Monday, November 13, 2006

Will Radiation Belts Dampen Space Elevator Hopes? Authentic NASA Toys and Replicas

If a space elevator can be built When the first space elevator is built, humanity will be able to send up cargo at a fraction of the price compared to rockets. Unfortunately, humans may not be able to ride up the cable due to one, minor problem--radiation.

(New Scientist Space) [H]umans might not survive thanks to the whopping dose of ionising radiation they would receive travelling through the core of the Van Allen radiation belts around Earth. These are two concentric rings of charged particles trapped by Earth's magnetic fields.

"They would die on the way through the radiation belts if they were unshielded," says Anders Jorgensen, author of a new study on the subject and a technical staff member at Los Alamos National Laboratory, New Mexico, US.

Several options have been proposed to deal with this, such as moving the base station away from the equator, uploading a magnetic field and last, redesigning the lifter to incorporate shielding (which would make it five times heavier). LiftPort (a space elevator company) seems to be exploring the "heavy lifter" option.

(New Scientist Space) Finally, space elevator builders could simply increase the overall mass of the elevator "car", or lifter - which will require more energy to heave it into space. LiftPort Group, which plans to take up as many as 20 people per trip, will pursue this strategy with a 100-tonne lifter. That is significantly heavier than the 20-tonne lifter planned by Brad Edwards, who devised the current conception of a space elevator.

Making a space elevator that heavy may have dire consequences, which may limit how much cargo a lifter can carry into space (thus reducing profits and increasing costs).

Although I am not an engineer or scientist, perhaps a more novel way at approaching this problem would be simply to create a "safe room" composed of lead where passengers could sleep and interact until the radiation danger is over. It may mean that the lifter is 30 tons instead of 20, but that definitely would be better than 100 tons.

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  1. Other ideas being tossed around include water tanks surrounding the passenger compartment. Water - potentially - might be more useful 'at the top' than lead.

    Still early days yet to be settling specs.

    Another idea might be to restrict the SE to cargo traffic and send people up by 'fast' rocket. Perhaps the SE company will subsidize the passenger carrying rockets - if you're going to a destination supplied by the SE company your ticket is xx% off compared to competing destinations.

    Just a thought.

  2. Making a space elevator that heavy may have dire consequences, which may limit how much cargo a lifter can carry into space (thus reducing profits and increasing costs).

    Thought the second; not every lifter going up is going to be carrying pax so the total load on the ribbon can be futzed wit and still bring a profit.

    But you're right and not everyone grasps your point - every kilo not devoted to revenue cuts into profit.

  3. The first elevators will be used to ferry bulk quantities of goods to GEO first and to and from GEO after.

    More bulk we will send up, more will be the incentive to build a bigger SE to lift bigger payloads.

    Many goods could be assembled on Earth and lifted ready to use if the SE is able to lift bulkier cargo.

    But, a larger cargo can also lift a module able to protect puny humans.

    It is only a question of time


You can either visit the stars or watch them from afar.

But if you choose the former, you'll definitely get a better view.

~Darnell Clayton, 2007

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