It’s but a small step, but this one looks a bit hopeful. From NewScientistSpace:
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.
I’m not sure how much of the bed LiftPort shares with NASA, but this looks like one of the more promising areas where the free market may be able to make some serious gains in the race for space and get the government out of the picture.