The concept of building an elevator to space has intrigued scientists for years and may become a reality. Four people behind a documentary about the concept called “Skyline” sat down for an Ask Me Anything session with Reddit’s Ask Science community. They were aerospace engineer Jerome Pearson; retired software engineer and past president of the International Space Elevator Consortium Ted Semon; Michael Laine, founder of LiftPort Group, a company that has been working on a space elevator since 2002; and filmmaker Miguel Drake-McLaughlin.
The scientists believe that a space elevator will become a reality. However, they believe the technology needed to build one on the moon is currently more advanced than the technology needed to build one on Earth.
Scientists are working on several materials that could potentially be used to build a space elevator cable. They include carbon nanotubes, boron nitride nanotubes, carbyne, graphene, and diamonds.
Current designs call for a tether extending 60,000 miles into space. It would take four or five days to get to geostationary orbit and only a few hours to get to low Earth orbit. Climber speed would be very slow in the atmosphere and faster after leaving the atmosphere.
The lifter could be powered by lasers or solar power. With solar power, there would be “dead” periods when the elevator was in the Earth’s shadow, but they would get shorter and would eventually disappear as it went higher. A hybrid system using lasers or electric power and then switching to solar power might also be used.
The scientists say a space elevator would have no maximum load. It could be scaled up to carry thousands of tons at one time. Several loads could be transported on the tether at once according to a schedule.
The scientists propose using a space vehicle, the ElectroDynamic Debris Eliminator, to capture space junk in low Earth orbit so it would not collide with the space elevator. It could be used to build structures in LEO.
Severe weather could potentially damage the space elevator. Scientists would put it near the equator in an area that generally does not have strong storms. The elevator would have redundant cables in case one was damaged by a storm. If a storm occurred in the area of the space elevator, operations would be stopped until it passed.
The space elevator would be built in a remote location in the ocean far from populated areas and shipping lanes. If the cable collapsed for some reason, the location would be so remote that it would not pose a danger to people.