China’s Space Ladder Vision Would Be a $200 Billion Space Shuttle Mistake

China has been pretty good at large engineering projects. Readers of Nextbigfuture over the last 15 years know that Nextbigfuture tracks all of China’s megaprojects and all of the major space, energy and technology projects that have ever been proposed. China does not have infinite funds and I will go over the fundamental engineering, science, technology and economics problems.

Xinhua released a video where China is proposing a earth-based space elevator that they call a sky ladder.

In 2018, I described the economic and technological reasons why an Earth Based Space Elevator is a bad idea and would be an engineering mistake.

In 2018, China’s researchers created carbon nanotube bundles that have a tensile strength of 80 Gigapascals. This is wonderful we have materials that would theoretically be capable of making an Earth-based space elevator.

We just need to economically produce thousands of tons of the material economically. We also have to put them together into a structure that will stretch out for 40,000 to 60,000 miles. It has go past geosynchronous orbit to reach the counterweight. Geosynch would just be the gravitational midpoint.

A lunar space elevator has not been built. A lunar-based space elevator demonstrator could start off with far less material and we could start with material that we have in sufficient quantities. We could build and deploy a basic lunar elevator for $1 billion.

Here is the 17-page spaceline proposal for a lunar elevator.

Many lunar space elevators have been proposed and have had some NASA studies.

None of the lunar space elevators have been built and few of the technically feasible components have been built.

China spent a trillion on high-speed rail lines using well-known technology and cement and steel from 2013-2021. China built shorter high-speed rail lines than the 40,000 mile length of the proposed space elevator.

No Space Elevator has ever been built and we have almost none of the required construction materials.

A 24-mile bridge was built in China for $2 billion. One mile long bridges in the US can cost $6.5 billion.

$10 billion cost estimate for space elevators are silly and insane low-ball guesses.

If nanotechnology advances to make that much super-strong materials then vastly improved reusable rockets could be built or super cheap space planes would become possible that would be even lower cost.

The US spent $200 billion on the Space Shuttle program. The Space Shuttle program was justified as a partially reusable “space truck” that would operate at $5 to 10 million per launch in 1970s dollars. Space shuttles ended up operating for about $1 billion per launch. The actually price of things matters. Buying something for $10 million might be great and profitable but buying the same thing for $1 billion can be an incredible a waste and stupid. A Space Shuttle launch for $1 billion each was a waste and was stupid.

The US also spent almost $200 billion on the International Space Station. The International Space Station was supposed to be a needed staging point to allow for eventual moon base support and larger space operations. The actually really useful space work never happened. We were left with VASTLY overpriced place for low earth gravity work.

Space shuttles were built and used. Throw away rockets could have been used instead of the shuttle for those missions for about ten times lower cost.

Mass Producing Fully Reusable SpaceX Super Heavy Starships

The estimated salary, benefits and overhead are an estimated average annual cost $200,000 for each SpaceX employee. This means that the 3,000 employees building Starships would be $600 million per year. If there were 100 Starship built each year and 20 Super Heavy Boosters, then each Starship would have about $4 million in labor and each Super Heavy booster would have about $10 million in labor. If the production rate was halved and the staff levels were the same then the labor for Starship would be $8 million and the Super Heavy booster would be $20 million.

The steel is about $200 per kilogram. The dry mass of the Starship will be about 120 tons and the Super Heavy Booster will be about 300 tons. This would be $2.4 million for the Starship if most of the material was the steel alloy. The Super Heavy would be $6 million of steel.

If the steel and salaries are half of the total cost of the rockets then the unit costs at different production levels would be:

Two Starships per month would mean $37 million per Starship
Two Starship per week would mean $13 million per Starship

Reaching a Starship cost of $5 million would require 3000 employees to build about 300 Starship every year. This would be $1.3 million in labor, $2.4 million in material and $1.3 million for other costs.

Each Super Heavy Starship that could fly to space once per day would take 100 tons to space for about $200,000 in methane fuel and $300,000 for amortized asset and other operational costs. This would be $5 per kilogram or $12 per pound to orbit. This would be far less than the promised $35 per pound of earth-based space elevators after all the imagined space elevator development and imagined construction.

