Space elevator: audacious idea will open space to entrepreneurs

April 30 2008 / by futuretalk / In association with Future
Category: Space   Year: General   Rating: 9 Hot

By Dick Pelletier

“Ladies and gentlemen, welcome aboard the Space Elevator. Your first stop will be ‘Hotel Row’ where we will enjoy a 2-hour dinner under the stars; then we continue on to the Geosynchronous Way Station where most of you will transfer to an L-5 Colony shuttlecraft. This entire ride takes 8 days, so sit back and enjoy the trip from your luxury sleeping quarters”.

This scene may sound like science fiction, but it is not. According to visionaries, the Space Elevator, a revolutionary means of transport from Earth to space could become reality by as early as 2030 or before.

Here is how it will work: A special rocket-launched satellite in geo-synchronous orbit would drop a ribbon made from nano-materials to a platform in the sea near the equator. The stationary ribbon will eventually extend to 62,000 miles high and allow 20-ton elevator cars to climb into space at 120 mph using electricity generated from solar-power and lasers.

Two Seattle startups, Michael Laine’s Liftport Group, and Brad Edwards’ Sedco are competing to build this risky project. Both believe they can do it over the next couple of decades at a cost of about $20 billion. This radical new system is expected to lower costs of hauling stuff into space from $10,000 per pound to $100 and eventually to $10 per pound. A 200 lb person could travel to space for $2,000.

This enterprising endeavor promises affordable orbital access, which will attract entrepreneurs from around the world seeking a piece of the lucrative space market. PayPal founder Elon Musk, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, and Amazon’s Jeff Bezos are among the more recognizable names investing in this and other space-related activities.(cont.)

When the Space Elevator becomes reality, we will send not just a few robotic probes into the solar system every decade, but thousands per year, and many with people aboard hoping to realize rich rewards. The following data from Business 2.0 Magazine lists financial opportunities available in space:

• Solar sails – solar-powered spaceships will generate $350 million by 2014.

• Space Hotels – properties will offer suites starting at $25,000/night, $5 billion/year by 2025.

• Orbital labs – zero gravity manufacturing for microchip, biotech firms, $5 billion/year by 2020.

• Microsatellites – tiny satellites revolutionize communications, $1.5 billion by 2018.

• Solar satellites – solar panels provide much of Earth’s energy needs, $100 billion/year by 2020.

• Space elevator – 62,000-mile elevator replaces rocket flights, $2 billion/year by 2030.

• Space tourism – thrill seekers craving ‘final frontier’ adventures, $1 billion/year by 2025.

• Mars – NASA sends men to Mars by 2030, will pay industry $400 billion to make it happen.

• Asteroid mining – valuable metals in multitrillion-dollar quantities; one ‘rock’ could make owner 450 times richer than Bill Gates, $10 billion/year by 2030.

• Moon – energy source from helium-3, worth $7 billion/ton, $500 billion by 2050.

By 2100 or before, many people venturing into space will not return. They will stay, raise their families, and become devoted to their new habitat or planet. Famed physicist Stephen Hawking believes this will provide insurance for humanity’s survival.

Can this positive future happen? NASA believes it can. To promote interest, our government put up $400,000 in an X-prize-like competition called Elevator: 2010, which took place in Las Cruces, NM. The government wants to infect engineers and scientists with passion for building this project, making them ambassadors to the cause. Get ready to enjoy this most amazing ‘magical future’.

If you're alive in the 2030s, what will you use the space elevator for?

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