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Transportation Science

Japanese Begin Working On Space Elevator 696

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the you-can't-get-there-from-here dept.
thebryce writes "From cyborg housemaids and waterpowered cars to dog translators and rocket boots, Japanese boffins have racked up plenty of near-misses in the quest to turn science fiction into reality. Now the finest scientific minds of Japan are devoting themselves to cracking the greatest sci-fi vision of all: the space elevator. Man has so far conquered space by painfully and inefficiently blasting himself out of the atmosphere but the 21st century should bring a more leisurely ride to the final frontier. Japan is increasingly confident that its sprawling academic and industrial base can solve those issues, and has even put the astonishingly low price tag of a trillion yen (£5 billion) on building the elevator. Japan is renowned as a global leader in the precision engineering and high-quality material production without which the idea could never be possible."
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Japanese Begin Working On Space Elevator

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  • by mfh (56) on Monday September 22, 2008 @09:58AM (#25103369) Homepage Journal

    Just imagine fourteen hours of Japanese elevator music. I couldn't stand that much symphonic David Hasselhoff. And when you get to space and arrive at the Japanese Sky Deck, you can eat very expensive steak, while being entertained by a Max Headroom stylized recreation of David Hasselhoff, and groped by Hentai-motivated space-whores.

    • by cheetham (247087) on Monday September 22, 2008 @10:02AM (#25103427) Homepage

      Could you cope any better with Music for Elevators by Anthony S Head though?

      Being groped by space-whores could potentially be worth the wait anyway. ;)

      • by Firethorn (177587) on Monday September 22, 2008 @10:32AM (#25103937) Homepage Journal

        Being groped by space-whores could potentially be worth the wait anyway.

        But remember, this is JAPAN we're talking about. They have tentacles.

        Still, that amounts to $9.5 Billion USD at the moment. To put it in perspective, we're looking at spending $700B to bail out the banks this week. Over the course of the life of the shuttle, each launch as ended up costing $1.3B. So, for a little over a tenth of the bank buyout, or less than 10 shuttle launches*. Or, if you want to go with incremental costs ($60M), it'd be 158 launches - compared to the 115 launches as of Aug 2006. Still, I hardly think that it'd be fair to compare incremental costs of a dangerous platform with creating a new one with substantially lower incremental costs and hopefully greater safety.

        Of course, the article does at least mention a number of issues - we need to industrialize a carbon nanotube production process that makes a cable that'd 4 times as strong as the best lab result to date. There's all sorts of issues with a pod that has to go 22k miles, straight up.

        I heard a snippet of a speech by Reagan today about SDI and how we now finally have the missile defense stuff he proposed. They talked about him not realizing the difficulties and state of the art, at which I laughed a bit when, in the speech, he talked about it possibly taking 'into the next century'. Anyways - this topic reminded me of the SDI program - nice goal, but might end up being slightly out of our reach at the moment. Especially for a 'mere' 9.5B. Probably end up being 100B*, and an additional 40 years.

        *Still cheap at the price.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by adavies42 (746183)

          I heard a snippet of a speech by Reagan today about SDI and how we now finally have the missile defense stuff he proposed. They talked about him not realizing the difficulties and state of the art, at which I laughed a bit when, in the speech, he talked about it possibly taking 'into the next century'.

          So, he was right? What's your point?

        • by Cytotoxic (245301) on Monday September 22, 2008 @01:39PM (#25107279)

          I heard a snippet of a speech by Reagan today about SDI and how we now finally have the missile defense stuff he proposed. They talked about him not realizing the difficulties and state of the art, at which I laughed a bit when, in the speech, he talked about it possibly taking 'into the next century'.

          It was an NPR story, I heard it too and had the same reaction you did. The speech they played had him not only mention that it could well take into the next century, he specifically mentioned that the technical challenges were immense, but the state of the art had reached a point that it was time to begin trying to solve the problem by funding research. Pretty much everything they played supported the opposite conclusion to that offered by the NPR commentator. Funny.

    • by MyLongNickName (822545) on Monday September 22, 2008 @10:04AM (#25103459) Journal

      This is why my preferences are set to view low UID posters at higher point value than others. It is their keen insight from years in the tech arena that keeps me coming back.

      I am going to go remove that preference now.

    • by Hoi Polloi (522990) on Monday September 22, 2008 @10:16AM (#25103657) Journal

      You think that is bad, just wait until some wieseguy gets on and hits the buttons for every floor.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        Personally I'm hoping they force all occupants to wear airtight space-suits. With any luck this will then become a trend adopted by wider society, and the flatulence that so often plagues the elevator at my work will become a thing of the past...

