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This isn’t your grandfather’s ol’ space elevator

August 5, 2009

Just wanted to link to this very interesting news out of York University in Toronto, engineers there are working on a functional space elevator! Read the full story here.

The idea of an elevator  to space has been close to nuclear fusion as one of those technologies that will always be twenty years away.  The traditional proposals have relied on superlight, superstrong cables to be attached to a geostationary satellite or captured asteroid.  Then an elevator would be run up and down that to allow access to space without the need for rocket propulsion.

Sounds great, the only problem is that such a cable could never support its own weight unless it was ludicrously strong and light.  It seems nanotech engineers are actually making progress towards this with carbon nano tube cables, but making those hundreds of kilometers long is still not possible.  I think they’re up to a couple inches now….

So this new proposal avoids that whole issue by proposing a floating platform, or rather, a series of floating platforms help up essentially by baloons and pnematics.  If it could be controlled properly it would be able to build with current technology.  I’ll have to read more about it but I do have some doubts about controlling the pneumatics to adjust for wind.  If this needs to be done alot then you may run into chaotic problems where your controls feedback into a swaying motion to adjust for the wind and you end up shaking apart.  I’ll need to read it in more detail to see if they’ve accounted for this, but they sound ready to try a small prototype so it would be worth trying.

Anything to reduce the price of that flight into space 🙂

Read the full research paper if you’re really interested, looks like a good read.

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