Documenting the Coming Singularity

Friday, November 06, 2009

Space Elevator - Rising to orbit soon?

Wired - 11.05.09 By Brian McLaughlin

Image From NASA MSFC, Artist Pat Rawling.

The legend that is Sir Arthur C. Clarke is formidable. As a science fiction author who knew how to mix imagination with scientific reality, Clarke left the world a legacy of wonderful stories as well as a firm contribution to science. In 1945, Clarke suggested the concept of utilizing geostationary satellites for communications, now a mainstay of our modern world. Another technology, described in his novel “The Fountains of Paradise“, is the Space Elevator. The concept was not new when Clarke used the construction of a Space Elevator as central element of his novel, but Clarke’s novel brought the concept to a larger audience.

The basic concept of a Space Elevator is rather simple. A satellite at geostationary orbit is anchored to the Earth at the equator by a long tether. This tether is then used to move payloads up and down the Elevator without the use of expensive chemical propellants or single-use launch vehicles. Simple in concept, difficult in execution. Between the need for extraordinarily high strength tethers, the construction of the climber with a way to power the climber over the 22,000 miles to geostationary orbit from the equator, and the construction of the anchor point itself, the Space Elevator has often seemed far off on the horizon. Now, this week, a competition at NASA Dryden Flight Research Center in the desert in California is bringing the concept a Space Elevator closer to reality.

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