    • by Punchinello (303093) on Monday September 22, 2008 @11:09AM (#25104551)
      If you RTFA you would know that there won't be any elevator music. Elevatornauts will pass the time by playing Duke Nukem Forever.
  • by imstanny (722685) on Monday September 22, 2008 @10:02AM (#25103421)
    $9 Billion Here, $9 Billion there -- pretty soon we'll start talking about real money.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by AvitarX (172628)

      If it truly that cheap it is an amazing thing though.

      This could be huge.

      If the cost to get away from earths gravity, and back into it can be reduced greatly you can suddenly start sending small unmanned craft to do things. It could pay for itself (in savings) very quickly, and perhaps in real money by charging to use it.

      As far as major breakthrough public works it is also a bargain. Though at that low a price, and the potential to make money on satellite launches, it almost looks like a company should be

      • Re:That's Cheap! (Score:4, Insightful)

        by DerekLyons (302214) <fairwater AT gmail DOT com> on Monday September 22, 2008 @11:49AM (#25105291) Homepage

        If the cost to get away from earths gravity, and back into it can be reduced greatly you can suddenly start sending small unmanned craft to do things. It could pay for itself (in savings) very quickly, and perhaps in real money by charging to use it.

        It's not clear that the costs will be greatly reduced. There simply isn't that much demand (or foreseeable need for) "sending small unmanned craft to do [unspecified] things". Even with tourism (the likely largest market in the near term), you'll have a hard time charging enough to recoup your costs as well as operating expenses.
         
        Not to mention that cost specified is almost certainly laughably low.

  • by AltGrendel (175092) <ag-slashdot@@@exit0...us> on Monday September 22, 2008 @10:02AM (#25103423) Homepage
    They're going to use Mothra for the lift engine of the elevators.
  • Just as a subnote... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by east coast (590680) on Monday September 22, 2008 @10:02AM (#25103429)
    A trillion yen is about 9.5 billion USD or roughly 6.5 billion Euros. That sounds like a bargin to me.
  • SKYHOOK! (Score:3, Funny)

    by oodaloop (1229816) on Monday September 22, 2008 @10:05AM (#25103483)
    I can't tell you how many times I've needed one of those.
  • by icebrain (944107) on Monday September 22, 2008 @10:07AM (#25103513)

    "The first space elevator will be built about fify years after everyone stops laughing."

    -Arthur C. Clarke

  • by loafula (1080631) on Monday September 22, 2008 @10:17AM (#25103677)
    maintaining geosynchronous orbit while tethered to the ground is not a good idea. there are so many factors that could turn a space elevator into a complete disaster. a cat-4 or 5 hurricane could potentially put so much drag onto the cable that the whole thing tumbles to earth. an earthquake could yank it out of orbit. tidal pulls from the moon could rip it from the ground. lightning damage. i'd love to see this become a reality, but i just dont think that will happen.
    • by Spatial (1235392) on Monday September 22, 2008 @10:45AM (#25104139)
      Those sound like elements to factor into the design, rather than unforseeable or unpreventable disasters.
    • by gclef (96311) on Monday September 22, 2008 @12:16PM (#25105749)

      So don't tie it down. There's nothing about the design of the space elevator that requires it to be tied to the earth in any way. If there's a storm coming, pull it up (or fold it up) about a mile or so above the clouds.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by superdave80 (1226592)

        There's nothing about the design of the space elevator that requires it to be tied to the earth in any way.

        Well, I think we would not want the counter-weight to go flinging off into space.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by MozeeToby (1163751)

        Actually, most of the designs that I've heard of do require the cable to be connected at the base. This is because the counterweight at the top isn't actually in orbit but is held taunt by the centrifugal force.

        The counterweight is significantly higher than geosynchronous orbit, otherwise every time you brought mass up the cable the counterweight's orbital velocity would decrease slightly. Eventually, if you were bringing more mass up than down, you'd pull the counterweight lower, increasing it's speed.

  • by distantbody (852269) on Monday September 22, 2008 @10:20AM (#25103719) Journal
    ...No space elevator is going anywhere without the necessary nanotube manufacturing breakthrough, and that includes the Japanese.
  • Start from orbit. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by B5_geek (638928) on Monday September 22, 2008 @10:24AM (#25103793)

    This was an idea that I had a very long tie ago when I was still a teenager (before I had ever heard of space elevators). Lets imagine you had a geostationary satellite in orbit above your construction site. That satellite then lowers a cable into the atmosphere (due to it being geostationary there should be minimal re-entry friction) your main concern would be dealing with the winds on a 100km long cable dangling in the air. Once you have connected the cable to the land, fire some booster rockets on the satellite to get it into the desired orbit (say L1), you could even have the shuttle attach some larger equipment to it to increase it's mass.

