> On Sat, 6 Sep 2003, LARRY KLAES wrote:
> > Would a Space Elevator pay for itself in the end?
> >
> > http://www.highliftsystems.com/
> This remains to be determined.  It might be a great way to get
> humans into space but still might not solve the heavy lift problem.
> I don't know what mass the proposed elevator designs are capable
> of handling.  While we do now have what can be called bucky-fibers
> they are still expensive to manufacture and aren't continuous
> molecular structures thousands of km in length -- so I don't know
> how this would impact the capacity of a space elevator.  There is
> also the significant problem of where to put one, what happens to
> the bottom levels during a tropical storm and the problem that all
> hell breaks loose if the cable snaps at any point.

It is claimed here that all of these problems are manageable:


By the way, "continuous molecular structures thousands of km in
length" is not a requirement.  I'm wearing a very durable shirt
nearly two meters from cuff to cuff, composed of individual
fibers only tens of centimeters long.

Carbon nanotube fibers might never exceed their current record
lengths (someone held his thumb and finger apart at a conference
recently to illustrate; how's that for a citation?) and still be woven
into the required ribbons.  How?  On-chip MEMS technology
has already delivered the DMD -- digital micromirror devices,
now used in optical projection technology and elsewhere.  I worked
in the IC CAD industry for several years, and learned to yawn
through the revolutions, but it still beats the living crap out of me
how we can already have chips in commercial use using invisibly
small devices incorporating *hinges*.   I helped translate a
patent from Japanese a few months ago, purporting to tell
the world how DMDs might be used in microelectronic
fabrication optics to improve the yield of ICs, and by the same
token, DMDs themselves -- and by extension, virtually any
MEMS-based device.  I didn't see anything implausible,
and it may be in production use already for all I know -- the
Japanese are pretty secretive about these things.  So, in
a way, nanotech is already improving nanotech, or is about
to.  The day may come (sooner, perhaps, than even a jaded
techie like me can handle it) when you can pour a bunch of
buckytubes in one end of a nanoscale textile mill, and get a
continuous ribbon out the other end, at an acceptable rate of
production, and at an acceptable cost.  For the terrestrial
applicatons alone, people will do it if they can.

Heavy lift is a non-problem if light lift costs crash through
the currently-impermeable floor.  If you had to build a
car only by poking equipment and materials through a
keyhole, engineers could figure out how to do that.  A pain?
Yeah, maybe, but some people build model ships in bottles,
for the challenge.  One space cadet's poison is another cadet's
red, sizzling steak.  If it costs a million bucks to open the door,
but only pennies for each keyhole poke, someone will figure out
ways to build that car on the other side of the door for well
under a megabuck.

The real problem (given a penny-a-poke keyhole) is creating
demand for the car -- for many cars, really.  A space elevator
that "pays for itself" only in some accounting based on current
launch costs alone doesn't really pay for anything.  It just
reduces costs for a service with limited demand in the first
place.  Without sufficient demand, it could never pay back --
and hence, never get funded.  Unless, perhaps, some government
forks out what's needed for a Mars mission, and the elevator
is seen as mission-critical.  (Or maybe my crystal ball has
been infected by a Bulgarian computer virus.  Who knows
what the next 20 years will bring?)

-michael turner

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