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Technology

Skyline: Elevators to space

Alice-India Garwood
by Alice-India Garwood on October 2, 2018

Bobtrade is full of daydreamers. People who gaze out of windows and imagine “what if…?”. And there’s nothing more “what if..?” in construction, than space exploration.

As far back as the writing of the bible, people have wanted to build towers up to heaven. Is space travel so different?

We are always aspiring to go further. Into the unknown. To understand our origins and where we are going.

Space elevators may seem like a crackpot idea, but NASA has invested a great deal of time and money in to the concept.

Space Elevator NASA Construction Technology Innovation Bobtrade [Photo Credit: Bizley art]

Why?

Because it’s actually an incredibly cost effective and efficient method of space travel. If the research is properly implemented we could have a low cost, safe method of space transportation by the year 2035, according to one report.

"It’s actually an incredibly cost effective and efficient method of space travel."

This technology could bring the cost-per-kilogram of launch to geostationary orbit from, what is estimated to be, $20,000 to as low as $500. Geostationary orbit, is an orbit at such a height above the earth’s equator that the object orbiting stays above the same piece of land all the way around - pretty handy for an elevator, don’t you think?

So where did all of this blue sky thinking start? How did we get from the story of the Tower of Babel to NASA funded research in to space elevators?

Bradley C. Edwards began working on the concept of space elevators since 1998. He then received funding from the NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts to explore the idea further and take it from hypothetical to reality.

Space Elevator NASA Construction Technology Innovation Bobtrade

[Photo Credit: Bizley Art]

Now, you’re probably thinking, this is all well and good but it can’t really be possible can it?

Well decide for yourself.

First and foremost, the location needs to be ideal - as with any construction site - for an effective space elevator this needs to be on the earth’s equator. From the earth’s equator, geostationary orbit is possible. We can’t have an elevator where the base keeps moving away from the top after all!

The difference between a space elevator and say, Mount Everest, are the structural needs. Where mountains and even pyramids get their strength from compression, our space elevators rely on tensile strength.

"Where mountains and even pyramids get their strength from compression, our space elevators rely on tensile strength."

Space Elevator NASA Construction Technology Innovation Bobtrade[Photo Credit: Gizmodo]

All materials have a breaking length. For instance if you held a length of string off of a great height, by a certain length, the weight of the string itself would collapse and snap, without us even needing to tie anything to the end.Depending on the material, there are different breaking lengths.

The difference between hanging a piece of string off of a skyscraper, and creating a long, thin tower in to space, is the lack of gravitational pull. For instance, 5000 km above the earth, gravity is ⅓ of what it is on earth, and so, the breaking length of material at this height is 3x as strong.

As we get higher and higher in to space, the breaking length gets higher also. At geostationary levels, the breaking length of material is 50x stronger than it is on earth.

"At geostationary levels, the breaking length of material is 50x stronger than it is on earth."

Hypothetically (for now).

Space Elevators NASA Construction Technology Innovation Bobtrade [Photo Credit: Space Exploration]

It’s not completely outlandish to envisage the construction industry being involved in the development of space elevators and space exploration as a whole. And to be honest, if we could be there when it happens, we absolutely would! Wouldn’t you?

What’s the most out of this world project you’ve ever worked on? Would you want a job on this project? We’d love to hear from you on our community. It’s also a great place to get to know other builders.

Tags: Technology

AUTHOR
Alice-India Garwood

Alice-India Garwood

Content Marketing Executive at Bobtrade. Interested in design, sustainability and the history of construction. I love all things indie and theatrical.