But now we are beyond the paper project stage for space elevators are at the video animation stage.

SOURCES- Arxiv, Xinhua, spacex, NASA
Written By Brian Wang,

90 thoughts on “China’s Space Ladder Vision Would Be a $200 Billion Space Shuttle Mistake”

  1. Buy a piece of string and tie a rock to one end. Hold the other end in one hand. Rotate rapidly on your axis. Have someone throw tomatoes at you. Observe what happens to the string and piece of rock 🙂

  2. I am certain you cannot do it without using Space resources. Which would also be used for any of the sort of things you mention. After we start O'Neill's plans. Get there and start using those resources FIRST, then build stuff. Don't think in terms of launching as the limit..

  3. If one of the big risks for a space elevator is impact damage, then adding more space junk makes a space elevator MORE risky, not less.

  4. I'm sure the added risk and control issues make it not worth it, but it would be really cool to have the tip come to a momentary halt 1 metre above the top of the highest equatorial luna mountain.

    Attach a clamp on to the hook and launch.

    In fiction you would even have the hero(ine) run up to the hook site, with a rope wrapped around their space suit like a crude climbing harness, and throw a loop around the hook to disappear into the sky seconds ahead of the baddies (Nazis? Communists? Witches? Zombies? Generic bad guys of whatever is the fashion at the time.)

  5. Thank you, Daniel. You expressed what I was trying to say, but in a more eloquent way.

    Musk and Bezos, visionaries with the ablility to build massive organizations, have benefitted greatly from the legion of aerospace engineers cultivated at U.S. universities, NASA contractors, and Defense contractors.

    I am grateful for the long march of research that started almost 100 years ago in both Europe and the U.S. My hope is that we can continue this research without politics polluting it.

  6. I doubt we can really build and populate something as big as a O'Neill colony without a system that can facilitate lots of launches like a space elevator.

  7. Yes lunar elevators are a thing as are lunar railgun launchers

    But an earth elevator is stupid currently – although space junk may change that?

    We dont "need" an earth elevator – we need space mining next – once starship heavy is operational

  8. OHH no, first a nuclear weapons gap then a Cave gap and now an elevator Gap. HEE HEE for those who watched Dr Strange Love

  9. "a small hop to get on and off." Now, we have TV gold here. edit: the tip is under tension, so moving it around with winched cables back up the line a little would seem easy(?)

  10. If the Moon were an isolated body, synchronous orbit would be 93,000 km (and it would rotate faster). Since this height is farther than the L1 and L2 points, a stable synchronous orbit isn't possible. Lunar L1 is 58,000 km, so a stationary elevator is at least that far from the center of the Moon, plus some cable and counterweight above that. The Earth's gravity is stronger above that height, so the extra cable and counterweight are being pulled down by the Earth, while the rest of it is being pulled down by the Moon.

    The problem with 60,000 km+ cables is their exposure to meteoroid impact. A particle more than 1/3 the diameter of the cable will make a crater deeper than the cable thickness, and therefore cut it.

    A 488 km cable is therefore much less exposed to damage. There is still a risk, so a proper design has multiple cable strands spaced out so one impact can only take out one of them. You include more strands than needed to support the load, and cross-connect them every 10 km or so to redistribute loads around a break. Impact damage then means replacing a 10 km segment of one strand. If the skyhook was built from 10 km spools of cable strands in the first place, replacing them becomes a maintenance issue rather than a catastrophic failure.

  11. And there are some serious complications. You can't lift things *fast*.

    The limit is quite low if you're physically coupling to the elevator, maybe a few hundred kmh, 1-200 hours to reach geosynchronous. The part of the trip that goes through the Van Allen belts is kind of toasty.

    If you couple electromagnetically, that's added weight for the cable, (Though less wear!) and you run into issues when you approach the speed of sound in the cable, and start having to interact with it as loosely coupled pieces, instead of one solid object. You might be able to achieve 20kps that way, though.

    But at maximum throughput the acceleration forces are comparable to the cable load, and have to be managed carefully. You have waves of tension traveling back and forth through the cable that have to be actively damped by payload acceleration management.

