APL Colloquium

November 14, 2003

Colloquium Topic: The Space Elevator

In its simplest form, the space elevator is a cable with one end attached to the Earth and the other end in space above geosynchronous orbit that can be ascended by mechanical means. Initial designs are completed for the construction, deployment and operation of the first small elevator including aspects such as: cable (ribbon) design, carbon nanotube composite requirements, deployment scenario, deployment spacecraft design, climber design, power delivery system, anchor station, construction and operation costs, schedule, applications, and operational challenges such as anchor station location, lightning, wind, meteors, induced oscillations, atomic oxygen, radiation, and low-Earth objects. All of the technologies required to construct the first space elevator exist or will be ready within the next two years. With a concerted effort the first space elevator could be operational within 15 years for less than $10B. The first elevator could launch 13,000 kg payloads to any Earth orbit, the Moon or Mars every three days at $250/kg. Future systems could easily launch payloads of 100,000 kg with operating costs of $40/kg. The performance and low operating costs of the space elevator would allow for construction of solar power satellites, Earth-orbit communities, and Martian communities along with other commercial activities. The investment returns based on the current launch market and reduced launch costs indicate that the space elevator would recover its initial capital investment within five years. The presentation will describe the proposed space elevator, the current program and funding status, and several baseline applications.

Colloquium Speaker: Bradley C. Edwards

Dr. Bradley C. Edwards is Director of Research at the Institute for Scientific Research in Fairmont, West Virginia, following eleven years at Los Alamos National Laboratory. Since receiving his Ph.D. in physics from University of Wisconsin, Dr. Edwards has been involved in a number of advanced technology developments and space missions. His work has included leading the experimental effort to construct the world's first optical cryocooler, leading design efforts for spacecraft to the moon and Europa, leading an x-ray astrophysics mission as co-investigator, and leading development efforts for superconducting detectors and x-ray microcalorimeters. His most recent work has been the design and development of a viable space elevator that has led to publication of a book, creation of conferences and widespread interest in the concept. Dr. Edwards has four patents, over 40 published papers, one book, a distinguished performance award from Los Alamos National Laboratory and a letter of commendation from the Department of Energy. His work has been featured by CNN, BBC, Wired, Science News, Ad Astra and over 200 radio, TV and newspapers worldwide.