Are Space Elevators Real?

Are Space Elevators Real?

As I mentioned before in other posts about Cinderellavator, the story will take place around mankind’s first space elevator. You might be asking yourself ‘are space elevators real?’ Perfectly rational question, and fortunately for us, the geeks at New Jersey Governor’s School of Engineering and Technology have actually looked into this. In a 2016 paper, they actually review the relevant physics, potential solutions, and future technologies that would have to exist in order for a space elevator to work.

First and foremost, a space elevator would do many things to help us on a global scale:

Everything that can be done with rockets can be done cheaper and with larger payloads using a space elevator [1]. Additionally, many missions that cannot be accomplished with rocket launches will become possible with the use of space elevators. The environmental impacts of launching rockets, including the fuel burned and the engines falling back to Earth, will disappear since space elevators can easily transport cargo and humans without major environmental concerns. Space-based solar panels can provide cheap, clean power to Earth’s surface. An increase in communications and research will arise due to the plethora of new satellites that can be launched from the elevator. In addition, space elevators will allow for relatively easy disposal of dangerous nuclear or toxic waste in the isolated vacuum of space. Moreover, the space elevator can lead to a realistic solution to space debris, a growing problem which poses a serious danger of collision for satellites and interference for future excursions into space.

Imagine a world without toxic waste, cheap solar energy, and easy access to the great space adventure. Total solarpunk, right?? But as cool as that sounds, there are some issues to consider:

“The greatest challenge of building a space elevator,” they say, “is the construction of the long cable required to support the climbers. There are few materials that offer even a possibility for practical use. Furthermore, a power system must be developed that will enable long-distance transfer of energy to the climbers. The deployment of the elevator will be a delicate procedure as well. Other complications include weather, atomic oxygen corrosion, space debris, satellites, radiation, and political regulation.”

What does that mean? It means that although space elevator technology would solve A LOT of space travel problems, they would also create a few more problems, requiring physical and people-oriented solutions.

I’m not going to quote the entire paper (It’s 20 pages long) but if cool, pollution-ending, geeky topics interest you, you’ll love to read the entire discussion. Who knows? You might be the one to come up with the answers yourself!