Next Stop Space Elevator

At the Universe Blog, the author opines about the paradigm shift in thinking required to bring about a Space Elevator – and the resulting paradigm shift that it would make.

The line that grabbed me the most was this one; “Think about it. No thunderous rocketry. No risky landings. Rockets are so expensive — and launching them so damn burdensome — that they will probably always keep the democratization of space travel at bay.”

Is that really true?  Lately, I’ve started paying some attention to the private (enterprise) rocketry crowd and I hear claims that they think they will be eventually be able to bring payloads to LEO for “hundreds of dollars per kilogram”.  Them’s Space Elevator numbers…

Can they do it?  I don’t know.  I do know that I’ve been unquestioningly accepting the fact that “rocket launches will always be expensive and always be dangerous”, a mistake I don’t intend to keep on repeating.  NASA and government rocket launches are expensive and risky, that doesn’t mean they are intrinsically so.

Incidentally, the pen and ink concept drawing of an Ocean-based Lift platform (from the LiftPort archives) that is included in the article is really quite lovely.

Of course, just because something is done with private enterprise in control (or at least involved), doesn’t guarantee that things will be successful, as this recent video of a commercial Sea Launch Zenit 3SL gone bad shows;
I found it ironic that they cut to the Sea Launch logo immediately after the blast; it seemed like they were saying “This disaster brought to you by Sea Launch”…

3 thoughts on “Next Stop Space Elevator

  1. Tom Nugent

    To a large extent, the cost of getting to space isn’t determined by the technology you use to get there, but by the market size. Until you have lots of regular trips, it will be expensive. The space elevator tries to get around that chicken-and-egg problem (i.e., how do you get cheap access without having the demand to justify spending on getting cheap access?) by starting with more capacity than is currently used in the entire world.

    There are those who argue (quite well) that the SE won’t really be financed until demand for space access grows beyond what it is currently (or until something like environmental concerns limit the number of rocket launches allowed).

    Many will argue that if you were sending up 10x as much stuff into space as we do now, there would be the real economic incentive to build cheaper rockets.

  2. Brian

    The counter to this argument is that if you lower the transaction cost then demand will escalate. This has been nearly a universal truth to date.

  3. Ted Semon Post author

    “Build it and they will come”. I think this is as true for a Space Elevator as it is for an interstate highway system (and a baseball field).

Comments are closed.