    Anyway, last I heard, carbon nanotubes have a *half-life* if highly stressed. You can't use most of their strength in static applications, because they can literally make a quantum jump to broken, and enter a lower energy state, and they only have to do that one place in the entire tube for it to be broken.

  12. Thus the terminus is a ship.

    You can, by the way, once you've got your space elevator all the way to the ground, tow the bottom away from the equator. It then hangs in an odd looking catenary curve, but you can get a decent distance from the equator that way.

  13. Some authoritarians are only now beginning to realize that some are thinking of not ending up on a planet. How will these people be controlled? What if people start thinking they can escape? They will have already started escaping, mentally. Watch authoritarians humiliate themselves over this question. They don't even realize they are neurotic. Yet.

  14. You leave the planet before they can dominate it. Then you dominate everything. From above. Bwaaa Ha Ha.

  15. This goes back to the fact that the Moon rotates so slowly, as a stationary elevator would be very long to match it. Right?

  16. Indeed! "Is the surface of a planet the right place for this?" Should we deliver to Space or use what is already there? Unconventional questions, asked 50 years ago, by O'Neill.

  17. You can get started on much larger O'Neill stuff with far less launching. One of his main points.

  18. Just a thought. Remember the effect of the Twin Towers falling. A 44,000 kilometer tower will have a lot of potential energy. Wouldn't want to be with a hundred miles of where any part of it hits ground.

  19. As I said, no Moon activity was actually planned, Mars only. Planet only. No O'Neill. Thus the focus on human micr0g experiments, rather than just supplying g and doing O'Neill. "Had such" as O'Neill started in 70s, now there is a concept for dreaming.

  20. Payload volume will determine if large capital projects are feasible. A $200B project will have $20B in financing and $20B in maintenance for $40B/yrly. At $20/kg, you would have to loft 2 billion kg a year. If people where 5% of that weight, we are talking about a 1 million persons annually. That's a lot of people.

  21. Nice idea despite the hard economic arguments against. However I’m struck by the analogy to the Japanese concepts for giant orbital solar power stations and a city sized skyscraper on an artificial island in Tokyo Bay – technically feasible and fantastic in CGI but not built and not likely anytime soon.

  22. I don't read this site for Brian's text. I read it for pointers to the original work, and comments by smart people afterwards.

  23. > The tug, which I do not remember,

    "Space Operations Center" concept, 1979. The hangar for the Orbit Transfer Vehicle is on the lower left. The OTV job was general delivery of payloads to higher orbits, because the Space Shuttle was limited to LEO.

    The other part of general plans for those days was a "Shuttle-Derived Heavy Lift Vehicle", which I directly worked on various iterations of. This would have shared the engines and core tankage of the Shuttle, much like the current SLS design, except recovering the SSMEs, RCS, and avionics in a recoverable capsule at the bottom of the core stage.

    Had such a heavy lift vehicle been built while the Shuttle was still flying, it could have shared the large overhead cost of running the program, but delivered much larger payloads when humans weren't required. So assembling lunar & Mars missions would have been a few larger cargo flights, and people delivered once all the parts were in place.

  24. That a reusable rocket was a good idea was known to everyone from von Braun in the 1950's onwards. The Space Race diverted from that because they were in a hurry, and used ballistic missile-derived designs. The space shuttle *concept* was an attempt to return to sanity. But between Nixon not wanting to spend enough for a fully-reused design, and political meddling with who supplied what, we ended up with a poor design.

    Aerospace is a unified field. The same kinds of expertise used in designing military and civilian planes carries over to rocketry. The kinds of improvements that made today's rockets possible are going from hand-drawn blueprints on drafting tables to integrated CAD and simulation software powered by server clusters, and electronics and software becoming much lighter and smarter.

    The last part of the puzzle was Silicon Valley wealth and entrepreneurship. Government agencies are too bogged down in budgets and politics. Musk and Bezos had the money and will to start their own companies with nobody else they had to answer to. SpaceX now has outside investors, but somebody had to start the company and show they had a viable product.

