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Forget the shuttle, a space elevator is the new solution for travel to outer space.
At least, that’s what Michael Laine, president and founder of LiftPort Inc., proposed during his Tuesday presentation at the Conference on World Affairs. In his presentation, Laine outlined the benefits, costs and feasibility of building an elevator to space.
“This is my very favorite topic. I could talk forever about it,” Laine, who was limited to an hour for his presentation, said.
The space elevator Laine and his associates at LiftPort envision is not some Tower of Babel, no behemoth structure requiring massive amounts of material to construct from the ground up. Rather, Laine likened the idea to a ribbon that would only be 15 feet wide and would essentially be a gigantic tether for the rockets needed to begin the project.
The space elevator would begin as a 62,000 mile “ribbon” made of carbon nanotubes, and would be brought into space by four rockets. It is predicted to take three months for the ribbon to drop from space to Earth, where it would be attached to a 600 feet by 900 feet ship in the Pacific near the equator. Initially, the ribbon would be made up of just one small strand of carbon nanotubes, which, though currently still in the laboratory phase, are among the strongest of materials in the world. A series of other ribbons would then be sent up the original strand until the width of 15 feet was obtained.
Though attached to the ship, the ribbon would not need any support in space, since the sheer size of the ribbon would act as a counterweight to itself.
The actual elevator system would be a series of cars that would run up and down the ribbon.
Laine argued that a space elevator would be a much more efficient way to transport people and materials to outer space. He said that while it costs $118 billion to build a space shuttle, and $1 billion per shuttle flight, the space elevator would only cost approximately $10 billion, and each trip would cost $400. He also pointed out that the space elevator could be operational every day, whereas the shuttle system takes much longer between flights.
Laine also maintained that travel to other areas of outer space would be made much more efficient by use of a space elevator. He said that instead of wasting most of a space craft’s payload on fuel used to simply break Earth’s atmosphere, that the fuel payload could be used for space travel only. By using the space elevator as a slingshot, or at least a starting point outside of the Earth’s atmosphere for space craft, massive amounts of energy could be saved.
According to Laine, the actual elevator system could be powered by solar panels placed outside of the Earth’s atmosphere. The energy collected by these panels could also be used to power locations throughout the Earth.
This project, however, is still in its very early stages, and skepticism is afoot.
Eric Baer, a sophomore majoring in engineering, said that, although he thought it was a great idea, the carbon nanotube technology needed to complete the project is no where near ready for such massive use. Baer also took issue with Laine’s timeline of 24 years to complete the project.
“Time projections for the project are way off,” Baer said.
Howard Peck, a Boulder resident, was more optimistic. In Peck’s opinion this was a much more feasible plan for travel to space than continuing to use the current shuttle technology. He said, though, that there are still some technological blocks that need to be overcome first.
Laine also recognized that massive technological feats will be involved in the success of this project.
“There are some really challenging problems that may not be solvable,” Laine said.
Contact Campus Press Staff writer Jon Swihart at Jonathan.Swihart@colorado.edu.