Wednesday, April 6, 2011

E is for Elevator to the Stars

E is for Elevator to the Stars!

What is the Elevator to the Stars? It's also known as a space elevator. It represents
one of the most economical ways to heavy lift materials into orbit for orbital shipyards, defense and research stations, and to reprovision space ships with supplies and personnel.

Basically, a space elevator is a platform/station/dock anchored to a planet, tethered in a gravitationally, or rotationally neutral spot above the planet by a cable, typically a carbon nanotube cable. Freight, materiel, and personnel is ferried up to the station in orbit by platforms, containers or passenger cars along the cable on one side, as platforms are lowered on the other side to the planet surface. Once the initial cost of the system is spent, the operational cost is much lower than the cost of fuel and landing facilities for conventional heavy lifting operations from the planet surface to orbit. However on a technologically advanced (stellar) planet, the elevators would only be used for hauling bulk material to and from space, and the transport of bulk passengers(refugees, off world colonists, relocation programs, penal programs, and occasionally, militia or bulk recruitment forces.

Passenger costs are considered reasonable compared to Interface Craft and Shuttles. Freight costs are reasonable as well, considering no other real economic way to lift substantial weights of bulk goods from and to a planet's surface. Bulk materials manufactured in space are transported mainly in this way, as are unprocessed or processed ores farmed from asteroids, that are needed on a planet's surface.

Elevators can and have been targets of espionage, terrorism, and outright war acts. The carbon nano tube construction has proved amazingly resilient, and it takes a very determined effort to damage just one strand of tube and as each cable is a bundle of hundreds of tubes, wound with other cables.

Like all transportation, economics come with a trade off. Time. The speed of the elevator varies with payload, but interface craft and shuttles beat the time it takes to get to or from the surface by up to 10 times, as the elevator must allow for long docking, loading, safety checks, run ups, switch overs, acceleration and deceleration of the platforms.

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