Monthly Archives: February 2012

ISEC February, 2012 eNewsletter released

Just released – the ISEC February, 2012 eNewsletter!

Lots of articles including the announcement of CLIMB, status on the IAA Cosmic Study, the 2012 Space Elevator Conference, the 2012 ISEC Theme and a Call for Papers for both the next volume of CLIMB and the Space Elevator Conference.

If you’re not receiving this eNewsletter directly and would like to do so, just sign up – it’s free and you can unsubscribe at any time.

Happy Reading!

io9 is skeptical…

Robert Gonzalez from io9 is skeptical about the promotional claim made by Obayashi that they want to build a Space Elevator by 2050.  While I indicated in my own post on the matter that I thought the Obayashi story was “more concept than engineering“, I’m not as skeptical as he is about the final end-product…

Mr. Gonzalez writes that “Getting carbon nanotubes into this ribbon configuration is a significant technical hurdle“.  Actually, the Japanese solved that particular problem a few years ago.  The Japanese entry (from Shizuoka University) in the 2009 Strong Tether competition WAS in a “ribbon configuration”.  In my post on the matter, I noted that the Shizuoka entry looked “like a tape from an old VCR Cassette”.  It wasn’t strong enough, of course, but it was in the ribbon configuration.

CNT TetherBut let’s assume that Mr. Gonzalez was referring to the actual specific strength of the tether, not it’s configuration, and there, surely, we do have a long way to go.  But progress is being made.  At the University of Cincinnati CNT Workshop held in October of last year, I saw, for the first time, a heavy emphasis on the potential specific strength properties of CNTs.  In previous year’s workshops, speakers had talked about using CNTs in electrical devices, or combined with ceramics to make unique materials, or used in medical devices, etc., but very little about making “long, strong tethers”.  This has changed – at least half of the speakers in the 2011 Workshop talked about work they were doing, and problems they were running into, in exploiting the specific strength properties of CNTs.  And, a second possible material has come onto the scene – Boron Nitride nanotubes (BNNTs).  This material, while not naturally occurring in nature, is fairly easily synthesized and it seems to have nearly the same potential specific strength properties that CNTs do.

You know, I really need to put up a post about that workshop – it was very informative and very encouraging…

And finally, lets not forget the fact that this is the Japanese.  Their corporations tend to have a longer-term outlook than many others do.  And Obayashi is a MAJOR company in Japan – lots of bucks, er yen, to potentially put into a project like this.

So, I’m not putting the champagne on ice yet, but I think there is a reasonable chance that this is more than just a pipe-dream.

(Picture thumbnail is of the entry into the 2009 Strong Tether competition from Shizuoka University.  Click on it to see a full-size version of the picture.)

A Space Elevator by 2050?

I had several people email me today with the story that the Japanese Construction company Obayashi is making plans to build a space elevator.

The original story is in Obayashi’s Quarterly Magazine #53 and was announced in a Press Release which you can view online, in Japanese of course (you can use Google Chrome to view it and translate it into English).  The Press Release also shows a few concept drawings of the tether and Base Station.

Their general approach seems to be along the lines of the Edwards-Westling model, i.e. a 100 100,000 km long tether made out of CNTs stretching from a base station on earth (the concept drawing seems to indicate an ocean location) to a counterweight in space.  They describe Climbers, possibly powered by ‘magnetic linear motors’ traveling at ~200km/hr and a space station located at geosynchronous orbit.  They also talk about Solar panels located at the space station, beaming power back to earth.

What they DON’T say is how they will power the Climbers nor do they discuss how CNTs are going to be spun into something useful (the major sticking point right now, IMHO), etc.  From the Daily Yomiuri Online article:

Whether carbon nanotubes can be mass-produced economically enough and whether various organizations from around the world can work together are two key issues facing the development of the space elevator, according to the company.

“At this moment, we cannot estimate the cost for the project,” an Obayashi official said. “However, we’ll try to make steady progress so that it won’t end just up as simply a dream.”

The story is also on the Japan Space Elevator Assocation (JSEA) website and I hope they can work together on this project.  Right now, it’s obviously more “concept” than “engineering”, but as one of my readers put it “Good to see they are still excited in Japan.”

(Picture thumbnail of Tether and Space Station from the Obayashi Magazine Press Release.  Click on it to see a larger version or visit the article to see still more concept pictures).

LEGOs and the Space Elevator

Over the past several years, I have posted multiple entries on this blog about Space Elevators and Legos.  The two seem to go together like fish and chips or ham and eggs or Kim Kardashian and Kris Humphries.  Oh, wait…

For several years now, the Japan Space Elevator Association (JSEA) has had an annual competition (LASER) devoted to children building models of Space Elevators and, this past year, the American Space Elevator Conference added a similar event to its schedule.

And now a new book has been published titled The Cult of LEGO, by John Baichtal and Joe Meno.  It is an absolutely fascinating look into this whole genre, everything from the history of LEGOs, Minifigs, LEGO art, the whole robotics – Mindstorm thing (which I really would like to do one day)., etc.  The last chapter of the book, entitled “Serious LEGO” talks about LEGOs being used for Autism Therapy and “Open Prosthetics”; amputees using LEGOs to help design the next generation of prostheses – talk about being Über cool.

