Can A Kickstarter Project Actually Build A Space Elevator?

It’s the stuff that Science Fiction is made of: an elevator that climbs its way into space rather than needing a rocket to get there. Can it be done? No. But this Kickstarter project aims to fund research that will eventually make a space elevator possible. They’re already way over their goal, and plan to use the extra funds to extend the reach of the experiments.

A complete success would be a tether that reaches into space, held taught by a weight which is pulled away from earth by centrifugal force. That’s not really on the radar yet (last we heard humans weren’t capable of producing a substance strong enough to keep the tether from snapping). What is in the works is a weather balloon supporting a ribbon which a robot can climb. The team isn’t new to this, having built and tested several models at University and then in a start-up company that closed its doors a few years ago. Now they’re hoping to get a 3-5 kilometer ribbon in the air and to build a new robot to climb it.

For now we’ll have to be satisfied with the 1000 ft. climb video after the break. But we hope to see an Earth-Moon freight system like the one shown in the diagram above before the end of our lifetimes.

[Thanks uMinded]

66 thoughts on “Can A Kickstarter Project Actually Build A Space Elevator?

  1. Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world.

    if this type of system is every built structurally sound enough to lift a few tons, do, please, keep it away from all fulcrums.

      1. How long before we mined the moon into an asteroid?

        Couldn’t an elevator from earth to space be supported by balloons every x feet? Basically take what they have and stack it to the degree?

        Sure it would need placed in a zero wind area, but hell I don’t see why you couldn’t get >100lb payloads 60 miles up using common/cheap synthetic materials.

  2. Does anyone know what the fundamental insight they had was? And as far as I know, which might be dated or wrong, I thought the current maximum carbon nanotubes length was a couple of centimeters. He claims that he can make a moon tether out of current technology…are they considering not using carbon nanotubes? What are they thinking of making it out of?

  3. Does it have to be just a tether?

    How about a lattice tube a few feet in diameter surrounding the tether that can help support the robot/payload as well as make the structure more stable. It would also make the elevator more visible to pilots.

    1. Pilots won’t be a problem. It’ll cost billions or trillions. Worth every penny but I can’t imagine it not having a huge no fly zone around it enforced by lots of state of the art antiaircraft defenses.

    2. Ever heard of high speed rail? And by huge no fly zone I’m talking about big enough to reliably shoot down a fighter jet. Not sure the radius but probably no more that 50-100 miles. For example, the White House is protected by a 30 mile radius no fly zone. People don’t seem to have a problem getting to it though.

  4. Iirc the Company wants to Build its elevator on the Moon. As in earths Moon. The smaller Gravity makes it possible with current Tech and compared to a earth based elevator with rather minor improvements.

    A lunar space-elevator would have its own uses ranging from a better way to get Lunar minerals ( f.e. Helium3 or Platinoids) back to earth over easier access to the lunar survace up to being Testbed and building a counterweight for a Earth space-elevtor.

  5. I don’t know why they don’t use the energy in the atmosphere to power this kind of thing. If the tether was conductive then it could act as a huge tesla coil. More than enough to power the elevator. If they used several lines in a huge pyramid to spread the load. I’m guessing it would have to go very deep into the crust.

    1. The problem is finding a material strong enough to hold it’s own weight + a payload. It doesn’t matter how many lines you use. They would each have to support their own weight which is impossible today except with theoretical materials.

      1. Astronaut Jeff Hoffman carried copies of “Fountains of Paradise” on the two shuttle missions which tested a 20 km. long tether. Fascinating experiment even though they had problems with the tether on both flights.

        I still have a piece of the tether in my collection.

        The novel’s a great read too.

    1. Or there’s SVETZ AND THE BEANSTALK- Larry Niven
      for a little more cheesy fun. (Rainbow Mars)

      Kinda fun to read such strange fantasy from a usually hard SF guy like Niven.

  6. WOW. I’m amazed that noone catched that Earth-Moon space elevator is simply impossible – Moon would wrap this tether around the Earth and (depending on the tether strength) either be pulled down and crash into ground or (more likely) snap the line.

    Only space elevators (as in connecting point on Earth surface with objecr in space with something) can go only to geostationary orbit. Getting to the Moon would require second stage from orbit with free flight.

      1. In the case of the moons elevator, the tether would need to extend beyond the L1 point, where the earths gravity becomes more significant than the moons. While this would be longer than an earth elevator reaching past geo-stationary orbit, the moons weaker gravity means it could be made from a fibreglass/spiders web composite.

    1. Isn’t the moon phase-locked with the earth, hence all the earth-moon separation theories and the fact that we can always measure our distance from the moon due to the reflector that has been placed there?

    1. The laser itself might be hand-held, but you would need a backpack full of batteries and coolant to handle supplying the 7.5kW of power and to dump the ~4kW of heat the laser would produce.