  25. Circular orbit at 300 km above the Moon is 1550 m/s. A rotating cable with a tip moving at that speed at 1 g acceleration (for human convenience) would have a radius of 244 km. You don't want the tip to get too close to the surface because the Moon's gravity field is lumpy and there are mountains. But you can cancel orbit velocity at the tip, and only need a small hop to get on and off.

    Centrifugal acceleration varies linearly from center to radius, so total cable stress on itself is 122 g-km. The best carbon fiber has a strength of 399 g-km, but we don't build things to the breaking point. Assume you have a 2.4 design margin to allow a factor of safety and non-cable overhead. That gives us a working strength of 166 g-km. So in theory you can build an untapered cable, but for best load distribution you want to taper the cable by a factor of 2.1 from center to tip. This is quite reasonable.

    If the cable is symmetrical, the overall length is 488 km, which is much smaller than a stationary elevator to the L1 point. Much less exposure to meteoroid damage. You can also reach escape velocity by simply holding on for half a rotation and letting go.

  26. Also, does Carbon suffer Hydrogen embrittlement? Filling things up with H is more difficult than most people realise.

  27. The actual problem with a Chinese space elevator is that all space elevators must be built on the Equator and China does not have any territory on the Equator.

    Unless, of course, they "stretch" their South China Seas "territories" a bit further afield…

  28. So if it actually costs $100 billion to build, it's mostly in R&D, nanotubes, sea platforms, and aviation restructuring. The last two stay true for each elevator, R&D usually gets easier for second comers, so the only real issue is nanotubes.

    Maybe China can sink enough investment into nanotubes to dominate that industry, but if they refuse to export them at a reasonable price on the international market, then international companies and their governments will see a significant profit in developing their own nanotube production capacity and the dominance will be broken.

  29. This assumes that launch costs dominate the cost of a space elevator, which I doubt.

    According to "Space Elevators A Study in Cable Design and More" (2016), a starter space elevator is about 100 metric tons. A single Starship launch can do this much to GTO if you're willing to throw it away. Or you can send a few more up to refuel the first Starship and retrieve it. This is not $100 billion. It's less than $1 billion.

    Then they lift up more cables and grow it to 4813 metric tons. Well, you certainly can't lift 4812 metric tons with a single Starship launch. But you can't do that with a single space elevator lift session either. An elevator can't lift its own weight in payload. So the next elevator launched again starts as a baby elevator.

    Well maybe instead they send up a whole bundle of elevator cables, one after another in several launches, and weave them together laterally as they unspool or something. Faster that way. Of course, you could do a similar trick with Starships. So what does 4813 metric tons cost for a mature fleet of starships? In theory, half a billion accomplished in less than a year, if you believe the optimistic picture of the cheapest possible Starship launch. But even at the cost level of Falcon Heavy launches without reuse, it's only $20 billion. More realistically, let's call it $2-5 billion.

  30. I want an asteroid flyby rotor atop to yank huge payloads off the surface. You need only a few hundred miles

  31. Now had a story about Nuytco’s Exosuit 2000 that Nuytten built using once classified steel alloys for subs that was only recently allowed for private industry. Perfect for Sea Dragon! Anyone heard more on this steel?

  32. I like their idea of a 10,000 ton SPSS.

    Icing loads from the ITCZ will hammer atop elevator cars, and the tether might discharge the global electrical circuit in one huge lightning stroke

  33. But if they manage to pull this up, then their knowledge of advance materials + mass production + the first elevator to help the hardest step of placing the first tethered, will enable them to build multiple additional elevators and winning the space race.
    I personally don't like the notion that china will rule outer space

  34. Another point is that once you have your first space elevator working, you can use it to pull up the initial tethered and counterbalance weight for your 2'nd elevator.
    Then you move it a few KM to the east or west and start adding additional tethered's to thicken it to full operational.
    In this case the cost per any additional elevator is significantly lower then that of the first one. this actually gives however build the first one a monopoly on cheap space access.
    Even if it will cost them 100B$ to build the first one, in the end this may lead to china domination over space accesses.

