Space elevator

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A space elevator is a proposed non-rocket spacelaunch structure (a structure designed to transport material from a celestial body's surface into space). Many elevator variants have been suggested, all of which involve travelling along a fixed structure instead of using rocket powered space launch. The concept most often refers to a cable that reaches from the surface of the Earth on or near the Equator to geostationary orbit (GSO) and a counter-mass outside of the atmosphere.

Discussion of a space elevator dates back to 1895 when Konstantin Tsiolkovsky[1] proposed a free-standing "Tsiolkovsky" tower reaching from the surface of Earth to geostationary orbit. Most recent discussions focus on tensile structures (specifically, tethers) reaching from geostationary orbit to the ground. This structure would be held in tension between Earth and the counterweight in space like a guitar string held taut. Space elevators have also sometimes been referred to as beanstalks, space bridges, space lifts, space ladders, skyhooks, orbital towers, or orbital elevators.

While some variants of the space elevator concept are technologically feasible, current technology is not capable of manufacturing practical engineering materials that are sufficiently strong and light to build an Earth-based space elevator of the geostationary orbital tether type. Recent conceptualizations for a space elevator are notable in their plans to use carbon nanotube or boron nitride nanotube based materials as the tensile element in the tether design, since the measured strength of microscopic carbon nanotubes appears great enough to make this possible.[2] Technology as of 1978 could produce elevators for locations in the solar system with weaker gravitational fields, such as the Moon or Mars.[3]

A further issue is that for human riders on an Earth-based elevator, space radiation due to the Van Allen belts would, if unshielded, give a dose well above permitted levels.[4] This would not be an issue for non-living cargo, however.


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