Category Archives: News / Announcements


Nine years – and that’s enough for now…

Today marks nine full years that I’ve been hosting and authoring the Space Elevator Blog and I’m going to call it quits, at least for the time being.  I have several other projects on my plate and I’m not getting any younger…

Being a part of the effort to promote the idea of a space elevator over the past nine years has been fun and interesting and full of highlights with my being a part of the Space Elevator Games topping the list.  This competition was held over several years and in several venues and was a joy to participate in.  Spending several days at the NASA Dryden Flight Research Center (now known as the Armstrong Flight Research Center) with NASA personnel and all the contestants for the 2009 Space Elevator Games was beyond awesome and I want to thank Ben Shelef, the Spaceward Foundation and, of course, NASA for allowing me to be a part of it.  It was truly special.  A close number two was the formation of the International Space Elevator Consortium (ISEC), an organization that I was very proud to be the president of for four years.

What is the status of an earth-based space elevator?  In the most important area, tether strength, we’re still where we were nine years ago.  No one has produced a tether from new materials that matches, let alone exceeds, tethers made from conventional materials and until that happens, an earth-based space elevator remains a pipe-dream.  But research continues, and perhaps someday material like this will become a reality.  If and when it does, then perhaps I’ll restart this blog.  I still love the idea of a space elevator, but the reality is that right now (and for the foreseeable future), it’s just not possible to build one…

Two groups still continue to press forward with this idea however, the aforementioned International Space Elevator Consortium (ISEC) and the Japan Space Elevator Association (JSEA).  ISEC, under the current leadership of Dr. Peter Swan, is in very capable hands.  While they are not working with the materials science necessary to make a super-strong tether, they continue to investigate other areas in order to, in the very appropriate phrase from Ben Shelef, “increase our understanding of the space elevator“.

If you are interested in keeping up with developments in this arena, you can visit the ISEC web page, “Like” their Facebook page or follow them on Twitter.

So, goodbye for now and thanks for reading!

Shoot the Moon update

The folks creating Shoot the Moon – a story about Liftport‘s effort to build a space elevator – have posted another update for their Kickstarter funded project.

Hey, everyone!

Since our last update, we’ve converged on the Seattle area for a month of shooting. This week alone has been packed with activity. Here’s a quick recap:

Our storyboards our in! The talented Ben Granoff has visualized what our special effects sequences might look like. Now that we have these in hand, we’ll pass them onto our model designers/makers (more on that later), and they’ll get started building. Take a look at some of Ben’s work below.

On Tuesday, we stopped by the Tethers Unlimited’s (TU) headquarters in Bothell, Washington. Since a tether is the central component of a space elevator, you can imagine why we wanted to chat with CEO Rob Hoyt and VP of Engineering Jeff Slostad…

You can read more, including seeing some of the storyboard pictures (one shown above) and pictures from the workshop of the people who are designing the model miniatures being used in filming.

As noted above, the team visited Tethers Unlimited and spoke with VP of Engineering Jeff Slostad.  Mr. Slostad gave the Keynote presentation at the 2012 Space Elevator Conference and spoke about “Thinking Unlimited” – not letting your thought process and expectations being bound by previous experiences.

He’s a handsome man…

I’m looking forward to the film…


Many of you remember, I’m sure, a cartoon on the most-excellent XKCD website entitled Payloads.  This cartoon compared and contrasted, in increments of “horses” (which I calculate to represent 1,200 pound increments), the differences in Launch Vehicle Capacity and Spacecraft mass of various space craft from the past, present and future.

The kicker for Space Elevator fans was, if you moused over the original cartoon, the comment “With a space elevator, a backyard of solar panels could launch about 500 horses per year, and a large power plant could launch 10 horses per minute” would briefly appear.

I have no idea where he got the space elevator numbers from but, as a proponent of the idea of a space elevator, I have to compliment the enthusiasm on his part 🙂

How much payload COULD a space elevator launch?  The answer to that is, as you might expect, complicated.  It depends almost exclusively on the carrying capacity of the tether and the power system.  I’ll talk more about this in the next post, but for now, you can read the Space Elevator Power System Analysis and Optimization document written by Spaceward CEO Ben Shelef.  It lays out very clearly why power systems have such a profound effect on the throughput of a space elevator.

Here is my contribution / augmentation to the XKCD cartoon showing the weight of the Climber and the Payload which can be carried by a Climber for the Edwards-Westling baseline 20MetricTon space elevator.

