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…

4 thoughts on “Crowd Funding and the Space Elevator

  1. Bob Munck

    I don’t understand what good “lighter than air” does when you’re up where there isn’t much air. Balloons have made it to 50 km, but they’re awfully flimsy for any kind of structure, and need a HUGE volume to support a tiny payload. They’re planning to put habitable structures at that altitude? Does this scheme involve some sort of technology to lower the force of gravity in the vicinity of the tower?

    I have to admit I’m a tad dubious.

  2. ElectroMagnetic SpaceElevator

    When you have unlimited energy and materials building structures that hold huge volumes of lighter than air gases is no longer impossible.
    Our technology allows us to lean the tower without it collapsing under its own weight thus we can reach a tower length of 50 km or more at an altitude that still has enough air density to support our structure without the last incredible large module, we can have a 200 km long tower reach only 40 km into the sky. The last module will be as big as required to support the stratosphere living spaces and observatories and space craft landing control hardware: Imagine the world biggest carbon fiber hydrogen balloon/space ship that floats on top of our atmosphere like a boat on an ocean. A rubber balloon is flimsy, a plastic balloon is flimsy, old fabric balloons are flimsy but not our carbon fiber reinforced plastic material which is both lighter and stronger. Both the fibers are stronger than anything before and the bio plastic as well making it invulnerable to leaks and other dangers found in the atmosphere.
    The magnetic system will be heavy indeed but we use the same system for multiple functions in order to save weight. The magnetic coupling and repulsion, wind energy generation and consumption, magnetic structural rigidity control and magnetic propulsion all done by the same system to save weight.
    If the magnetic propulsion is still to weak we still have the advantages of the evacuated tube and if we pressurize the tube under the space craft while the empty tube above has no pressure can you guess what happens? In this way we augment the propulsion method without the need for more static weight on the tower making it a hybrid (also allowing a little pressure to escape at the seal with the tube this will force the space craft into alignment working together with the magnetic forces to keep the space craft perfectly calibrated during launch).
    Electricity and Hydrogen is not a dangerous mix, you also need oxygen and an open flame or spark to ignite the mixture. Hydrogen will never mix with oxygen and if it does it will be automatically detected immediately by internal and external sensors.
    We will continuously discharge static electricity around the tower to prevent related problems and if a powerful lightning strikes the tower it will not hit the non conductive hydrogen containing walls but instead it will hit a specially designed conductive absorber that will prevent any secondary high energy discharge that could damage the tower.
    Only DC brush motor technology generates sparks when operating, we use new age high efficiency electromagnetic technology that never creates sparks and poses no safety issues.
    If all the protection technologies will fail and a segment malfunctions and catches fire it can be detected fast and automatically ejected from the tower sideways to burn up individually without damaging other modules. All apartments and observatories that are connected to the top module can also eject and float back to safety if the tower is hit by a meteorite or a catastrophic event occurs. We protect the tower from micro meteorites using layers of synthetic diamond armor and a hollow space in between for dispersion and reactive close range deflectors that detect using close range Lidar and also long range scanners to detect and deflect larger objects that can be seen in order to prevent a possible collision with the top module.
    We chose to make the campaign flexible because we are working on launching this project for some time now and we have most of the technology required(3D Printers) to start building the prototype factory on a small scale so at this point we only need to hire the missing team members and acquire some capital in order to not struggle on our own. Our factory no matter how small, will manufacture the rewards that will be claimed and we will make the people who made it happen very happy space campers.

  3. Bob Munck

    Well, I’m certainly convinced, though for some reason I heard that previous long comment as if it were being sung by Robert Preston playing Harold Hill, with an underlying chorus chanting the praises of the Springfield Monorail.

    I’m reminded of when I first encountered the Heinlein Juveniles. I devoured them and then tried to write my own stories in the same genre. It sounded a lot like the above description. The year was 1956; I was 11.

    I wish they were using some other name — the Space Hamster Tube comes to mind.
    Being associated with this will do us no good at all.

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