris and other space-related hazards and you’ll need to replace the propellant too.  And that’s assuming everything goes right.  Things always go wrong, so you’ll need to deal with that too.

Add that all up and you can see why I’m skeptical about this.  Now, if you wanted to replace “just” the nuclear generating capacity of Japan with SBSP…  Nuclear plants provide about 18% (roughly 1/5th) of Japan’s electric power – at least they did when they were all online.  So if you wanted replace just the nuclear power generating ability with SBSP, well, then, maybe…  Maybe that is a possibility, with an engineering project dwarfing anything else created by human beings.

Color me skeptical, very very skeptical…

One final note; Dr. Edwards talks about his company – I’m assuming he’s referring to this.