    With an increase in mass and the longer distance from the planet, centrifugal force should keep the cable taut. You now can start having things 'climb' the cable to build a larger platform.

    Why wouldn't this work?

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      Why wouldn't this work?

      For a start, as you extend the cable from GEO, the center of mass of the satellite+cable moves downwards, changing its orbit. This alone will cause the bottom end (free-floating) to begin swinging, relative to Earth. Eventually, the swings will by gynormous. Then you'll touch atmosphere and the speed of the lower end will be immense, burning it up due to friction. Then it gets bad.

      On the other hand, if you extend some mass upwards at the same rate that you extend mass downwards (

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by marcosdumay (620877)

      There is no reason for that not working. And, except for the cable and the asteroid, we already have all the needed equipment ;)

    • Re:Start from orbit. (Score:4, Informative)

      by aug24 (38229) on Monday September 22, 2008 @11:25AM (#25104851) Homepage

      This is exactly how all the people considering this intend to do it. The problem is that the strength of cable required to support its own weight for that distance is huge. It has been determined that a ribbon shaped like a giant flat golf tee (can't think of a better description) will be best.

      In short, your plan is the same as the best plan that mankind has so far, but we still don't have a suitable material to make the cable from.

      Justin.
      (Incidentally, geostat tends to be much higher than 100 clicks (qv 'Low Earth Orbit').)

  • Bah... (Score:5, Funny)

    by Lonedar (897073) on Monday September 22, 2008 @10:24AM (#25103797)
    They just saw that the EU completed the LHC world wonder so they are building a Space Elevator wonder to prevent a cultural victory.
  • by Digitus1337 (671442) <lk_digitus@@@hotmail...com> on Monday September 22, 2008 @10:25AM (#25103805) Homepage
    I'm always afraid of getting stuck halfway up on a space elevator (one bustle in your hedgerow and the whole thing gets jammed up). I'll just take a Stairway to Heaven, there's a lady I've heard good things about that is buying one.
  • Wirri Wonka (Score:5, Funny)

    by Ukab the Great (87152) on Monday September 22, 2008 @10:29AM (#25103887)

    If I find a golden ticket in my package of ramen noodles, do I get to ride the space elevator?

  • by paniq (833972) on Monday September 22, 2008 @10:32AM (#25103953) Homepage

    The elevators traveling speed will be measured in GFIp/t ("Girl from Ipanema" plays per transport).

  • Boffin (Score:5, Informative)

    by kentrel (526003) on Monday September 22, 2008 @10:50AM (#25104205) Journal
    Can we please not use the word "Boffin" to describe scientists. Its a words used by the British tabloids, usually out of ignorance, and in a derogatory sense.
  • Over-Hyped (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Nom du Keyboard (633989) on Monday September 22, 2008 @12:11PM (#25105657)

    the greatest sci-fi vision of all

    A space elevator is hardly the greatest sci-fi vision of all. The greatest sci-fi vision of all (aside from higher ratings for the SciFi Channel allowing them to produce more original features) is faster than light interstellar travel. A space elevator to nowhere pales compared to that.

  • by realinvalidname (529939) on Monday September 22, 2008 @12:28PM (#25105985) Homepage
    Gee, let's hope that a war over the elevator doesn't break out, causing a young pilot to detonate the Space/Time Oscillation Bomb and splitting time/space into lots of little pieces [wikipedia.org].
  • by erko (806441) on Monday September 22, 2008 @12:28PM (#25105991)
    "Japanese Begin Working On Space Elevator"

    Did that headline make anyone else feel like we're in one big game of "Civilization"?
  • by peter303 (12292) on Monday September 22, 2008 @12:58PM (#25106501)
    NASA with the the Italian Space Program tried long (up to 5 km) space tethers several times. Either cable fries and breaks from huge electrostatic charge breakup or the satellite fries. Anyone whose flown a kite with a metal wire knows the problem is even worse in the atmosphere.
  • GEO (Score:4, Funny)

    by Normal Dan (1053064) on Monday September 22, 2008 @02:43PM (#25108501)
    You know, if we just increased the spin of Earth, we wouldn't need as long of a cable to get to GEO.

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