Skip to main content

See also:

Google mulled building a space elevator

NASA concept of a space elevator
NASA concept of a space elevator

A Tuesday story in Fast Company reported that Google’s top secret research lab, Google X, actually set out to design a working space elevator. The sticking point for actually building such a railroad to space that there is no material durable enough that can be built in quantity to make the thing work. So, for the time being, the project is on hold.

According to How Stuff Works, a space elevator would consist of a ribbon stretching from an offshore platform near the equator to a counterweight/station 62.000 miles above the Earth’s surface. Mechanical lifters would travel along the ribbon carrying cargo and people to space. The lifters would be powered by lasers that would shine on solar collectors that would convert their energy to electricity. The trip would take days but would cost a fraction of what it now costs to travel to low Earth orbit. Total cost for building space elevator would be $10 billion in construction and other costs.

The ribbon would have to be 100 times stronger than steel for the space elevator to work. The only known material that fits that criteria is carbon nanotubes. Unfortunately no carbon nanotube has ever been created that is longer than a meter. So the dream of a space elevator must wait until materials science has advanced enough.

There are other problems surrounding a space elevator. Maintaining a 62,000 space railroad would be a horrendous challenge to say the least. The space elevator would be menaced by threats such as space debris and terrorist attacks.

Still many believe that a space elevator is just the thing needed to open up the high frontier of space. The cost of traveling to a way station in geostationary orbit. From there one could catch a ride on a spaceship and travel to the moon, Mars, or just about anywhere.