New Hope for the Free Market in Space?

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.

11 Comments
  1. There needn’t even be that initially speaking. Unfortunately the way things are shaping up, the first lunar colonies will likely be — this is a massive projection here — corporate towns sponsored by research divisions of pharmaceutical companies looking to utilize the pharmacopeadic potential of low-gravity synthesis & formulation.

    Semi-OT: does the number of 62,000 miles seem just a bit… extensive? That’s around the average orbital distance of the moon. If they’re trying to build a Moon-bridge why not just call it what it is?

    Or are they afraid of offending the sensibilities of Alaskan governmental officials?

  2. I’d love to see the first lunar colony to be launched privately, with a minimal government to keep roads around and stuff.

    Why a “government?” Why not a privately owned community?

  3. Huh? Try 384,000 kilometers as the distance to the moon. The 62,000 miles comes from the required height of geosynchronous orbiters. BTW, most space elevator designs include a counterweight that extends another 62,000 miles beyond geosynchronous orbit into space. Those designs can easily launch materials to the moon or practically anywhere else in the solar system once earth’s gravity well has been overcome.

  4. For a good fictional treatment of the “space cable” idea, see Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars trilogy.

    It’s certainly not a “moon bridge,” Ian — it would have to be tethered to something in geosynchrous orbit, unless you want to stretch cable round and round the earth ’til it looks like a ball of yarn. As Rock points out, once you get to the top of the cable, a moon launch is no problem; the big expense of getting out of earth’s gravity well has been overcome at that point.

  5. Eh. That’s what I get for letting a conviction getting in the way of a truth and not doing research before opening my mouth. I could have sworn that 62,000 miles was the average orbital distance of the moon. (What with the exosphere beginning at 50 miles above the surface, the height required to travel above in order to be considered an “astronaut.”)

    Did a little research, and the 384K Kilometers is correct. Obviously. I fele smurt nao.

  6. I’m not sure how much of the bed LiftPort shares with NASA,

    Not much. We’ve had very off the record talks with individuals at NASA, which is about all. For an agency with issues getting public buy-in for simply getting to the moon having much to do with space elevators at this point is a non-starter.

    Look, the goal is to lower the transaction cost of getting to orbit. I am not saying I’ll sell my soul for that but our intention is to succeed and to build and operate a business. If NASA comes by and offers money – why not? We do certainly anticipate having the government as a customer.

  7. Brian – cool!

    I don’t have a concern with NASA being a customer. I don’t like projects where the end results are dictated by NASA, however. It is my opinion that their direction of billions of dollars of space exploration money has steered us in the wrong directions and slowed down our move into space.

    Projects like yours are inspiring and provide hope for mankind. Keep up the good work — and I hope you exceed your goals and also make megabucks.