Total Climber mass, with Payload, is 20 Metric Tons.  Payload makes up about 40%.

Click on the graphic to see a larger version.

Should we give up on the dream of space elevators?

Making the rounds over the past several days has been the BBC Future article Should we give up on the dream of space elevators?

The author, Nic Fleming, quotes both Elon Musk (of Tesla, SpaceX , SolarCity, Paypal and who knows what else) and Dr. Peter Swan, the President of the International Space Elevator Consortium (ISEC).  Mr. Musk states that “This is extremely complicated. I don’t think it’s really realistic to have a space elevator” and, that it would be easier to “have a bridge from LA to Tokyo” than it would be to build a space elevator.  Dr. Swan, on the other hand, thinks building a space elevator is a “slam dunk” once the materials problem has been solved.

I must respectfully take issue with statements from both parties.

Musk’s statements regarding the space elevator’s complexity and building a bridge from LA to Tokyo are almost certainly true, but I fail to see the relevance.  Just because something is hard to do doesn’t mean it isn’t worthwhile attempting.  And, building a bridge from LA to Tokyo is not going to open up the solar system to colonization and mineral mining and all of the other truly spectacular opportunities that await.

And I can’t agree with Dr. Swan’s statement about the non-materials issues / problems being “slam dunks” either.  There are so many unknowns about building and operating a space elevator that using the term “slam dunk” to describe them is really premature.  Yes, humans have decades of experience in space, but not with constructing and operating anything remotely like a space elevator.  And yes, the unknowns are being addressed – it’s a major focus of ISEC (an organization of which I was proud to be the President for four years).  I liked to say that one of the things we did/do at ISEC was to “take away reasons that people can say ‘no’ to a space elevator”.  But we’re still in the early stages of that effort.  It is quite possible that technical issues will ultimately make a space elevator impossible.  But we don’t see any now and, unless and until we do, the idea is so compelling that it would be foolish not to pursue it.

At this point, it might be useful to review what the advantages of a hypothetical space elevator are over conventional rockets (IMHO of course):

  1. The space elevator is massively scalable.  If/when a space elevator becomes possible, there is absolutely no reason why you can’t build one (or more than one) that can send hundreds of tons of payload from earth to space every day.  It’s a transportation infrastructure, like the trans-continental railroad.
  2. Riding on a space elevator is akin to riding on a high-speed train.  You do not have to worry about cushioning cargo against high-g forces and the “shake, rattle and roll” that always accompanies rocket launches.
  3. The space elevator will pollute less.  I don’t know the numbers here and don’t know how much pollution (however you want to define that term) a rocket generates, but the space elevator’s “pollution” should be essentially zero.
  4. The space elevator should be safer.  Rockets still have a 1-3% failure rate and it’s difficult to see how that can be significantly improved.  A space elevator should have a failure rate close to 0%.
  5. It should be cheaper to send cargo to space via a space elevator rather than via rockets.  This alleged advantage is, IMHO, more difficult to prove.  It’s always a great talking point; “Space Elevators will be able to send payload into space much cheaper than rockets can“, but I’ve yet to see the numbers on this (despite my best efforts).  It’s hoped that this is true, but it’s not a “slam dunk”…

I don’t see any obvious disadvantages of a space elevator vs. conventional rockets.  Yes, it’s true that a ride to space in a space elevator is much slower, but so what?  As you can have multiple cargo loads on a space elevator at the same time, you can set up a pipeline – getting cargo to LEO or GEO or points in between/beyond on a daily or near-daily basis.  And yes, it’s also true that human cargo will traverse the Van Allen belts (and other places of radiation) for a much longer period of time on a space elevator than they would be in rockets.  But, if you assume that this problem is going to be solved for longer space voyages (to Mars and beyond), then whatever technology is used to solve this problem will apply equally to both modes of transport.

One possible game-changer is if SpaceX can really prove the concept of reusable rockets.  If they can do this significantly better than NASA could with the Space Shuttle, then they may largely negate two of the potential advantages of the space elevator (scalability and cost).  It remains to be seen how many times a SpaceX rocket can be re-used and what the turnaround time/costs/issues are.  Let’s remember that the cost of a 747 is much more than a rocket, but the 747 can be “reused” thousands of times and thus the cost per trip / per pound is significantly amortized.

Fun times ahead…

Last week for ISEC Membership drive!

Just a reminder that this is the last week for the 2015 ISEC membership drive!

