It’s been a bad week for space elevator enthusiasts, such as myself. An article at Nature.com uses the research of Italian scientist Nicola Pugno to give the space elevator a thorough kicking. Basically, he believes that the necessary tensile strength of the ribbon is unattainable, even using carbon nanotube materials. To quote:
So can a space elevator be made? “With the technology available today? Never,” he says.
Ouch. I’m personally taking heart from the word ‘today’ – there’s a lot of people out there working hard to beat the problems that beset getting an SE operational, not least that Liftport bunch. We shall have to see what happens. It may turn out to be just another science fiction dream after all, but I hope not.
However, while scouting about the responses to the above article (many of which I found via Ted Semon’s Space Elevator Blog), I was pointed towards an alternative concept that was new to me, which doesn’t rely on materials with as great a strength as the SE requires – the ‘space pier’.
A space pier is basically a mass accelerator raised 100km off the earth on a long ‘pier’ of supports. According to Newton’s Laws, anything shot off it fast enough (10G or so) should plunk itself neatly into orbit. Compared to the SE, the tech is lower (even current), the tolerances are safer, and the costs are far lower. Trouble is, due to the far larger planet-side footprint I can see the N.I.M.B.Y. squadrons not liking it one bit…’Well, yes, but I don’t think you should build it *here*!’
Ah, well. Something will crop up. We’ll get off this ball of mud somehow. And then we can start fixing all the damage we’ve done to it!