Entering the elevator, pressing the up button and going into space would be great, wouldn’t it?
At the 2022 International Symposium on the Peaceful Uses of Space Technologies for Human Health, November 18-20, Peter Swan, President of the International Space Elevator Consortium ISEC and an Academician of the International Academy of Astronautics (IAA), proposed that the future space elevator function as permanent logistics infrastructure.
It could transport supplies and personnel into space and become the new space conduit.
With a space elevator, Mars can be reached in just 61 days
The principle of building a space elevator is simple. A long cable hangs between heaven and earth, one end of it goes into the depths of the ocean at the Earth‘s equator – the so-called “anchor”, and the other end “captures” the counterweight (for example, a satellite or space station) in geosynchronous orbit.
The apparatus (space elevator cabin) moves up and down the cable.
Swan said: “In the current project, the space elevator car weighs about 20 tons and has an ascent speed of about 200 kilometers per hour.
In the future, as the tether is extended and the car’s ascent speed increases, it is expected to be able to reach geosynchronous orbit in 8 days, the moon in 14 days, and Mars in 61 days.
“Compared to rocket transportation, space elevators are greener, cheaper and more reusable, which is why they are also called ‘green skyways’.”
Swan explained that the space elevator is solar-powered and doesn’t use as much chemical fuel as rockets do when launched.
At the same time, the probability that space elevators will produce space debris is negligible.
Scientists have found that as of January 2020, there were 29 thousand pieces of space debris larger than 10 centimeters and more than 170 million particles larger than 1 millimeter around our planet, which seriously pollute the space environment.
“In addition, the use of such an elevator for transporting goods will cost about $500 per kilogram, which will be much cheaper than using rockets,” said Jean-Michel Contan, secretary general of the International Academy of Astronautics.
Swan believes that in the future, people will need to transport large amounts of cargo into space in order to build colonies on Mars and the Moon.
Interstellar travel is also considered a highly anticipated development in astronautics, and space elevators are highly competitive commercially.
But they will not refuse to launch rockets because of the new transport. Dennis Wright, vice president of ISEC, said the rockets would be faster than space elevators because they could quickly cross the radiation belt.
Some scientists suggest using the “space elevator + rocket” transportation method so that they complement each other. “If you think of a space elevator as a cargo ship, then a rocket is a cargo plane.”
In the project, everything seems feasible, but in practice there are still problems
The dream of a space elevator has been around for a long time. Science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke also described it in his novel The Fountains of Paradise.
But due to technical problems, such an elevator remained at the concept stage for a long time.
With the continuous development of aerospace technology, there are more opportunities to create space elevators.
According to Swan and Wright, carbon nanotubes and ultra-strong diamond filaments are considered ideal materials for making elevator cables.
In terms of design, scientists have already proposed eight reliable and sound scientific design schemes.
As for the engineering side of the issue, researchers in some countries have conducted several small experiments and are preparing for in-depth analysis.
“Of course, there are still many problems at the theoretical, technical and engineering levels.
For example, dynamics and control methods, research and development of new materials, equipment design and construction, and so on,” said Shi Gefei, assistant professor at the Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics at Sun University. Yatsen.
Scientists and engineers must find answers to many questions: what mode of propulsion should a space elevator car use? How to overcome gravitational attraction?
How should a cable withstand bombardment by high-energy cosmic rays and effectively resist sway? What to do if the elevator collides with space debris and meteorites…
Wright said scientists estimate that the first space elevator will be launched around 2035, but using it to transport people needs further testing to ensure it is safe and feasible.
This could happen around 2045, but there is no exact timetable yet. As this is a lengthy, labor-intensive and costly project, Swan is calling for deepening research and collaboration on space elevators.
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