ISEC is holding its second annual Membership drive. A one-year Professional level membership, new or renewal, can be purchased for just $58 (regular price is $68) while a one-year Student level membership, new or renewal, can be purchased for just $20 (regular price is $25).

Any new or renewing members can choose as their membership benefit, any publication currently offered by ISEC. This includes any issue of CLIMB – The Space Elevator Journal or any of the several ISEC reports that have been produced; each of them giving an in-depth look at a specific aspect of the Space Elevator.

Professional level members are eligible to receive both the print and electronic versions of these publications while Student level members are eligible to receive the electronic versions of these publications.

This membership drive ends on February 28th so don’t delay – Join or Renew your membership now!

The Incredible (Mr.) Limpet

A study was recently released by the Journal Interface which showed that the teeth of Limpets contained the strongest material yet found in nature.  This material has been measured to have a tensile strength of 3.0 to 6.5 GPa, stronger than spider-silk (the previous champion) and approximately the same strength as the carbon fibers produced by Toray.

6.5 GPa is about 20-25% of the strength needed to build a space elevator, so this is a potentially significant development.

It is speculated that the reason for the strong teeth is that limpets need them to extract nutrients from rocks and evolution has given them the means to do so.  The material in the teeth which provides the strength, nano-fibers of Goethite, are something I’ve never heard of before.  Not being a materials scientist, I’m probably talking through my hat here, but perhaps someone could infuse a substance harder than rock with some of the nutrients needed by limpets, and see if limpets can further evolve to extract it.  Also, there are myriad types of limpets and they exist in both fresh and salt water.  Perhaps some of them have evolved even stronger teeth…

At the very least, it should give real materials scientists something new to think about in their quest to develop stronger and stronger materials.

One final note: one of the authors of the study was none other than our friend Dr. Nicola Pugno.  Nicola has been a long-time researcher in the field of materials development and has authored numerous articles on this subject, including ones in Volume 1 and Volume 2 of CLIMB, the Space Elevator Journal.


ISEC Membership Drive!

ISEC is holding its second annual Membership drive.  A one-year Professional level membership, new or renewal, can be purchased for just $58 (regular price is $68) while a one-year Student level membership, new or renewal, can be purchased for just $20 (regular price is $25).

Any new or renewing members can choose as their membership benefit, any publication currently offered by ISEC.  This includes any issue of CLIMB – The Space Elevator Journal or any of the several ISEC reports that have been produced; each of them giving an in-depth look at a specific aspect of the Space Elevator.

Professional level members are eligible to receive both the print and electronic versions of these publications while Student level members are eligible to receive the electronic versions of these publications.

This membership drive ends on February 28th so don’t delay – Join or Renew your membership now!

Shoot the Moon – more updates

Over the past few weeks, the Kickstarter campaign to create the Shoot the Moon documentary has issued a couple of updates:

Project Update #12 – Posters, starships and more filming in the Northwest

Hello Everyone! Happy New Year!

2015 has started with a flurry of activity for Shoot The Moon. The team will be in Oregon and Washington for the next few weeks shooting additional interviews, b-roll, and capturing Michael and David’s activities. If you’re in the neighborhood give us a shoutout on twitter.

The team back in New York City are busy organizing the existing footage and prepping for the editing process. The home stretch is upon us.

Thomas Roner of The Chopping Block/Chop Shop has been designing the Shoot The Moon swag. He just completed the movie poster!

We hope you like it as much as we do. Thanks Thomas!

We asked you to help us get some great special effects for this movie and you delivered. We are now happy to report that the storyboards are nearly complete. During our time in the Northwest, we met up with Charles Adams – the world renowned starship builder and designer. He will soon get to work designing amazing space elevator stuff for the special effects sequences. We are lucky to have him onboard and happy that he found the time in the midst of his work on the next Star Trek movie and other cool Sci-Fi projects.

Stay tuned for our Kickstarter survey. We are nearly there in terms of shipping items to our backers.

Thanks again for all your support! We wouldn’t be able to do this without you!
The Shoot The Moon team

Project Update #13 – Home stretch for Production

Dear backers,

As we gear up to film the miniature sequences you so generously helped us fund, the main production of Shoot The Moon is in the home stretch! Expect a bunch of updates over the next 30 days as we finish shooting the body of the film.

In the meantime, a side project of mine could use your help if you’re so inclined! Brian And Lindsay Will Totally Eat That is just finishing what has been a very exciting Kickstarter campaign.

