Space Elevators: An Assessment of the Technological Feasibility and the Way Forward

The International Academy of Astronautics has just published its 300+page multi-year study about Space Elevators. The conclusion was “Space Elevators Seem Feasible”.

With carbon nanotubes or graphene the Earth Based space elevators are feasible but they need millions of tons of mostly atomically precise material.

They achieve access to orbit for the cost of electricity to operate the elevator.

For a space elevator, the cost varies according to the design. Bradley C. Edwards received funding from NIAC from 2001 to 2003 to write a paper, describing a space elevator design. In it he stated that: “The first space elevator would reduce lift costs immediately to $100 per pound” ($220/kg).

The gravitational potential energy of any object in geosynchronous orbit (GEO), relative to the surface of the earth, is about 50 MJ (15 kWh) of energy per kilogram (see geosynchronous orbit for details). Using wholesale electricity prices for 2008 to 2009, and the current 0.5% efficiency of power beaming, a space elevator would require USD 220/kg just in electrical costs. Dr. Edwards expects technical advances to increase the efficiency to 2%, which would be USD55/kg.

The comparison would be to use rockets, planes, towers and skyhooks that also leverage the same nanomaterials.

Achieving fully reusable rockets made out of carbon nanotubes and graphene would enable higher payload fraction.

$20-100/kg is possible with a fully reusable Spacex Falcon Heavy.

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