  35. Yeah, mostly the first one.

    I'm rather skeptic they are doing anything else but fantasizing at this point, but if real money is spent on materials science and space launcher R/D because of this, humanity (not just China) will reap the benefits.

  36. Honestly, I think it's a good thing.

    No, seriously, hear me out.

    • Not my money. So the primary effect of this project is no skin off my nose. What does matter is the secondary and tertiary effects.
    • Secondary effects: $Billions in research into high strength materials development and mass production. Research into orbital construction. (Dan Lantz should be happy.)
    • Tertiary effects 1: A big black hole sucking up thousands of skilled engineers and scientists: more demand and higher pay for the rest of us.
    • Tertiary effect 2: Probably revival of the international great power space race. Pushing the USA to get off its post-Apollo butt and achieve something.
    • Tertiary effect 3: Great power space race means less resources going to other fields of competition which pose more of a risk to those of us still (at this point) on Earth.
    • FInally, if it gets anywhere, it'll be a rotovator or something, which the USA will copy, and which will help with real space projects.
  37. I think a real, working space elevator would ALSO tend to dominate the planet.

    Assuming you can actually make it. And assuming it actually works as speculated.

    Once tianshu 1 or whatever is up and going, they should be able to launch to orbit for an order of magnitude cheaper than even a SpaceX starship.

    So now what? Do you pay $20 million for SpaceX to launch your satellite? Or $2million to send it up the elevator? The Chinese grab just about all the (non-national-security) launch market.

    Do you build your own elevator? Well that's a problem isn't it. By the time you've built your own, the Chinese elevator is mostly paid for, and now they can afford to charge a price only a little above the operating cost.
    If the Chinese are charging a fair price then you will never make a profit on your $200b investment. If they ARE charging a high price then expect their price to drop to marginal as soon as you start looking for customers.

    It's one of those natural monopoly cases. The capital costs are so high that there is no business case for having two of them.

    Not until traffic gets so huge that one can't keep up. And the cheapest way to build a second is via the cheapest available launch system, which is the elevator. And guess who controls that?

  38. A space elevator reaches up at least 40 000 km. Hydrogen balloons only get useful lift for the first 30 to 40 km. You are only helping for the first 1/1000 of the length.
    I don't think that's enough to make a difference.

  39. I was about to say the same thing, but then I looked at the rest of the paragraph.

    The steel is about $200 per kilogram. The dry mass of the Starship will be about 120 tons and the Super Heavy Booster will be about 300 tons. This would be $2.4 million for the Starship if most of the material was the steel alloy. The Super Heavy would be $6 million of steel.

    120 tons (or tonnes) at $200/kg is $24 million. 300 tones is $60 million.

    Brian calculates 1/10 of that. So I assume he MEANT to type the steel is $20/kg.

    I could believe that a custom alloy, aerospace grade stainless steel is $20/kg, especially if that's the price for precision rolled sheet rather than bulk ingots.

  40. Chinese built loftstrum loop would be pretty impressive, and can be done mostly from the ground.

    From a spacelift prospective though, committing to something like Hop's Lunar Railroad 3 tether setup with moon launched downmass seems more achievable, if moon regolith mass slugs were launched by swinging cable catapult from the moon's surface. That simplifies the launcher aspects a lot from a infrstructure perspective, where the downmass production and delivery is an infrastructure loss leader to enable other space activities. The chinese government has on occasion demonstrated such long term infrastructure vision.

  41. NASA's costs for the space shuttle were way over what was promised, but I do have one question:

    Do you think all the money invested in R&D helped the U.S. universities? The colleges that started churning out scientists and engineers capable of jumping to private contractors such as SpaceX? Would SpaceX or Blue Origin even be feasible without all the money spent developing the human capital needed to go to space?

  42. not seeing the launch of private hubs/ stations/ orbital ports happeneing anytime soon… though, if Musk were to leave a Starship up there – a few modifications…

  43. Interesting.
    How could one entity project and maintain power over 10^17mi3 of cislunar volume, except by gatekeeping access to LEO and above — now near impossible in the upcoming private area. But to even Police it — 1000s of autonomous-patrolling UNSF satellites (united nations space force)?