      Also, its very easy to armor things against laser attacks (Copper or Gold platting works well for IR lasers)

      1. As long as you are not trying to fire a constant beam, I’d think you could get by without cooling for random shots? — And yes, 7.5kW is a lot, but you could probably charge caps from a high C lipo pack between firings if you can deal with charge times between shots… even a 1/10 second shot every 10 seconds drops down to a 75W charge draw, probably do-able from a handheld pack? They also have conductive cooled very similar diodes vs the water cooled that could be heat-sunk to the ‘stock’ or case of the gun…

  7. Why do space elivators need to go to the ground at all?
    Surely even a sky-hock like system with a counterbalance would provided a lot of advantages and yet be much easier? You would have something like SpaceShipTwo hock onto a cable at its apex, then be pulled up by energy pre-stored on the space station “pivot”. A asteroid would need to be used for a counter balance I think, you could use a difference in orbital heights as a energy store (like pumping water up a hill with solar)

    While attaching to a cable mid-flight is a tricky thing to do, its probably far easief then needing a cable in geo-stationary orbit all the way to the ground (weight, atmospheric etc afe all bigger issues)

    1. Concept has been around at least since the 70’s. I read about it about ’77 or so. Materials back then were not strong enough. Nobody’s space infrastructure is good enough to build it yet and it’s gonna take big government level spending to do it. The US is broke and nobody in power here has the guts to do it. And the project wouldn’t survive politics. Nobody else really has the technical expertise to succeed. That’s rapidly changing though and I suspect that if private space technologies don’t come on line fast enough it’ll be the Chinese. Whoever does succeed will rule the world.

  8. ‘… held taut’, not ‘taught’.

    Anyway, the numbers seem off.

    $8000 for an initial goal? What you can get for that is two, maybe three decent 19″ rack servers. You’re not going to do hard science on hobby-money like that. The language reads like so many Buy Product X And Be A REAL Man Again ads. Literally like someone was making it up.

    I hate to be a spoilsport, and I enjoy being wrong, but this seems like a moneymaking scheme someone is pulling.

    1. The Kickstarter page says itself that the 8K goal was for educating the new workers on the project and to Build a new climber essentialy but more importantly to make a start and get the Community back together as well as attracting a new Crowd.

      Liftport takes a new approach here Splitting its entire project into Multiple Milestones and side-projects that get all funded separately. So this is the first one out of many pledges as it seems.

      1. It also means that they get this money now, unless their kickstarter gets pulled for some reason. If they had set a realistically huge goal amount, and they were 10k short, they’d have nothing, as the pledgers would not be charged.

        They claim that with $100k they’re “back” and in the “in this decade”-mode. With $100k you can pay two engineers for a year. Possibly one, depending on where they’re based.

        I’m not convinced.

      1. Yep nonsense. Just like men being able to live if they went much faster than a horse or flying other than in a balloon or man going to the moon. None of those things could ever possibly happen.

  9. things like this make me glad I don’t need funding for any projects..

    I’d post a project on there wanting investors for a project making more efficient and durable hub motors or portable power cells, and it’d get overlooked for the project that uses an arduino to generate clown makeup patterns..

    Enzyme research which is the key to curing most diseases on average operates on a 6 figure budget.. Thats on a good year.

    Someone posts a deathray project to blast meteors and coments in 5..4..3..2..

  10. While I like the idea of “space elevator”, I know it’s not even close to be possible with current technology. But, what those guys are doing has nothing to do with “space elevator”. Their robot climbing the ribbon supported by balloon is nothing like space elevator, because balloon is held in air by atmospheric pressure, and in order for object to be supported by centripetal force it has to be at much higher altitude (at least the altitude at which satellites are), so this guys are just playing and collecting money, but their work is not even close to “space elevator”.

    1. Luckily most people with money don’t know about magnetism or chemistry.. Like 0-gravity, radiation, and no-volume for gastric expansion.. Hence why it takes rockets, and space agencies focus on efficient propellants..

      Most projects I see there are flawed by design, like homebrew satellite kits that die from explosion and corrosion in space, or biological stuff that is flawed based on principles taught in grade/primary school.. Stupid people making money off stupid people..

  11. I have a hard time putting faith, and funds, in the pocket of a business major who advertises on his professional facebook page that he had a 1.17 highschool GPA. This is a hard science project, show me the credentials for the team if you want a cent out of me.

    1. read my other comments.. that’s kind of my point..

      Pretty much everything I’ve seen on this kickstarter site looks like undereducated people, mostly americans, harvesting free money from stupid rich people who know nothing about science..

  12. The problem with a space elevator on the Moon is there’s room for exactly one of them.

    The only place it’s feasible to extend a moon elevator to is the Earth-Moon Lagrange One or L1 point.

    One big problem with that is L1 is almost twice as high above the Lunar surface as geostationary orbit is above Earth’s surface.

    Thus a Lunar elevator needs at least double the material of an Earth elevator – but – that is offset by Lunar gravity being 1/6 Earth gravity and there’s no wind and weather to deal with.

    What about using the other Lagrange points? They’re at even higher altitudes than L1 or on the opposite side of Earth from the Moon.

