'Space Elevator' Insanity
By Ted Twietmeyer
The mad concept of a space elevator [1], proves the idea that just having the right letters after your name will make anyone believe you. Especially when the people in Washington can relate to it each day when they go to work in an office building.
First, let's consider what the ionosphere is. Note that part of the name is "ion" which means an electrically charged atom or molecule [2]. This is our SHIELD from solar radiation. Ions discharge when in contact with ground.
It is well known that a very high voltage potential exists between the earth and the ionosphere. Ionosphere electrical charge is believed it to be at least 10 million volts with respect to the earth ground.
Next, imagine a cable 62,000 miles long. A CONDUCTIVE cable that is. Imagine the electrical arc as cable construction reaches down toward earth. The 10 million volts will have a tremendous current from millions of square miles of ionosphere. With millions of amps of peak current and power levels in billions of watts, it will create quite a fireworks display. The inherently CONDUCTING carbon nanotube cable will act as a shorting wire carrying billions of watts of power. The current will continue to flow between the earth and the ionosphere, until both are at the same potential. But this is just the beginning of big trouble.
A good example of what will happen has already been proven on a space shuttle mission. On mission STS-75 [3], 3,500 volts at .48 Amps was measured when a tethered satellite was lowered about 12 miles. The satellite was lost when the aluminized tether snapped. It was later determined that the Kevlar tether broke, from burning through where it contacted the payload bay deployment tower. Remember this was a cable just 12 miles long, yet it developed 1,680 watts of power. Now imagine how much power a cable 62,000 MILES LONG will develop, connected between ground and the charged ionosphere of the entire planet.
The current with the ionosphere's 10 million volts will almost certainly vaporize the cable. But that would be a blessing, because of the repercussions of this cable.
Remember the reputation of freon gas ? It was accused of damaging the ionosphere. Whether or not this is true has yet to be determined. Yet without doubt, we MUST have the ionosphere. What happens if we neutralize this natural SHIELD of charged particles that protect us from ultraviolet and solar radiation ? Would radiation levels on earth suddenly become so high that no one could go outside for years to come ? No one really knows, but who would be foolhardy enough to find out at the expense of the world's population ? If we damage the ionosphere, China and other countries will take a very dim view of such an action, and it could result in more war around the globe.
Everyone in the space elevator project is so focused on stresses in the cable, and the perceived benefits that apparently no one considers the effects on the entire earth just by building it. And this is outside of other numerous engineering problems. Although this is called a "cable," it functions more like a giant post anchored in the ground.
First, a few facts about our earth: Earth's diameter at the equator: average 7,926.41 miles Rotation: 1 revolution per 24 hours. Circumference: 24901.609656 miles Your speed on earth at sea level: 1037.567 MPH. You will travel 24,900 miles each and every day of your life, even if you sit in a chair the entire day.
Stated cable length: 62,000 miles Entire distance the end of the cable must move in 24 hours: 414,460 miles ! [5]
The distance at the end of the cable travels is more than 16 times the diameter of the earth. Put another way, to rotate once every 24 hours the far end of the elevator cable MUST move at 16 times the velocity of the surface of the earth, at 16,601.072 MPH !
And then there are other problems. The cable must move through space at the same speed as the surface of the earth it is anchored to. It will be moving at approximately 22,500 MPH near the surface of the earth. But it will be at a MUCH higher velocity the further from earth as you travel length of it. Imagine in your mind the end of a yardstick attached to the side of a baseball. Rotate the baseball slowly, and the end of the yardstick moves many, times faster. Now you have an idea of what will happen to the cable, the further from earth it is. It will also be bombarded with space junk, mini-asteroids and sandblasted with billions of micrometeorites [4].
Could it survive this punishment ? There are still more hazards to come.
Now think about how putting your hand out the window of a speeding car hurt when you were a child.
That would be nothing compared to the impact of space rocks/asteroids traveling in excess of 16,000 MPH, colliding with the leading edge of the nanotube elevator cable at an almost infinite number of angles.
Current micrometeorite impacts on earth are in the millions every day. You can stretch a large plastic sheet outside, and over a month or so they will accumulate. Most of them have an iron content, about the size of a grain of sand, and are black. You can also use a magnet to collect them from the gutters on your home. Many can be found there. Micrometeorites are everywhere.
1. High vacuum (which causes outgassing in most organic materials.)
2. High radiation.
3. Temperature cycling as the giant cable moves from 400F+ heat to near absolute zero in darkness. Space vehicles are white for that reason- to reflect as much solar heat as possible.
4. Build-up of many tons of ice will be a major problem, as the cable passes through the -50F upper atmosphere which although very cold, has both air and moisture.
5. Expansion coefficient problems - where the end of the cable attached to earth is at one temperature, while the other end of the cable in space can suddenly have an 800 degree temperature change in a matter of seconds. And other changes in temperature along the length of it.
6. It must withstand 200 MPH jet stream wind stresses. It is not possible to select a location for this cable on earth where the jetstream will never be present. One only need to watch the weather on TV anytime, to see how the jetstream meanders daily in its path all around the earth.
What effect will all these incredible stressors have on the carbon nanotube cable over time ? No one knows for sure.
Since human lives are stake, it would be beyond fool-hardy to start building the elevator based only on computer simulations, and not using real world tests.
In all fairness we must recognize that according to a statement by scientist Bradley C. Edwards, who commented "we won't have the right nanotube material until about 2 years from now."
But the project is already well funded. Are we seeing a well-funded disaster in the making ? Let's hope Edwards can think past his own fame and fortune, and understand things that some things are foolhardy and arrogant.
Oh yes- one more thing - The entire cable, ALL 62,000 miles of it must be perfect. This is quality control beyond imagination. No one has made massive ultra-long nanotube cables like this before. To accomplish flawless manufacture of a material never attempted before, would be a god-like accomplishment. And meet all the rigors of the space environment discussed above.
We would be far better off to invest the money into more advanced propulsion systems, like those aboard the non-existent (?) TR3 black triangle. Its time this drive technology was released to the masses that paid for it in the first place ! Such propulsion systems won't just get us 62,000 miles from earth, but instead to other planets.
[1] - Space elevator story:
[2] - Definition of an ion:
[3] - Full story on STS-75:
[4] - NASA micrometeorite damage photos:
[5] - Cable circumference calculation in rounded terms is:
Cable radius: Earth's diameter / 2) + 62,000 = 65,963.205 miles Cable diameter: 65,963.205 miles * 2 = 131,926.41 miles Next we convert this into what the overall cable end circumscribes, where (Cable diameter is 131,926.41 miles) * pi = cable circumference of 414,460.01 miles.
Update - Areas For More Elevator Research
From Ted Twietmeyer 7-4-4
More research is needed on:
1. A windshield wiper that still works after being subjected to -400F to +400F and an 18,000 MPH wind.
2. A traction drive for the elevator that works when the cable is covered with ice and no matter what cannot fail.
3. Asteroid-proof glass and elevator cab that can withstand a measely 50,000 MPH impact from a one ton+ space rock.
4. Enough oxygen for the elevator cab to last for a year, long enough in case they get stranded "up there."
5. A rope ladder that can reach 62,000 miles down to earth, in the event it gets STUCK out there. And radiation proof spacesuits for ALL the elevator occupants.
6. Better batteries to power the heating and cooling system they will need, to keep from freezing and sweating to death.
7. Enough freeze-dried food (and water) to last a year until they are rescued by the space shuttle, which is still grounded
8. A restroom on-board that has good ventilation for obvious reasons...



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