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Nanotechnology provides a possible route to a space elevator

Last month at a conference in Luxembourg, Cambridge University scientists announced a way of making long thin carbon nanotubes link together to form a material that might suffice to built a space elevator, perhaps a decade from now after the process has been successfully scaled up. From PhysOrg.com “Long, Stretchy Carbon Nanotubes Could Make Space Elevators Possible“:

Scientists from Cambridge University have developed a light, flexible, and strong type of carbon nanotube material that may bring space elevators closer to reality. Motivated by a $4 million prize from NASA, the scientists found a way to combine multiple separate nanotubes together to form long strands. Until now, carbon nanotubes have been too brittle to be formed into such long pieces.

And a space elevator — if it ever becomes reality — will be quite long. NASA needs about 144,000 miles of nanotube to build one. In theory, a cable would extend 22,000 miles above the Earth to a station, which is the distance at which satellites remain in geostationary orbit. Due to the competing forces of the Earth’s gravity and outward centrifugal pull, the elevator station would remain at that distance like a satellite. Then the cable would extend another 40,000 miles into space to a weighted structure for stability. An elevator car would be attached to the nanotube cable and powered into space along the track.…

Currently, the Cambridge team can make about 1 gram of the new carbon material per day, which can stretch to 18 miles in length. Alan Windle, professor of materials science at Cambridge, says that industrial-level production would be required to manufacture NASA’s request for 144,000 miles of nanotube. Nevertheless, the web-like nanotube material is promising.

“The key thing is that the process essentially makes carbon into smoke, but because the smoke particles are long thin nanotubes, they entangle and hold hands,” Windle said. “We are actually making elastic smoke, which we can then wind up into a fiber.”

—Jim

4 Responses to “Nanotechnology provides a possible route to a space elevator”

  1. Says:

    Space Elevators in a decade? before or after flying pigs?

    Let’s build better tennis rackets and golf clubs from the stuff first, then auto bodies and aircraft fuselages. Once that is mastered and the nanotube manufacturing process is mature and cost-effective, make SSTO launch vehicles from the material. Some time after thatr, we may be ready for space elevators.

  2. Says:

    Why wait. What is your motivation for waiting. All the other good stuff will follow along, but lets use this for a space elevator as soon as we can. The enormous cost of putting things into orbit above the atmosphere ($10,000 per pound), provides a strong incentive to take this seriously.

  3. Says:

    Circular railguns is probably a more practical way to lower the cost per pound, though it doesn’t work for fragile things like humans.

  4. Says:

    Nanotechnology provides a possible route to a space elevator

    Story needs editing:

    And a space elevator, if it ever becomes reality, will be very long. NASA needs about 144,000 miles of nanotube to build one. In theory, a cable would extend 22,000 miles above the Earth to a station, which is the distance at which satellites remain in geostationary orbit. Due to the competing forces of the Earth’s gravity and outward centrifugal pull, the elevator station would remain at that distance like a satellite. Then the cable would extend another 40,000 miles into space to a weighted structure for stability. An elevator car would be attached to the nanotube cable and powered into space along the track.[…]

    ———

    That’s 22,000 miles plus 40,000 miles equals 144,000 miles? Something is unclear.
    The elevator station would not remain at that distance like a satellite, the weight of the cable would bring it crashing to earth.
    The cable would need to extend another 22,000 miles, not 40,000 miles, into space and not necessarily to a weighted structure.

    ——
    And it looks like the 18 “miles” are not like the 144,000 “miles”, otherwise 30 teams could make enough in one year.
    Currently, the Cambridge team can make about 1 gram of the new carbon material per day, which can stretch to 18 miles in length. Alan Windle, professor of materials science at Cambridge, says that industrial-level production would be required to manufacture NASA’s request for 144,000 miles of nanotube. Nevertheless, the web-like nanotube material is promising.

    —–

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