Early Space Elevators

Space Elevators before the Great Expulsion

Vahana Space Elevator, Earth
Image from Steve Bowers
The Vahana Space Elevator down to the Maldives. This type of climber can expand as it ascends, to accomodate the cable which gets larger towards geostationary orbit. Note that the elevator cable is displaced slightly from the vertical due to Coriolis Forces.

The technology required to build a space elevator was available from the late first century a.t. (c. 2050 c.e - Old Earth reckoning) onwards, when microgravity manufacture of carbon nanotubes became possible; however the cost of transporting the vast mass required into orbit ruled the early construction of such a structure out.

Political considerations were an even more formidable obstacle, as none of the Equatorial nations wanted thousands of kilometres of cable to fall on their heads, so the safety margin was set arbitrarily high.

The international 'Near Earth Object Detection and Control' program had been successful in collecting several small Earth-approaching objects by the early 2nd century a.t. (c. 2100 c.e. - Old Earth reckoning); those which were easily diverted into Earth Orbit were used in the construction and extension of the geostationary Habitats such as Academion and SupraSeoul. The Deep Space Skymining corporation, a commercial asteroid and spacejunk interception concern, which had been lobbying for a space elevator to be built, began to mass produce buckytube from a number of specially selected carbonaceous chondrite Near Earth Objects.

The first space elevator was constructed from Luna to the Earth/Moon L1 point in 142 A.T. as a proof-of-concept and test bed for beanstalk technology. This short elevator was used to transport passengers and cargo to and from the L1 point and to launch supplies in support of development and colonization missions to the rest of the Solar System.

Landing on Mars was always a challenging task due to that planet's thin atmosphere but moderate gravity. In 185 A.T. the first Martian space elevator was completed (behind schedule and over budget). For the next 10 years it operated as a test bed for elevator technology, safety systems, elevator construction, maintenance, and expansion techniques, and a useful symbol for the movement to build a space elevator on Earth. The Martian elevator continued to operate successfully until the Technocalypse.

The first beanstalk from Earth orbit to the surface was the Tangga Bintang ("The Ladder to the Stars"). Work commenced in 196 A.T. on lowering the elevator from geostationary orbit to the autonomous region of Sulawesi in the People's Corporate Republic of Indonesia; this region was the first to overcome their concerns about safety and allow an elevator to approach the Earth's surface within its territory. Sulawesi Region gained prestige and wealth from the project and the trade which consequently passed through its borders, and when it declared independence, the constituent parts of the Corporate Republic were torn apart, to attempt reunion at the time of the Daedalus colonisation Project.

A second elevator, the Espaço was extended down to an artificial island in the mouth of the Amazon, by the OSS (Organización Sudamericana Supranacional); this one was finished in 222 A.T..

A consortium of African nations, along with the backing of the United States, Russia and the European Federation finished the Freedom International Tower, usually referred to simply as Freedom, in Gabon, in 234 A.T., eventually the largest one, more than a kilometre wide at the orbital end.

A fourth elevator, Ascension, was extended to the west coast of Ecuador in 237 A.T. to accommodate the ever increasing flow of trade and population on and off the Earth. Two decades later, Mzabibu (The Vine) started operations near the East African city of Kisumu. The sixth and final space elevator Vahana opened in 274 AT in the Maldives. After the completion of the "Big Six," the appetite for addition elevators slackened as alternative launch methods became more economically viable.

Many more temporary elevators were built by GAIA during the Great Expulsion, but today only the Tangaa Bintang remains, and this is the only way that GAIA permits access to Earth's surface. The Tangaa Bintang consists of a relatively thin, braided hoytether of carbon buckyfibre, with a tensile strength of 130 Gigapascals. If one strand is hit by a micrometeorite the other strands can carry the mass of the elevator and cars. An additional measure to avoid such damage is the regular removal of debris from the Earth-Moon volume by dedicated 'vacuum cleaner' craft. The tape is covered in self-repairing smart material, and incorporates a magnetic track on each thin edge to support the elevator cars.

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Development Notes
Text by Steve Bowers
Initially published on 05 November 2003.