Tuesday, March 06, 2007

The Space Elevator

We know that the world financial markets are still reeling from the China effect, but let's think a little bit longer term.

The first time I read about the concept of space elevators was in Kim Stanley Robinson's excellent and highly recommended Mars trilogy. I found them again while playing Civilization IV. So the question is, what is a space elevator and why do I mention it in this blog along the rest of my musings and ruminations?

A space elevator, as this article from Space.com might make clearer, is exactly what its name denotes: a lift between the surface of our planet (or any planet) and outer space. The physics of it are rather simple, as they follow similar patters as such for geosynchronous satellites. Technologically speaking it doesn't require the development of completely unknown technologies, but rather of areas currently on the works. Why does it matter? Simply because it makes the transport of payloads to space much more cost-effective (and furthermore, enjoys economies of scale), which basically means that once the huge initial invesment is made, space exploration (and potentially exploitation, such as asteroid mining) becomes cheap enough to be performed on a larger scale than currently.

Given that it can be argued that exploration ages spur economic growth, as was the case with the discovery of the Americas by European explorers in the 16th century, this project could be the key for humanity to regain theinitiative in its own development.

Daydreaming? Maybe. But so were the internet, automobiles and many, many other things that we now take for granted.

1 comment:

Brian Dunbar said...

Do keep in mind that a space elevator is not the only way to lower the cost of getting to space.

Improved conventional rockets, space planes, increased flight rate ... any of those could do the trick.

But I do think that the investigation we're doing on space elevators at Liftport show some promise. Time will tell.

Brian Dunbar