Over at the Discovery Channel’s DiscoverySPACE section, Spaceward’s Ben Shelef gives us a feel for what a Space Elevator tether might look like at ground level and discusses the benefits we might expect when these come into existence…
“…payload size is practically unlimited because space elevators can be built to any scale. Replace the quarter-inch tether with a 2.5-inch tether, and the elevator could lift 100 times the weight. That’s more than 1,000 tons in this case — about 40 shipping containers or three complete International Space Stations (ISS) — per day!”
Currently the assembled ISS components weigh 300,214 kg – about 300 metric tons.
3 of these per day? That’s what I’m talking about…
The question arises, of course, who would want to ship that much stuff up into space… To answer that question, take a look at the history of railroads in this country (or in any country). As soon as the freight capacity was there, people came up with all sorts of things to send from Chicago to Oregon or New York to Los Angeles. Once this capability was put into place, people began shipping stuff cross-country that once seemed fanciful; everything from refrigerated food and automobiles to raw materials, people and livestock. And now that energy efficiency is becoming important again, railroads are becoming more important than ever.
Items traveling up the Space Elevator will be inside standardized shipping containers. Individuals and companies who want to move into space, or visit other places, or put satellites into orbit or manufacture things in space, etc. will use these containers. You won’t have to worry about things shaking loose or having to be subjected to crushing g-forces. There will be a shipping depot on the ground (or in the ocean) to load and one or more depots in space to unload. Shippers will be given a bulk rate and a container size to work with – the rest will be up to them.
And, shipping will work both ways. Once material can be gathered in/from space (be it raw materials or items that are manufactured/grown in space), the Space Elevator can bring them back down. Return items will also be in those same standardized shipping containers – no “Shuttle tiles” necessary to stand the heat of re-entry.
We cannot possibly imagine all the uses of the Space Elevator, but only the truly unimaginative can fail to see how it will benefit mankind.