June 25th, 2013
A recent article in The Economist talked about the KONE corporation, based in Finland, introducing a new, high-strength, carbon-fiber based rope for the conventional elevator industry called “KONE UltraRope“. I was unable to find any information on the KONE website about actual strength measurements of the material, but did glean some snippets from other articles discussing it. For example:
NewScientist reports: “UltraRope beats steel for tensile strength but weighs only one-seventh as much.”
Gizmag says: “…UltraRope is said to be twice as strong as steel…”
Several sources, including Phys.org report: “UltraRope has a carbon fiber core with high friction coating. The carbon fiber core lasts longer than conventional steel ropes, said KONE. UltraRope is highly resistant to wear and abrasion and, unlike steel, the structure does not densify and stretch.”
For comparison purposes, Toray Carbon Fibers America reports that its own carbon fibers have a tensile strength of approximately 6 GPa-cc/g but in useful (i.e. composite) form, “only” about 3 GPa-cc/g, on the order of the same strength as Dyneema or Spectra.
So, can we build an earth-based Space Elevator yet with UltraRope? We can definitively say “No” to that. But is this material strong enough to have won the NASA Strong-Tether challenge? The answer is, well, “maybe”… There just isn’t enough material out there (that I have been able to find) to make a determination one way or the other.
But I have emailed KONE for more info and if they provide it, I will post it here.
Regardless, it’s exciting to see carbon-fiber materials being used in applications like this (and in an elevator no less!) and one can only hope that the manufacturing knowledge being gained here will, someday down the road, be applicable to an earth-based space elevator. The Economist understood this well when they concluded:
“Nor need carbon-fibre lift-cables be confined to buildings. They could eventually make an idea from science fiction a reality too. Space lifts, dreamed up in the late 1950s, are a way of getting into orbit without using a rocket. Building one would mean lowering a cable from a satellite in a geosynchronous orbit above the Earth’s equator while deploying a counterbalancing cable out into space. The cable from Earth to the satellite would not be a classic lift rope because it would not, itself, move. But it would perform a similar function of support as robotic cars crawled up and down it, ferrying people and equipment to and from the satellite—whence they could depart into the cosmos.”
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