    An elevator could be run out to L2 from the far side of the moon but its utility would be mainly for launching stuff away from here.

    But there’s a problem with L1 and L2, park an object there and it won’t stay there by itself. It needs constant twiddling to stay put.

    A counterweight strung out past L1 (closer to Earth) would use Earth’s gravity and the small amount of centrifugal force from the slow rotating Moon to keep the elevator held up, but the counterweight and at least the section of the elevator at L1 would need active stability control.

    Still this all is much closer to possible than an Earth based elevator. Due to Earth’s faster rotation, the elevator counterweight would need more active control to keep it from lagging behind the elevator top at geostationary altitude.

    Note that below geostationary altitude, everything orbiting goes around Earth in less than a day, above geostationary altitude it goes around in more than a day.

    Don’t confuse geosynchronous with geostationary. There’s exactly one geostationary orbit, directly over the equator. Satellites in that orbit stay put and barely wiggle around. It’s what enables communication “birds” to work. Stuck them up there, maneuver into position and very little correction is required in several years or even a couple of decades. The orbit has been called the Clarke Belt after Arthur C. Clarke who first suggested it’d be an ideal place to park communication satellites.

    There are many geosynchronous orbits. They can be many shapes, even highly eccentric. What they all have in common is they cross the geostationary altitude and the equator and hold an average position above a point or line of longitude on Earth’s surface. That position typically traces a figure 8 shaped path called an analemma. Useless for a space elevator.

    1. Agree with 95% of what you said.

      But the 5% …

      Geostationary satellites do need stationkeeping propellant, and it’s the primarily limiting factor on their lifetime.

      If the Earth was a point mass and the Sun and Moon didn’t exist then a satellite placed in a geostationary orbit would remain there forever (the classic two body problem).

      But in the real world the Earth’s kind of lumpy and the Sun and Moon are also important factors.

      90% of the propellant on a geosat is spent doing North-South stationkeeping, 10% East-West. In many cases older satellites are purposely allowed to drift North-South and can be tracked by motorized antennas on the ground and used for point-to-point (as opposed to broadcasting to a large area) communications. It’s a way to stretch a couple of additional years out of a $100 Million+ satellite.

      There are two gravitational “valleys” in the geostationary belt where satellites tend to drift East-West. They’re located at 105 West and 74 East. Those locations require insignificant East-West stationkeeping. In one famous case the ATS-3 satellite was parked at 105 West and used for decades after it ran out of propellant! Its North-South drift caused it to plot a very long figure-8 on the ground and it could actually see the South Pole for several hours each day. The National Science Foundation used it as a communications relay to the Admunsun-Scott station at the South Pole. The funny part is the other end of the link was a guy’s backyard in Palm Bay Florida. (A fascinating place to visit!)

      If a space elevator is ever built in the future the stationkeeping for the platform at geostationary altitude will have to be taken into account. This is something which has been known since the space elevator was first proposed and Arthur C. Clarke addressed it in several of his non-fiction articles about space elevators.

  13. I love how high this project aims. It’s one of the great projects I blogged about yesterday. Though the projects with the great and immediate rewards first drew me into the arena of crowd funding, giving money to projects like this – the ones that dream big are the ones I have been finding really exciting lately.

    Moon elevator or no, I hope this project does some great things; even science experiments that fail make for great research afterall.

  14. Question: Does all the material used have to support all of it’s own weight?

    Would it be possible to use helium “nodes” in the tower (at various places) to counter some of the gravitational force?

    Kind of like using floats on a dock to support some of the weight of the dock, keeping the dock from sinking in the water?

    1. Not really that helpful in the long run. As you increase in altitude, the buoyant force of the balloons will decrease, while the density of any sort of cable will remain constant. That, and it would probably have disastrous effects on stability (simulations already show that a space elevator would be hideously unstable).

    2. As a physicist, let me say this is basically a huge scam. Barring some breakthrough in physics that allows us to make some new form of exotic matter, the tension on a space elevator cable anchored to a geosynchronous mass approaches the order of magnitude of the binding force of a C-C bond when you take into account non-equilibrium forces (from any sort of normal harmonic vibration). Think about that for a second. It means that using continuous carbon nanotubes doesn’t really help, because they have a higher ratio of mass/strength. Even if that weren’t the case, it also doesn’t account for the fact that a bare carbon structure can’t survive in the atmosphere, which means that everything has to be coated, increasing mass by a huge factor.

      That said, space elevators would still be cool for mining asteroids.

  15. YAYAYA

    A person who made below average GPA in grade/primary school is going to do a space elevator..

    BTW after you get out of magnetic and gastric altitude you’ll have to use stored propellants inside special storage.. or research nuclear energy.. all the above get the attention of military and get you a prison sentence for launching in all nations without extreme security clearance:T

    If you don’t have physicists level knowledge you’re an idiot for even discussing this.. This is typical garbage idiots invest in on kickstarter too. I suspect most people on there don’t even understand math above basic geometry and algebra but are harvesting money for investment projects that require the knowledge..

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