It’s a comedy webseries I’m going to direct for I’m really proud of the two pilot episodes we’ve put out, and if you have a few bucks to spare, we could really use the help!

Back it now!

Benjamin Ahr Harrison

ISEC January 2015 eNewsletter now available

The January, 2015 eNewsletter from the International Space Elevator Consortium (ISEC) is now available.

You can access the eNewsletter here.

You can also view all eNewsletters that have been issued by ISEC by going to the ISEC website and then accessing the Resources -> ISEC eNewsletters tab.

Finally, you can sign up to be on the ISEC mailing list, ensuring that you’ll be among the first to be “in the know” about all the goings-on at ISEC.

IAC2015 Updates

Back in the saddle again…

In November, I posted about the upcoming IAC2015 Conference to be held in Jerusalem, Israel, in October of 2015. There are a couple of updates worth noting:

First, Dr. Peter Swan, the President of the International Space Elevator Consortium (ISEC) has sent out a reminder that Abstracts for papers/presentations that anyone might wish to submit are due soon – February 23rd, to be exact. Papers/presentations related to the Space Elevator will occur in Session Three:


Title – Technology Assessment and Space Elevators Components

Description – 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.

IPC members
Co-Chair: Dr. Peter Swan, tel.: 480 443 5698, SouthWest Analytic Network, United States;
Co-Chair: Mr. Robert E Penny, tel.: 480 892-9755, Cholla Space Systems, United States;
Rapporteur: Mr. Akira Tsuchida, Earth-Track Corporation, Japan;

So, if you want to be a presenter at this conference and have not already submitted your Abstract, you’ll want to do so soon.

And second, there has just been a promotional video released about the upcoming conference.

Taking a break…

It’s the holidays, family is in town and there are a few other things going on, so I’m taking a break from blogging.

Unless something momentous happens (“Flash – XXXX University announces the creation of a 45 MegaYuri tether!”), my next post will be on Monday, January 5th February 1st.

Happy Holidays and Happy New Year everyone!

Research Mini-Workshop

At the previous two ISEC Space Elevator conferences, several workshops were held as part of the daily proceedings.  These workshops, each devoted to a specific topic, were focus on advancing our understanding of the space elevator.  Dr. Peter Swan, the president of ISEC, has been instrumental in organizing these workshops and finding a leader for each of them.  Conference attendees participated in each of the workshops and the end result of each of them was a written summary of the discussion and an action plan to move forward.

The Summaries from most of these workshops were posted on the ISEC website (I had previously blogged about that here).

A new workshop summary has now been posted on the ISEC website – this from the 2014 Conference.  This workshop was held as part of the activities of the ISEC Research Committee.  The purpose of this committee, chaired by Dr. John Knapman, is to categorize and prioritize the issues which must be addressed as part of the effort in defining the parameters of a space elevator.

The goals of the workshop were specified as:

  • Gain an awareness of the ISEC Research Committee’s goals and process
  • Review the list of topics that the Committee has produced
  • Identify potential contributors with relevant skills and interests
  • Where possible, add some level of detail, particularly on those topics where little work has so far been done
  • Where possible, propose who could carry out the work and where

You can find the summary of the Research workshop here.

All of the Summaries posted so far can be found on the ISEC website.  From the Home page, point to the Activities tab and you will then be able to see the Summaries from the 2013 and the 2014 ISEC Space Elevator conferences.

Shoot the Moon update

Shoot the Moon, one of the two space elevator documentaries successfully funded via Kickstarter, has posted an update on its Kickstarter website page.  This update also includes one of the cooler selfies that I’ve seen…

I thought the storyboard sketch drawing from the project update was particularly cool and so have included it at the top of this post.

As for me, I’m looking forward to my “4.5 inches of solar-powered, spinnin’ moon goodness”.

If this Documentary, along with Sky Line, also successfully funded via Kickstarter, really shows up in 2015, it will give a big boost to publicizing the effort to create a space elevator.

Happy Birthday Sir Arthur!

Today marks what would have been Sir Arthur C. Clarke’s 97th birthday – it’s very unfortunate that this science fiction luminary is no longer with us.

In previous years, I have written a lot about what Sir Arthur meant to the science fiction community, to the space elevator community and to visionaries everywhere – he was truly one of a kind.

Rather than repeat myself, let me just refer you to this posting I wrote on his birthday back in 2009.

