National Geographic and the Space Elevator

If you take a look at the latest issue (July, 2011) of the National Geographic Magazine, you will find a short, 2-page article about the Space Elevator, complete with a custom-drawn, concept diagram.

A few of us (Ben Shelef, Dr. Peter Swan and myself) have been working with the National Geographic team over the past several weeks to try and make this drawing and the explanation of it as technically accurate as possible.  Andy Petro of NASA, the Space Elevator Games (Centennial Challenge) and the Space Elevator Conference were also mentioned.

National Geographic was kind enough to give credit to the 3 of us and the International Space Elevator Consortium (ISEC), so the word about the Space Elevator and ISEC continues to spread…

You can also view an interactive version of the article online here.

National Geographic!  Way cool…

5 thoughts on “National Geographic and the Space Elevator

  1. Bob Munck

    A good article and picture, but it’s kind of a shame that you can see the ruby-red laser light, shining in a vacuum. It’s also strange that it seems to extend about five meters past the receptor, but no further. It makes sense that the ribbon shows as red in this light, but why is it orange on the other side?

  2. Steve

    Also see the TV show Known Universe on the Nat Geo Channel that aired on June 16. It features the winning LaserMotive climber (with some repairs) and laser array (updated since the contents) with a demo in a room filled with haze and a camera sensitive to the near IR so it looks purple (this is about 1/3 of the way through and probably takes less than 5 mintues). It is mixed in with additional familiar space elevator animation. If you haven’t DVR’d it already, watch for a rerun. The name of the episode is Escaping Earth. See .

  3. Vern McGeorge

    The interactive version of this diagram has a pop-up that says …

    “Photovoltaic cells on the underside absorb laser light beamed from a base station; the laser energy is then converted into electricity to propel the climber. Solar cells on top provide additional power.”

    I don’t understand or believe the statement: “Solar cells on top provide additional power.”

    Here’s why.

    The photo voltaic cells on the bottom always point down at the laser light sources at a near optimum angle. Solar cells on the top, in contrast, swing around the sky every 24 hours. Half the time, they would point away from the sun and collect mostly starlight. Most of the rest of the time, sunlight would impact at a glancing angle, thus little energy would be collected.

    Furthermore, the sunlight is broad spectrum while the lasers can be tuned to the PV cells (thus increasing conversion efficiency) and energy can be beamed at many times (e.g. 10x) the intensity of the sun – limited only by the climber’s ability to shed excess heat.

    These cells on top would weigh roughly the same but only capture a tiny fraction of the usable energy. I don’t see the cost/benefit favoring the inclusion of these cells. You could do better spending less weight to make the single sided collector 10% bigger.

    Finally, my understanding is that the top of the collector needs to be used to radiate excess heat away from the climber.

    What am I missing here?

  4. giant twist comfort cs

    Good read, I just passed this onto a colleague who was performing slightly research on that. And he just bought me lunch since I identified it for him smile So let me rephrase that: Thank you for lunch!

  5. Tomaz

    This article really got me angry: both text and animation discuss how to provide the energy to climb the rope. This is trivia. The real challenge is to have the rope up, i.e. a satellite past the geostationary orbit that holds it up plus a REALLY THICK tether comming down to the Earth. Statements like “But making them [nanotubes] suitable for a tether remains a challenge.” are nice talk hiding the truth. In fact this is an unsurmountable challenge. The text and picture are a prime example on how to use nice language and drawings (complete with red lights, perhaps so that passing satellites can say hello?) to mislead people. In summary, this article and its recent likes are taking NG magazine in changing its direction downwards towards free-fall, literally.

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