Commercial applications of Space Elevators?  Um ... let capitalism
figger it out.  Build it and the apps will come, it says here:

Some of the industries mentioned -- pharmaceuticals, semiconductor
manufacturing -- have put microgravity to experimental uses, but
mainly to factor high gravity out of processes under study.  The results
have been applied not in how to manufacture in space, but on Earth.
"Pure crystal growth" seems to be a mantra among some space
enthusiasts, but the reality seems to be that people do pretty well
these days at 1 G.  Microgravity still doesn't have a killer app,
at any price point.

Solar power satellites (also mentioned) are still alive as an idea, but
would require yet further investment, in the usual O'Neill Scenario
of mining the moon or bringing in asteroids.  Take solar power gear
up on the elevator itself?  At $100/lb added cost, it probably still
makes more sense to keep solar on the ground.

Interestingly, this site gives short shrift to space tourism as a

It does, however, talk about beyond-Earth missions, some
of which are currently funded in the 9-figure (dollar) range.
This *is* a definite, current market, even if it's basically
only governments as customers.

Much of what's going on in micro/nano/picosat research may,
however, radically reduce the costs of payload design and
integration, as well as reducing the payload weights.  You
don't need giant clean rooms and armies of technicians to
put together and test (and re-test) space probes if the whole
package comes out of a microscale fab's cleanroom already
integrated, largely by processes that have been automated.
The day may come when you can think about taking
a freshly-minted satellite off a microscale fab line ordinarily
used to make custom terrestrial equipment, wrap it in plastic,
then in bubblepak, put it in a box, and ship it FedEx.

If you replace "cost per orbited pound" with some more
appropriate metric like "cost per function point" or
something, costs to orbit for unmanned missions could
start dropping radically in 5-10 years, even with
costs per orbited pound staying high.  If nanotech is
the key to getting large masses in orbit cheaply, it
may also be its Enemy Number One in terms of
yielding a market.  Markets, however, aren't everything --
some government might come up with the gigabucks
that a manned Mars mission would cost.

-michael turner

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