And, as I also posted just a few days ago, the American co-inventor of the modern-day concept of the space elevator, Jerome Pearson, gave the Keynote speech at the 2013 ISEC Space Elevator Convention and he talked about his interactions with Sir Arthur.  It’s a very interesting talk and well worth the time to listen to.

RIP Sir Arthur – we miss you…

(The picture is from the back of the album cover – yes, a vinyl album – THE FOUNTAINS OF PARADISE – excerpts read by the author.  Click on it for a larger version.  In this album Sir Arthur reads various passages from the book – it’s really a thrill to hear them.  The album is long out-of-print, but can be found online occasionally.)

Jerome Pearson’s Keynote speech from the 2013 ISEC Space Elevator Conference

After a very long delay, the keynote speech given by Mr. Jerome Pearson, the American engineer who is credited with co-inventing the modern day concept of a space elevator, at the 2013 ISEC Space Elevator Conference, is finally available on Vimeo.

Jerome’s presentation focused on Sir Arthur C. Clarke, the noted science-fiction author who wrote, among many other works, the Fountains of Paradise, the book that interested a lot of people (including yours truly) in the idea of a space elevator.  Jerome provided technical assistance for this book and had a long friendship with Sir Arthur.

Jerome talks about the works of Sir Arthur, his life and his interactions with him.  It’s a very interesting speech by one of the pioneers in the effort to design and build a space elevator and is well worth the 37+ minutes you would invest in watching it.

Highly, highly recommended…


Coming soon…

I’ve got not one, not two, but THREE projects in the works for this blog.

The first I’ve already mentioned – a Materials primer that can be referred to and and cited when people want to know what materials we might be able to build a space elevator tether with and why they are materials that could work.  I’ve enlisted some expert help for doing this so I’m hopeful that the final result will be something definitive.

The second is an FAQ – something that the space elevator community badly needs.  Time after time I see the same questions asked on forums – and it would be just so nice to say “Look at the Space Elevator FAQ – Section 7.4” (or wherever) to see the answer.  There are two problems with an FAQ, of course.  The first is to be sure that the answers/explanations are concise and correct and the second is keeping them that way as developments in the field occur.  I’ve also enlisted some expert help for this project so, again, I’m hoping I’ll have something that all of us can use to advance our understanding of the Space Elevator.  Of course I don’t pretend to have all the answers and as people may challenge me and show where my answer to a specific question is incorrect or incomplete, I’ll be updating the FAQ accordingly.

And the third project?  I’m really excited about this – I haven’t had an idea this good in a while.  I’m not going to say anything more about it for now, but if I can pull this off, I think we’re all going to enjoy it.

The FAQ will happen first, and it will happen in pieces – as I post them, I’ll also be posting more explanatory text on the blog about the specific FAQ answers.

So, stay tuned!

The Space Elevator makes the Huffington Post…

The idea of a space elevator was featured in Tuesday’s HUFFPOST VIDEO online.  The level of discussion is not very deep and anyone who has followed the idea of a space elevator for any time won’t learn anything new here, but it’s great that this idea is being brought to an audience which probably hasn’t been exposed to it before.

The video starts out by referencing the IAA study on space elevators, but, unfortunately, doesn’t give any links for the listeners to learn more about the study – but still, all in all, it’s a plus…

(I’ve used a new WordPress plugin to be able to display this video.  I’ve tested it on a couple of platforms and it seems to work OK, but in case you don’t see or can’t play the video, you can also access it here.)

The LiftPort Lunar elevator

This video is much in the news lately…

I first saw this video at the 2014 ISEC Space Elevator Conference.  Michael Laine, the driving force behind LiftPort, gave a short talk at the conference and showed this video.  I’m not sure if the one now viewable on YouTube is an updated version from the one he showed, but it seems to be the same one I saw.  It depicts the deployment of a Lunar Space Elevator and it’s capability to mine regolith and transport it back to earth (or wherever).  There’s a lot of detail shown but even more detail that’s not shown – but it is a concept video, not an engineering blueprint.

The video shows a probe/pod that is launched from earth to some stationary point from the moon.  Then an anchor (attached to a space elevator tether) is deployed from the probe/pod to the lunar surface.  There it is anchored and then rovers are deployed to dig up regolith, process it (I assume), and then bring it back to the anchor for eventual shipment back to earth.

