Issue 12, 4 October 2006 -- 37th Apollo Anniversary Year

  1. Letter: The Space Elevator option, by Andy Nimmo
  2. Quotes from: Anousheh Ansari's Space Blog

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(1) Letter: The Space Elevator option

by Andy Nimmo

Astronautical Evolution Issue 11 was excellent as usual, but you completely missed out one possible option, the Space Elevator option.

Having recently been appointed Liftport Ambassador to Scotland, naturally I feel I have a duty to point this out. As you probably know, the Liftport group of companies is a group of US organizations presently planning to build a space elevator above a base to be situated at sea off the coast of Ecuador. So far this year I have now given three talks on Elevators here in Scotland, and as you'll have noticed from the recent Settlers' emails am scheduled to give a fourth on 28th October.

Where the UK comes in would be with regard to ESA's studies regarding this project. Some time back Arthur C. Clarke proposed that such an elevator could be dropped to the summit of 17,058 foot Mount Kenya. A Swiss type cable railway could be constructed to provide access to this. Nairobi, which is some 60 or 70 miles to the south of the mountain, is already at 5,500 feet elevation. It has been proposed that the Russians who originated the modern elevator concept in 1960 might well be prepared to join with Western Europe in such a venture and it would be almost certain that the OAU would also agree as a Landis slab type Solar Power Station in Geo that would be economical to build once an elevator is in place could provide African nations with lots of cheap electricity in addition to all the extra through traffic that would result.

As you also probably know Singapore is presently building its own spaceport for private enterprise spacecraft, and their position relative to the equator would make their harbour another more or less ideal place for such an elevator. That one will almost certainly be built by a combination of Asian and Australasian nations.

Liftport plans to have its elevator operational from 12th April 2018. Even if this slips a little the others could well be in place not much later. Once twin elevators at all three of those bases are in operation the cost of getting up to space will be reduced to about the same price as a trans-pacific aircraft flight. If the UK was to decide to take the lead now in organizing the Mount Kenya Elevator in the long run the whole planet would thank us. ESA has already been conducting elevator studies and has had representatives at US elevator events, but so far they have not put any relevant proposals to Ministers as far as I know, so a lead here is just waiting to be taken.

O.K., there are indeed still lots of problems to solve, but to get them solved, what we need first is the will to do it. Let's agree to do it now! Little Willie at school will love it because it won't just mean one or two astronauts will get to space, it'll mean anyone can save up to go. I can't think of anything likely to put more of a drive under science education than a project like this that would make space available for everyone.

All the best, Andy.
4 September 2006

Editor's note: Andy can supply further information in the form of a report on current progress by two competing sets of companies, including a range of web references. The key technology is that of manufacturing the elevator cables from carbon nanotubes, and the main problem seems to be that it has not yet been possible to achieve both length and strength in the same product.

The length required is 35,789 km from sea level to geostationary orbit, plus a further length of cable above geostationary orbit to support the counterweight. Of course, undersea telegraph cables of comparable length were manufactured as long ago as the 1860s -- the first successful transatlantic cable, 3122 km long, was completed in July 1866, and within 20 years there were over 172,000 km of undersea cables linking all parts of the world. Laying them proved to be a frustrating business -- the Great Eastern laid nearly 2000 km of cable before it broke and that particular attempt had to be abandoned.

One can imagine a future in which spaceplanes and space elevators coexist in competition with each other, rather as present-day cross-Channel ferries coexist with the Channel Tunnel.

-- S.A

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(2) Quotes from: Anousheh Ansari's Space Blog

"I have been overwhelmed by the response I'm getting from the world... I am at loss for words... I am deeply touched and will make sure I continue on playing my role in this Quest.

But this is no longer only my Quest. It is the duty of every one of you to go beyond just reading and writing on the Space Blog. It is your duty to make sure this excitement, this wave, this wonderful force that has awakened the best in us continues on."

-- Anousheh Ansari, 30 Sept. 2006

"First of all, I need to say that Anousheh and her family are among the most thoughtful and generous people I have ever met.

[...] The fact is that Anousheh's support of private spaceflight is not a whim, but the fulfillment of a dream that will yield very positive long-term implications for humanity.

Stop to think about the wealthy adventurers of the 18th Century who spent their money to venture across the Atlantic, or the wealthy clients who purchased the first airplanes or airline tickets. Today most of us living in the US don't stop to thank those early trans-Atlantic adventurers for risking their lives and their wealth to open the Americas.

[...] Thank you Anousheh for making the investment, for taking the risk and for being a pioneer. Hundreds of years from now when Earth is benefiting from the resources of space, when millions of humans are living beyond low-Earth orbit, you will be remembered for taking some first steps and showing us the way."

-- Peter H. Diamandis, Chairman and CEO, X-Prize Foundation, 3 Oct. 2006

Read more at http://spaceblog.xprize.org/ -- Anousheh Ansari's Space Blog.

-- S.A.

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