Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Space Elevator News

One of the most fascinating technological ideas gain more prominence recently has been the idea of a "space elevator" as a method of reaching Earth Orbit. The elevator would basically consist of a very strong long wire or "tether" that would drop down from space to the ground and allow a climbing machine or robot to climb from Earth all the way to space with the help of lasers on the ground pushing the robots up.

The latest milestone is the achievement of a 1-mile long tether:
A slim cable for a space elevator has been built stretching a mile into the sky, enabling robots to scrabble some way up and down the line.

LiftPort Group, a private US company on a quest to build a space elevator by April 2018, stretched the strong carbon ribbon 1 mile (1.6 km) into the sky from the Arizona desert outside Phoenix in January tests, it announced on Monday.

The company's lofty objective will sound familiar to followers of NASA's Centennial Challenges programme. The desired outcome is a 62,000-mile (99,779 km) tether that robotic lifters – powered by laser beams from Earth – can climb, ferrying cargo, satellites and eventually people into space.

The recent test followed a September 2005 demonstration in which LiftPort's robots climbed 300 metres of ribbon tethered to the Earth and pulled taut by a large balloon. This time around, the company tested an improved cable pulled aloft by three balloons.
It's enough to make one enthusiastic about the space program again. But that's not all:

A platform linking the balloons and the tether was successfully launched and held in place during the test. LiftPort calls the platform HALE, High Altitude Long Endurance, and plans to market it for aerial observation and communication purposes.
...
In March, LiftPort hopes to set up a HALE system in Utah's Mars Desert Research Station and maintain it for three weeks. Then, later in the spring, Laine says he wants to test a 2-mile (3.2-km) tether with robots scaling to at least half way up.
And it's especially encouraging that this is done by a private company.

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