The Return Of The Space Elevator! KickStarter Project Aims To Take You Higher

August 28, 2012
Image Credit: Michael Lain/LiftPort

Michael Harper for redOrbit.com — Your Universe Online

The idea seems simple enough: to get to any place higher than where you currently stand just take the elevator. This concept, while remaining simplistic in nature, becomes rather complicated when this “higher place” is the moon.

Space elevators have long been the dream for many star-gazing engineers, but so far their labors have been unfruitful. Now, one Seattle engineer believes he and his team have the right idea: Instead of building an elevator to the moon, they want to build an elevator from the moon.

This difference, according to Michael Lain, could be all that stops humankind from building a device meant to make travel to the moon easier and, maybe one day, even commonplace.

And what could be more commonplace in today´s world than a KickStarter campaign to fund the dreams of all aspiring engineers? Lain and his team have asked for a modest $8,000 to “restart the engines” and get their space elevator project off the ground (pardon the pun) and have already far surpassed their goal with a few weeks remaining.

The idea behind space elevators is a rather old one. A Russian rocket scientist by the name of Konstantin Tsiolkovsky first proposed this type of sky lift in 1895. In Tsiolkovsky´s plans, a large tower extended from the Earth and met up with a “celestial castle” which would allow any travelers to reach the heavens with relative ease. There was a fatal flaw in Tsiolkovsky´s vision, however: His tower was rigid, which caused many a hiccup in his plans.

Michael Lain, like Tsiolkovsky, thinks he has the right idea to build such a cable-driven lift, but is taking a different approach. He and his team, LiftPort, have been working on the space elevator technology since 2003 when they began working on carbon nano-tubes and climbing robots. According to their KickStarter plea, LiftPort at one point had as many as 60 University research partners and nearly 100 volunteers all working together to build such a monumental lift. Then, when the economy turned sour in 2007, the backing for this project was cut. The company was closed and the team packed up their climbing robots and nano-tubes.

At the peak of their research, however, it had become clear to the team that the technology needed to build a proper elevator to space was years away. Today, Lain says that while this technology is 20-25 years off, the technology needed to build a similar lift on the moon is currently and readily available. What´s more, Lain says he and his team could build this lunar elevator cheaply and in just under 8 years.

Once completed, a LEO/GEO-capable rocket can be launched from Earth carrying either cargo or humans and meet up with the tail end of the lunar elevator in between point A and point B. A robot will be awaiting the rocket for pickup, providing the rocket a chance to refuel. Then, the robot will then carry the payload down the flowing ribbon which makes up the “elevator shaft” and deliver it safely to the lunar surface.

Lain even says this kind of technology has other applications on Earth´s surface. To test this method, the LiftPort team have tied these ribbons to high-altitude balloons, up to one mile high, and sent their climbing robots to the top. With this kind of technology, communications can be quickly and cheaply set up to aid in times of natural disaster, monitor crops, or even provide security. In fact, Lain has even said some have asked him if his robot can carry them to these heights so they can parachute down.

Currently, this KickStarter project (the first of many) has 658 backers who have raised a surprising $21,933, much more than Lain had asked for. According to the site, the team will continue raising money through gradually progressing campaigns, up to 3 million dollars before deciding once and for all if they will build this lunar elevator.

Looks like this will be an interesting project to keep an eye on.

Source: Michael Harper for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online

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