There has been a fair amount of debate in the space elevator community about the utility / usefulness of a lunar space elevator.  According to the LiftPort website, the Purpose of building a lunar space elevator would be:

The Lunar Space Elevator Infrastructure is going to serve many purposes for the human race. The first and most obvious is the opening up of the Moon for tourism and colonization purposes. LSEI can be built with current materials, but it would not have a lot of throughput. The goal of the study would be to determine a method of increasing transport throughput to enable humans to go back to the Moon. LiftPort’s LSEI architecture provides consistent, safe, and high-volume lunar transportation. Each Ribbon attached to the lunar surface allows for an additional 260 kg of cargo. Built up over time, 5, 10 or 15 such Ribbons allows for human-rated heavy-cargo capacity. By building a complete, reusable, and expandable infrastructure, LSEI can send three astronauts to the lunar surface every four weeks. In addition, the LSEI expands the capabilities of the Deep Space Habitat envisioned by the Global Exploration Roadmap and endorsed by NASA. Accessing the Moon also means accessing the minerals of the Moon. The Moon’s suspected to possess a motherlode of helium3, which many (ourselves included) believe it could be used to energize nuclear fusion reactions and provide vast amounts of energy in a process which avoids the radioactive waste of nuclear fission (the process used in nuclear power on earth currently.)

I would respectfully disagree.  Humanity has already proven (with 1960’s technology!) that it can send people to the moon (and back again).  It will essentially take the same amount of rocket energy to get someone launched from earth to the moon as it would take to launch someone from the earth to a lunar space elevator.  The launch needs are the same – and that’s the big dog on the block.  The landing requirements might be a bit different – landing on the moon versus rendezvousing with a lunar space elevator spaceport, but not by orders of magnitude.  And a rocket can land anywhere on the moon – with a space elevator, you’re tied to one surface point on the moon.  Of course if you pick the right point, maybe that’s all you need.  But the point I’m making here is that a Lunar Space Elevator will not, IMHO, materially improve our ability to send people to the moon…

At the Space Elevator Conference, Michael Laine also mentioned that a Lunar Space Elevator could also be a good precursor to an earth-based elevator, giving us experience in issues we would have to deal with here.  But, again IMHO, it would be unlike an earth-based space elevator in so many ways.  The entire physics of it is different; on earth, the space elevator tether is “held up” by centrifugal force and is held down by gravity (and a clamp at the earth-anchor station) while on the moon, the tether is held up by gravity – assuming it’s pointed towards earth – and centrifugal force would play no role here.  There is no belt of space debris a lunar elevator would have to worry about.  On the other hand, there would be oscillations in the tether which would have to be dealt with, as with an earth-based space elevator, and one would also have to deal with the logistics of an anchor station.  Also, one would need a method to detect deep-space objects which might impact the space elevator and a method to deal with them.  But at the end of the day, I think the issues would be so different that the only important, relevant experience which would be gained would be experience in building and maintaining big structures in space, things that the ISS is already dealing with.

Where I DO think a Lunar elevator might have some value would be as what was shown in the video (and mentioned as a secondary item on the LiftPort website) – launching valuable cargo harvested on the moon (helium-3 ?) and sending it back to earth (or wherever).  A Lunar elevator would certainly be superior to rockets in this regard.  But it might not be the best solution either, a lunar railgun launcher (such as in Robert Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress) might be more efficient.

At the end of the day, I think it’s all going to come down to economics – can a Lunar Space Elevator pay for itself?  Frankly, I’m dubious.  Leonard David, space reporter/author and keynote speaker at last year’s ISEC Space Elevator Conference, told me I should never end a post with the words “Time will tell“, so I won’t write that here, but I think that whether or not a Lunar Elevator will prove to be a viable economic idea will only be determined by future events 🙂

Space Elevator Competitions

This is cool…   Reader Chris Hibbert has pointed me to a Wikipedia page I didn’t know about, one summarizing the various Space Elevator competitions that have been held world-wide over the past several years.  Based on translations obtained via Chrome, he has updated much of the information on the Japanese competitions – thanks Chris!

This webpage shows competitions in the USA, Japan, Europe and Israel.  I am unaware of any other competitions which have been held – if I am in error, please email me and let me know.

I am in contact with the organizers of these various contests and will be checking with them to ensure that the data presented here is complete and correct (I think I see a few minor errors, but will want to double-check before correcting them myself or having the organizers correct them).


Hat Tip to Chris Hibbert – thanks Chris!

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…

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.

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 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)

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:

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


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:

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!