  44. Ah Access.
    Sweet Private Access.
    Such is the beginning and end of it All.
    If the launch areas are available. If the private unrestricted tickets are available. If the LEO hub (private) is available. If private off-Hub craft, tugs, inflatables, depots, movement within cislunar areas are available — with or without flight plan, flag of convenience, alignment… etc., that is the Start of the Great Rush (both physiological, 18th century narrative, and Rate-race-narrative) — buy your spots soon – VG, BlueO, SpX, etc., Will Orbital Assembly have the first common Hubs – much likely little more than utilititarian regional airport amenities… quick, who's got Bigelow's assets and tech now???

  45. Well, I'm going back to 78, when the question was explicitly "Moon first, or Mars Direct". From that point on, I can assure you that I would have heard of any planned lunar activity of any kind whatsoever. If you are going to earlier proposals, then sure. O'Neill had proposals too by 74, they involved the Moon, thus the conflict. I personally may have tipped the scale in ~ 90 to at least get a "renegade group of engineers" at NASA to go to the Moon First plan. They did Clementine and LCROSS on the sly, almost. There was nothing about Moon, only Mars, until then, and no real focus at all, still no rovers!

    I do remember the Centrifuge being rejected, did not seem necessary to me for first level of experiments, very expensive. Without micr0g Mars experiments on humans, would ISS even exist? Everything they do micr0g can be of use in Mars plans. But, now that it is going, a real gold mine of all sorts of info. The question would perhaps be, would humans have been sent to run these other experiments if there was no reason to expose humans to micr0g? The tug, which I do not remember, may have been to assemble Mars vehicle in HALO orbit, which itself orig had no lunar lander, just a place to go to Mars from, I'm pretty sure(?).

    See pg 333 section 3 for future plans:

  46. not convinced that nation-states of whatever flavour can really exert significant influence once the 'smaller' and 'moveable' infrastructure is up above LEO – not anticipating the equivalent of ON-STAR vehicle control happening. Killer satelites, space navies, and autonomous drones of any scope are unlikely in the next century that can exert significant influence over anything more than a few NEOs – short of a few moon and mars territories, i guess. Above GEO, I think segregating space, short of ensuring small convoys of materials, short-range weapons, and discrete stations, is impossible. What kind of entities will get up there first: a few democratic and non-democratic countries with minor stations, NEOs, and moon base holdings; a handful of billionaires allowing orbital vacations and possible access to extended stay items – maybe corral a few NEOs and sever them for libertarian groups to live or leave with. No sir, once your common 20-millionaire can get access to orbit with a personal cislunar orbiter, the inner solar system just becomes the wild west…

  47. It's a good reminder for the West to not rest in their laurels. There's some civilization competition brewing, about what form of thinking and governance will end up being more successful in the future, and over the long term interplanetary age. Either freedom and democracy or authocratic 'enlightened' despotism.

    Some space infrastructure can ensure a long term Chinese domination of cislunar space, and that could end up in long term domination of the Solar System, by becoming the gatekeepers and main players faster.

    USA better gets ready to go to space in force, stablishing a reusable launcher market with extensive payload and passenger capability soon, to ensure the nascent space industry is adequately fashioned and remains open for itself and its allies.

  48. I think success is in the China wheelhouse. Blasting holes in the atmosphere is foolish and it limits what you can deliver to space. Nothing is impossible, the biggest impediment is conventional thought.

  49. So, you're saying China should instead spend the $200B creating themselves an even larger version of a super heavy like Starship. Don't worry, they will definitely go down that road but that does not mean they shouldn't try this idea.

    The biggest problem with this world, a lack well resourced interest trying new things. The depraved obsession with economic interests has crippled human progress long enough. It's their resources on the line and not yours, just wish them well and cheer them on.

  50. Underlying culture matters. Protestant work-ethic vs confuscian-state-citizen-values vs Nanny-state entitlement values vs tribal/ regionalism… each hasa way different reaction to gestures by the Authority havign Jurisdiction…

  51. The ground-to-synchronous orbit concept has been obsolete since 1987. It has been replaced by the "skyhook" or "rotovator" approach that uses a shorter, rotating cable. For Earth, a full capability skyhook is not optimal. You are better off to use a single-stage rocket to reach the bottom of the skyhook, and the cable replaces the second stage of a conventional rocket.

