Space

Building a space elevator starts with a lunar elevator by 2020

The lunar lifter and ramps for small rovers deployed at the docking port of the proposed lunar elevator
The lunar lifter and ramps for small rovers deployed at the docking port of the proposed lunar elevator
View 5 Images
The lunar elevator docking port concept
1/5
The lunar elevator docking port concept
The docking port will anchor itself in the lunar surface
2/5
The docking port will anchor itself in the lunar surface
The lunar lifter
3/5
The lunar lifter
The lunar lifter and ramps for small rovers deployed at the docking port of the proposed lunar elevator
4/5
The lunar lifter and ramps for small rovers deployed at the docking port of the proposed lunar elevator
Small lunar rover concept
5/5
Small lunar rover concept

Launching deep space probes is great, but to really explore space and unlock its secrets, it sure would be helpful if getting there were as easy as pressing a button. That's the vision of Liftport, which Gizmag first reported on back in 2012. Now, more than two years after Liftport raised over US$100,000 on Kickstarter, the team is sharing its progress towards creating an elevator from Earth to space, a journey that – interestingly enough – begins on the Moon.

Building an Earth-to-orbit elevator is beyond tricky at the moment due to the relative abundance of gravity, weather and water around our planet. We've yet to perfect the material that could create a ribbon long enough to support an elevator that won't collapse under its own weight or run into problems with ice in the upper atmosphere.

But those challenges are significantly lessened when you attempt to do the same thing from the Moon rather than Earth. Much less gravity and a lack of a wet atmosphere make the Moon the ideal testing ground for constructing a space elevator. Which is why Liftport is currently focusing all its energy on building a lunar elevator by the end of this decade.

The plan for the lunar lift revolves around a space station called the PicoGravity Lab that will be positioned at the lunar LaGrange point – the spot in space that is exactly between the gravitational fields of the Moon and Earth. From that point, a Kevlar ribbon will be anchored to the Moon's surface via a docking port as shown in the video at the end of this post. This isn't your average ribbon, though. It will stretch 250,000 km (155,350 mi) towards Earth, where a counterweight within our planet's gravity well will help keep it taut.

Small lunar rover concept
Small lunar rover concept

Once that's all in place, an electrically-powered lifter will be able to transport samples, equipment and, eventually, perhaps people. The lifter moves up and down the ribbon between the Moon and the PicoGravity Lab, which Liftport sees as complementary to the International Space Station.

The video below put together by DSEA, Glasgow Caledonian University and shared by Liftport this week provides an overview of the infrastructure for the lunar elevator. It also provides a look at a few concept rovers that could help install and maintain the Liftport station. It also hints at another potential benefit of the lunar elevator – exploring for resources that could be studied at the attached lab and perhaps, eventually, be mined.

Source: Liftport

Lunar Space Elevator.

18 comments
Canaan Martin
The students at GSU did an amazing job bringing our design to life in this video. We are beyond impressed with their dedication and delivery. Thanks so much for sharing this!
Canaan Martin
Oops... I meant GCU (Glasgow Caledonian University). My bad, it's been a long day.
Lynn Russell
Every time I hear about a space elevator from Earth, I think of all that space junk floating around. How does one plan to miss the space junk hitting the elevator? It sounds a little safer from the moon than from Earth.
BobMunck
Note that the Lunar Elevator is based on an ENTIRELY DIFFERENT PRINCIPLE from that of the Earth Elevator. The Earth Elevator is held up by centrifugal force acting on the counterweight, which is above the point where gravity and centrifugal force balance each other (aka geosynchronous orbit). The Lunar Elevator is held up by Earth's gravity acting on the counterweight, which is closer to Earth that the point where Earth and Lunar gravity balance each other (aka the L1 point).
Victor Engel
What size is the counterweight? Will it burn up harmlessly upon re-entry into Earth's atmosphere when the inevitable breaking of the Kevlar happens? I don't think 250,000 Km of Kevlar will be immune to the effects of micrometeoroids and other space hazards.
Dave Andrews
Hm. I'd love to see this done, but in the next 5 years seems impossible without committing massive resources and more money than is realistic. I don't care how light the material is, 250,000 km of anything isn't going to be a featherweight and making it in one piece with no weak points would be an engineering nightmare. I see it is expected to end in Earth's gravity well, but what about in our atmosphere? If it could extend low enough for aircraft (maybe dirigibles of some sort?) to reach, we wouldn't need an elevator on this end. It's too bad we don't know if the moon has the materials we need to make the cable. It seems if the materials could be obtained on the moon, it would be far easier and less expensive to simply put a "factory" up there to make the cable there. Much easier to get it off of the moon's surface than the earth's. Still, I'm glad someone is actively working on this. I'd love to see this happen in my lifetime, and at 48, I'm running out of time to see such an ambitious project come to fruition.
Doug Elliot
I always wonder how long it will take to get into orbit on a space elevator. Speeds won't compare with rockets, time constraints will mean more provisions for the journey, less payload.
Tommy Maq
Space elevators won't ever be worth it for some planets, and Earth is probably one of them. They don't save energy costs, just spread them out, they will always be a single-point failure risk, and the cost of them and the costs of catastrophic failure in large gravity wells is far more than many other far simpler and better-tested systems, like rail-guns or laser light vaporizing propellant from the ground.
John Sorensen
Sounds all cool and blue sky and stuff, but the Moon's orbit around Earth is not a perfect circle. What happens when their "ribbon" is pulled out of the Earth's gravity well?
BobMunck
@Tommy Maq: "[Space elevators] don't save energy costs" Sure they do; a rocket uses several orders of magnitude more energy to lift the same mass. It has to lift all of its fuel off the ground, 3/4th of its fuel 1/4th of the way up, half of its fuel half-way up, etc. That fuel weighs on the order of fifty times what the payload weighs. Space elevator climbers won't carry any fuel, will be powered by light. "they will always be a single-point failure risk" Not so, any more than a suspension bridge has a single point of failure. The elevator will consist of many interconnected strands spread out over several meters. Google hoytether. "the cost of them and the costs of catastrophic failure in large gravity wells is far more than many other far simpler and better-tested systems" You may be assuming the science fiction version of a space elevator, a massive construct as big around as a sequoia. In fact it will resemble a 3-foot wide sheet of saran wrap. If it breaks, that part that falls toward the Earth will either burn up in the atmosphere or flutter down like a falling sheet of newspaper.