All About Space Elevators

What is a Space Elevator?

A Space Elevator (SE) can be thought of as a vertical railroad into space. A cable (Tether) stretches from the ground to a Counterweight about 22,000 miles up into geosynchronous orbit where the end-point would move in sync with the planet’s rotation and stay above the same point on the surface at all times. Reusable elevator cars (Climbers), powered by electricity would travel up and down the Tether and carry cargo and eventually humans to and from space. Scalable, inexpensive and reliable access to space could benefit all of humanity and a Space                                                                           Elevator would provide this capability.

To our knowledge the High Tekerz FRC team 3574 is currently the only FRC team partnering with the International Space Elevator Consortium (ISEC- a group of individuals and organizations from around the world who share a vision of humanity in space) to launch our own space elevator competition to encourage interest in FIRST, STEM and space research. Why?

Good Things Come From Space Research

Space technology touches and enhances practically every aspect of life on Earth. Much of what improves our lives – think healthcare, communications, travel, recreation, entertainment – benefits directly from technology originally developed for or improved for space exploration. Technologies developed to get us “out there” come home to improve life on Earth.

What are the main components of a Space Elevator?lossy-page1-260px-Space_elevator_structural_diagram--corrected_for_scale+CM+etc_TIF

  • The Tether: This is the ‘railway’ that stretches from the earth to orbit, about 100,000 km into space. Made from carbon nanotubes, it will be stronger than any construction material today.
  • Ground Station: This structure serves to anchor the Tether to Earth and as the loading and unloading station. It will be located on or very near the earth’s equator.
  • The Counterweight: This is a large mass located at the outer end of the Tether to keep the Tether taut.
  • The Climbers: These are the ‘elevator cars’ traveling up and down the Tether, carrying cargo and eventually humans into orbit.
  • The Power Sources for the Climbers: A combination of lasers and the sun will illuminate solar cells in the Climbers, giving them the energy necessary for the week long journey into space.

What are the benefits of developing Space Elevators?

  • Cargo Capacity: A Tether just 2.5 inches in diameter could support the lifting of three complete International Space Stations per day
  • Reduced price of shipping cargo into space – currently the cost of a space launch is approximately $10,000 per pound — With a space elevator, the cost may go down to 100th or even 1,000th of current costs
  • Smoother, safer ride–though much slower than a conventional rocket. No high-g forces or explosives
  • Environmental benefits
    • reusable space elevators could displace disposable rockets and spacecraft reducing waste
    • space elevators might enable development of solar collecting satellites and enable maintenance of existing satellites which would reduce waste due to loss at end of life
    • space elevators would allow exploration for off planet minerals and energy sources

Why don’t we have working space elevators already?

    • So far the biggest problem is finding a material strong enough to serve as the elevator’s cable. Carbon nanotubes, the most commonly proposed solution, aren’t stable enough when used in such great lengths.
    • It all hinges on carbon nanotube development, and current research prioritizes their use in cell phones over their ability to haul space cargo. But it’s not an impossible goal, and there’s always the chance of a dark horse overtaking carbon nanotubes as our dream material.

What will a Space Elevator look like?

The Tether will stretch straight up 22,000 miles from the Ground Station to the Counterweight. Someone looking at this from the earth’s surface will see an impossibly thin cable standing straight up from the Ground Station and vanishing into the sky above. Several lasers will shine up from the base of the Tether like giant pillars of light to provide power for the Climbers that can also be seen working their way up to space.

Who came up with the idea of a Space Elevator?

The idea of a Space Elevator can be attributed to several different visionaries spread over more than one hundred years.

  • 1895 a Russian scientist named Konstantin Tsiolkovsky first proposed a tower into space
  • 1959 another Russian scientist, Yuri Artsutanov came up with the idea of a tensile structure, something being pulled away rather than built up, to get into space.
  • 1966 the idea moved in the U.S. with four American scientists writing an article about their “sky-hook” in the journal Science. American Jerome Pearson independently ‘discovered’ the idea of a Space Elevator and, in 1975 published his concept of the “Orbital Tower”.
  • 1979 the concept was being spread to a larger audience by Arthur C. Clarke in his novel The Fountains of Paradise.

Build a bot, and have some fun solving real world challenges!

The Space Elevator Race is a challenge open to all ages and design preferences. In it you must design, build, and compete with a robotic “elevator” built to carry prototype satellites up a 20 foot ribbon Cable autonomously. For more information please visit our “Space Race” page here.