    For smaller bodies like the Moon or Mars, a cable can feasibly do the whole velocity change.

  52. Dan, I worked on the space station project for many years, at Boeing. The original plans included an "orbit transfer vehicle", or space tug. It was to have a hangar at the station, and be used to carry payloads to higher orbits and then return to the station to be refueled.

    Due to budget limitations, the OTV and many other parts of the Station were never built, like the Centrifuge Module and solar concentrator power ugrade.

  53. Any kind of large space structure is "transportation infrastructure", like a bridge or airport on Earth. They are expensive to build, but cheap to use each time. The economics demands you have a lot of traffic to justify the construction cost.

    The fact is, the traffic isn't there yet. That's why we haven't gone past a few orbital experiments and paper studies. Keep in mind that rockets can go to different orbit inclinations. A skyhook/rotovator can only go to the orbit plane it occupies. So your traffic level is for just that orbit.

  54. don't be so sure. Investing in prestige, is a huge incentive to citizens' productivity and ambition. Believe that your system is the best, and citizens will beat at your door to be allowed to contribute in whatever way to your vision, even to the point of ratting out non-believers. See the system of state motivators: 1) Fear, 2)Love (or intense and irrational political alignment), 3) Greed, 4) Ability to provide high standard of life and possibly transparency (advanced states only, not for the way-not-G7s and autocracies/pseudo-democracies) — also, kind of sorted by appearence in history (lower# is earlier)

  55. The problem is the design, to create a space rope, one creates a hollow rope and fill it hydrogen, such a rope is lighter then air (or in equilibrium) and can then for a large part be weightless, at several heights devided in compartments to deal with lower air pressure, only for the final end you dont have air floating suport, so it gradualy fades out those hydrogen compartments. its ultra light this way and strong with the right materials. Next keep the transfer weights load, ea below 50kg ideal around 5kg, one only needs to send material that a 3d printer can print on the spaceend of the rope. and some fuel gallons. Don't use it for humans (we wont send that many people up in space). Now you got doable design goals….

  56. "… a space elevator isn't the most economic use of the materials you'd need…"
    but that would be missing the Point. China is not a zero-sum economy; they invest whatever amount into maximizing image and reducing impotence-optics. Their entire nation and socio-economic model, for the most part, is a 'prestige money pit'.

  57. If any others had good progress I would talk about them more. Air breathing rockets could be better if they were built in mass production

  58. I've said many times that a space elevator for the moon makes great sense. You can build it using kevlar instead of some exotic material and it is quite useful at getting loads of cargo to and from the surface.

    But for Earth the margins are just too narrow and you have real issues with satellites, junk, weather, etc.

  59. no lunar space elevator. No rotovator. Barely any tether demos. Spaceplanes could work but none are flying. Skylon has been funded but has limited hardware and no test vehicles

  60. hmmm. ex-cislunar parking orbit? Not sure how a holding pattern would work otuside of the current 'working orbits'…..

  61. where put such material? Lagrange? lunar orbit? more limited real estate than people realize….

  62. longer than 400 miles, methinks. Unsure on frequency of use and reliability in 'transferring' billionaire tourists.

  63. c'mon my Droogs, what is the real objective here? Get significant, occupiable, exploitable, and modifiable materials to cislunar orbits – that is easily accomplished by extracting luna and capturing NEOs via small autonomous craft. Nonsense on this earth leash.

  64. You don't need thrust. It is a counterbalanced system. The forces of gravity and outward centrifugal force (beyond GEO-stationary orbit) are both harnessed to do work. You move the counterweight along the cable in step with the changing position of the mass of cargo. There are two ways to move cargo: it rides up the elevator, or the cable is pulled upon relative to the counterweight. It can also be used for attitude control.

  65. not a launch loop over land – that is a ticking time bomb. better a 200 – 400-mile skyhook. A special division of Boeing did studies: 'phantom works' or such – 15 or 20 years ago???