And, in that same chapter, Serious LEGO, is a sub-section entitled “Prototyping a Space Elevator“.  Here the authors discuss the LEGO model of a Space Elevator that the representatives from the Japan Space Elevator Association (JSEA) brought to the 2008 Space Elevator Conference, complete with pictures (I had earlier posted about the JSEA LEGO Space Elevator here).

While not inexpensive (prices on Amazon for this book currently run from $20 on up), it is a really fine look into the whole cult of LEGO.  I’ve skimmed through the entire book and am now about 1/4 of the way through a serious read of it.

Highly, highly, recommended…

And, on a related note, there are now several pictures posted on Flickr of entries into last summer’s The Next Generation of Space Travel competition.  The winning entry was, fittingly enough, of a Space Elevator.  Shown is a picture of the winning entry.  Click on the thumbnail to view a full-size version of the picture.  You can see more pictures of this entry here.

CLIMB Volume 2 – Call for Papers

CLIMB CoverNow that ISEC has finally succeeded in publishing and releasing Volume 1 of CLIMB, the Space Elevator Journal, ISEC has now issued its official “Call for Papers” for Volume 2.

This is the official “Call for Papers” for the second issue of CLIMB, the Space Elevator Journal.  We recently released our first issue of CLIMB – you can take a look at it / purchase it here:

Your article must have some relevance to the Space Elevator itself or to technologies that will be needed to build and operate a Space Elevator.

Article submission deadline is May 15th (this year!) as we want to have this issue published in time for the 2012 Space Elevator Conference (tentatively scheduled for August of this year).

We will soon have the format specifications ready.  If you are interested in submitting an article, please send me, ted [AT], an email letting me know.

The first issue of CLIMB is something we’re very proud of and, with your help, we can make the second issue even better.

Thank you.

Ted Semon
President – ISEC

We have again assembled a top-notch review team and we’re confident that the second issue of CLIMB will be as technically excellent as the first issue was.

Learning new tricks from spiders…

Nature Magazine CoverIn the February 2, 2012 issue of Nature, there is an article entitled “Nonlinear material behaviour of spider silk yields robust webs”.  This article is, unfortunately, paywalled, but you can probably find a copy of the magazine at your local bookstore.  The Editor’s Summary of the article is as follows:

Spider silk is one of nature’s ‘super-materials’. Its remarkable mechanical properties include high extensibility and strength comparable to that of steel. But Markus Buehler and colleagues show that it is not just these virtues that make silk ideal for web construction. Silk’s nonlinear stress response — linear at low strain, suddenly softening as strain increases then stiffening prior to failure — is also critical. This behaviour allows webs to keep their shape when experiencing small, distributed loads such as those exerted by wind. But during strong local deformations, such as those caused by falling debris, the geometrical arrangement of the threads and the nonlinear stress response combine to limit damage to the area near the impact site, so that the web remains functional.

What does this have to do with Space Elevators?  Well, a lot actually… We all know that the tether must have a minimum specific strength in order to fulfill its function as railway line.  But it is also going to have to absorb various stresses and debris hits, etc. and not catastrophically fail.  The design of the tether will have to incorporate knowledge such as this to make it more robust.  Maybe the eventual Space Elevator tether will look like a Hoytether.

This article was written by a team of authors, one of them being Prof. Nicola Pugno of Italy.  If that name sounds familiar to longtime readers of this blog, it should, as Prof. Pugno has presented at several EuroSpaceward conferences, was awarded an Honorable Mention in the 2011 Artsutanov prize competition held by ISEC and is also an author of a peer-reviewed paper in ISEC’s Journal, CLIMB.

Prof. Pugno’s article in CLIMB, Modeling the Self-Healing of Biological or Bio-Inspired Nanomaterials, points to yet another possible tool/technique that can be used to make the eventual Space Elevator Tether more robust – the potential of ‘self-healing’ tethers, at least at the nano scale.

One of the biggest objections that the uninformed give to a Space Elevator is “What if it breaks”?  We can design in so many ways to handle this; Make the raw tether’s specific strength more than it needs to be, keep it out of the way of large debris objects by actively inducing oscillations as necessary, design it so that micro-debris hits don’t cause it to catastrophically fail, monitor these debris hits so that weakened portions of the tether are replaced before they fail, have the material be able to ‘heal itself’, at least at the nano-scale, and probably some others I’m not thinking of at the moment.

A very interesting article and well worth finding the magazine for…

Space Elevator Pocketbook ported to iPhone

Early last year, I posted about an iPad app developed by Mr. Shigeo Saito of the Japan Space Elevator Association (JSEA).  Recently I learned that he has ported this application from the iPad to the iPhone – so, if you have an iPhone (and, I think there are a few of you that do), then this is good news.

The app is only $1.99 and I’m sure it’s well worth the money.

You can find out more about the app here.

(Thumbnail is of a snapshot from an iPhone running this app.  Click on it to see a larger version or visit the app website to see more screenshots.)