I posted the Green Mars space elevator picture from Orbiter yesterday, and I was pleased to get my first non-spam comment for my two-day-old blog from someone who is actually working to create a real space elevator on Earth - in 15 years! This was from Blogspot blogger Brian Dunbar.
The LiftPort Group is doing research, development, and fund raising to make his happen, and it's really cool. From their FAQ and research pages, I learned that the concept of a space elevator as a massive, rigid pole (as depicted in the Orbiter add-on and in "Red Mars" and other SF
descriptions) is basically wrong -- it will really be more like a super-strong and thin ribbon, with self-propelled "climbers" that pull themselves up the cable with power beamed up by lasers. It's nice that there's also some optics in this, as that's my professional field - this will certainly require adaptive optics to maintain the beam quality through that long stack of turbulent atmosphere.
I learned that the concept of a space elevator as a massive, rigid pole (as depicted in the Orbiter add-on and in "Red Mars" and other SF
descriptions) is basically wrong -- it will really be more like a super-strong and thin ribbon, with self-propelled "climbers" that pull themselves up the cable with power beamed up by lasers.
Yes and no. A KSR 'Red Mars' SE is far beyond current capabilities.
Which is to say, given the right material (a problem the Edwards Design has of course) it might be possible to build one of those.
There are problems ...
Getting that much 'stuff' to orbit would be so expensive as to push the project into the realm of "hah - you wish". We're talking Apollo plus kinda money. If you're going to spend that kind of money you need the State. The State - any State - would be insane to spend that much money on what is - all said and done - unproven tech. You could buy a couple of CEV projects for that much money.
Management. That is a whole lot of potential energy just waiting for Murphy to show up. If things go wrong the resulting mess would be catastropic.
Which is not to say that the Edwards design does not have problems of it's own - but the problems are smaller and more manageable.
The starter ribbon can be launched on a half-dozen Delta IV rockets. This is, yes, expensive but not beyond feasibility. If (or when) there are problems and it comes down it will be messy, sure, but not end-of-the-world catastrophy. Just a mess.
The KSR SE reminds me of projects like 'The Great Eastern' or the WW II idea to build airbases out of icebergs to protect the Murmansk convoy route. Or heck, Spruce Goose.
Cool idea - nifty enginering. By the time it's all done however the market has passed it by.
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