  66. More hilariously, one thing they don't mention in the article is that pulling on the tether to raise mass from Earth will change the orbital trajectory and altitude of the satellite, requiring thrust to put it back into position.

    Which means you may as well have just launched the fvcking mass on a rocket to begin with and skipped building and placing the space station/tether.

    Talk about an epic failure in education, everybody seems to have not grasped simple Newtonian physics. Unbelievable.

  67. If we follow O'Neill plans, those things will be built in Space, with Space resources. Far more than an economic justification, an economic better way to do it. Cheaper!

  68. Long before that, In Space Resource Use and In Space Manufacturing. ISRU/SM. The problem will be bringing stuff down to Earth. Any such thing as you describe can then be built, In Space. China will have to change the neurosis setting of its gov before it can succeed in Space, so it is stuck with launching a Space Elevator from Earth. O'Neill has far better plans. A true *permanent economic advantage*. We should go ahead and do it!

  69. I find it hilarious that I put down the exact same objections to a "space elevator" in the comments on this blog YEARS AGO and was shot down by the commenters, notably GoatGuy.

    Everybody who disagreed with me back then, go look up Dunning-Kruger and then look in the fvcking mirror.

  70. 304 Stainless Steel is closer to $3/kg than $200/kg. More like $900,000 for 300 tons. This ought to be true for Starship’s bespoke alloy too if Tesla CyberTruck demand allows large enough orders for a large new Mill to be built in Texas for the alloy. You wrote $200 per kg for steel but probably meant $20/kg that’s what would result in 300 tons = $6M.

  71. Ah, but there are better solutions to the problem a space elevator solves, than either the space elevator or rockets. What Brian is warning is that, even if you could build one, a space elevator isn't the most economic use of the materials you'd need.

    As Jim says, a launch loop or orbital ring would be better from an economic standpoint. And the orbital ring would be more in character for the Chicoms, a massive infrastructure project that would tempt other nations into toxic reliance on a strategic foe. Building more than one orbital ring is pretty difficult, and essentially impossible without cooperation from whoever built the first, too. That would also be attractive to China: They'd have a virtually permanent economic advantage over everybody else.

    The space elevator, though attractive before you analyze it, is more of a prestige money pit combined with a massive navigation hazard in orbit.

  72. See the Launch Loop or the Orbital Ring, for things that don't need unobtainium to build & could launch insanely large amounts of stuff if we had the demand.

    Let's go with the reusable rockets to cut the costs to the point that greater demand for space access develops & then there may be economic justification for such a megaproject

  73. Let the commies humiliate themselves in peace for a while. They don't even realize they are neurotic power addicts, yet. They are in the running for "Icon of Neurosis" as teaching aid. Don't tell them, it would spoil their chances. If they woke up. For now, sit back and be entertained by the number one visual of authoritarian sickness, large squares of people uniformly dressed.

  74. I have seen other plans that claim the tether is so light it would float to the surface like a feather. Paper thin.

  75. "The International Space Station was supposed to be a needed staging
    point to allow for eventual moon base support and larger space
    operations." No, the ISS is to practice micr0g living for trip to Mars. No Moon activity was envisioned until quite recently! Only by accident almost is useful work being done, as the micr0g human test subjects are able to do useful micr0g material and biologic work.

    As to usefulness of Space elevator, the stuff we need is already in Space, mostly. Use IT. Here is how, following O'Neill:

  76. Will it have enough margin of spare tether left so it can de-orbit itself without trouble?

  77. Although I agree that a space elevator is something of the farther future, I must note that Brian main problem is anything that may imply that there might be a better solution then something Brian God, A.K.A Alon Musk is doing.

  78. Seems they learned another trick from NASA: how to promise castles in the air with Power Point. I'll believe it when I see it.

    There's simply no proof of concept, no viable materials shown.

    If they had even a simple ribbon demonstrating GSO to Earth deployment, then I'd think otherwise. Gee, even a Lunar one, which is much easier to build (all proportions kept).

  79. Is being critical of China allowed in an article on this site… even if most of the article is about making fun of US programs?

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