Monthly Archives: February 2015

Weekend Walkabout – From shooting things into the sun to India to Canada…

This Weekend Walkabout continues to catch up on some things I didn’t blog about while I was taking my holiday break.

We start off by hypothetically shooting things into the sun, then learn about the latest success from the Indian space program and wind up in Canada – learning about the Hudson Bay Space Elevator…

Have you ever been interested in shooting someone into the sun?  Want to know the physics involved and some of the problems you’re going to face?  Well, fear not – Mr. Ryan Hardy has done the research for you!  An answer posted by him over at Quora (and reproduced at Gizmodo, which is where I found it) makes it clear that, unless you are contemplating using a space elevator for this task, you are going to flatten and incinerate your payload.

I love this article – he’s actually run the numbers (something which is all-too-often sadly lacking in articles like this).  And humor abounds – I think my favorite part of the writeup was this;

Once the person makes it through the barrel, they will be immediately greeted by Earth’s atmosphere at Mach 90. The acceleration from the resulting drag would be comparable to the acceleration felt while coming out of the cannon, but in the opposite direction. The thermal loading would heat the air ahead of the person to tens or possibly hundreds of thousands of Kelvin.

So, in summary, you’ve embarked on one of the largest engineering projects in history and found a way to pulverize and incinerate a human being in less than three thousandths of a second.

Read the whole thing – it’s a treat – well done Mr. Hardy!

(The image is the Lego version of the Schwerer-Gustav, an enormous artillery cannon used by Nazi Germany in WWII.  Ryan Hardy’s article shows why even a device as large as this has nowhere near the power to shoot something into the sun.  Click on the image to see a somewhat larger version).

Next up is another milestone for that under-the-radar space program from India, this the successful launch of their Next Generation Launch Vehicle, one intended to put payload directly into geosynchronous orbit and also, eventually, for crewed vehicles.

The actual launch is just before the 26 minute mark.  You can read more about this event at the most excellent SpaceRef website.

I have blogged many times (for example here) about India and the space elevator.  I think they will have both the expertise and the desire to build and operate a space elevator.  They have a real and growing space program.  They are a respected military power.  And two of the prime possible locations for a space elevator are in the Indian ocean with Indian access via direct sea lanes.

Don’t discount India – they really could be the first ones

And finally, we have a hypothetical space elevator anchored in Hudson Bay (yes, the Hudson Bay in Canada).  This has been supposedly described by Scott Sigler in his book The Rookie.  Don’t confuse this book (which is about football in the future) with The Rookie with Dennis Quaid (which is about contemporary baseball).

I haven’t read the book yet (I’ve put it on my to-be-purchased list), but I did see this review of it by Paul L on Scott Sigler’s website.  He points out the following:

Hudson Bay is at 60 degrees North latitude. There’s just no way to anchor a space elevator at Hudson Bay with a satellite or a counterweight. And if you tried to build from Hudson Bay to a satellite at the equator (with the counterbalance going south of the equator) the forces don’t balance. Instead their would be a huge torque on the elevator (let alone no feasible way to build the elevator that far north).

He’s right, but it’s a shame you can’t build a space elevator in Canada.  It could be guarded by the Royal Canadian Elevator Police, it could have a beer named after it (or perhaps a line of clothes) and, could you imagine what Doug and Bob McKenzie could do with this?  OMG – look what they did with the Canadian arm on the space shuttle:

Oh those wacky Canadians…

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!

Weekend Walkabout – Seattle to India to Russia…

This edition of Weekend Walkabout starts in the USA (specifically Seattle), moves on the India and then finishes in Russia.  There is also a ‘programming note’ I discuss at the end of this post.  And without further ado…

Our first stop is in Seattle, Washington, USA.  According to, our friends at Liftport is hosting a talk about the space elevator (“Space Elevator – Past, Present, and Future”) on Wednesday, February 25th at 7:30pm.  This event will be held at T.S. McHugh’s Irish Pub in Seattle, Washington.  From the announcement:

The Space Elevator is an idea that has been around for over 100 years. Building a ladder to space and climbing to the heavens by using a robot attached to a string, straight up. So what is the status of this project? Where do we stand? What do we need to make this vision a reality?

There is a Facebook page you can Like to get more information to follow this and other STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art & Math) events.

Next up is a stop in India. I had previously blogged about the International Space Conference which was held at Amity University in India.  The idea of a space elevator as well as the International Space Elevator Consortium (ISEC) was well represented at this conference by Mr. Sourabh Kaushal, a long-time colleague in this effort.  ISEC was a “Knowledge Partner” sponsor.

From all reports, the conference was quite successful.  The picture, below, shows ISEC literature being distributed at the conference.  More pictures from the Conference have now been posted online.

Lastly, we make a stop in Russia.  I found a website / forum that appears to be all-things space elevator.  There are only a few posts and all of them are dated May 5th, 2014.  I don’t know if they really were posted on that date or if it’s some bug/issue with the website.  I’ll be checking it from time to time to see if there is anything new posted.

Most of the items on there have already been covered in this blog, but there were links to a couple of videos that I hadn’t seen before.  The first one shown was originally aired by the Russian state-sponsored TV station,, and shows someone giving a brief explanation about the space elevator.  It was very nice to see that Yuri Artsutanov was credited with the idea – that doesn’t happen as often as it should.

If you’re not a native Russian speaker, you can translate the website using Chrome, but you’re on your own listening to the videos 🙂

Finally, a programming note.  Some of you may recall that a few months ago, I had turned on the feature for this blog to have registered Users – i.e., people could subscribe to the blog and have it automatically send them current postings.  After some complaints and problems, I turned it off.  With the new version (4.1) of WordPress which I’m now running on, I’m hopeful that these issues have been taken care so I’ve turned the feature back on.  Please let me know if you are experiencing any problems with this feature.

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.