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Space Transportation Technology

Diamond Nanothreads Could Support Space Elevator (space.com) 171

Taco Cowboy writes with news that Penn State researchers have discovered a way to produce ultra-thin diamond nanothreads that could be ideal for a space elevator. According to the report at Space.com, The team, led by chemistry professor John Badding, applied alternating cycles of pressure to isolated, liquid-state benzene molecules and were amazed to find that rings of carbon atoms assembled into neat and orderly chains. While they were expecting the benzene molecules to react in a disorganized way, they instead created a neat thread 20,000 times smaller than a strand of human hair but perhaps the strongest material ever made. ... Just recently, a team from the Queensland University of Technology in Australia modeled the diamond nanothreads using large-scale molecular dynamics simulations and concluded that the material is far more versatile than previously thought and has great promise for aerospace properties.
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Diamond Nanothreads Could Support Space Elevator

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  • time to re-read Red Mars
    • by Tomahawk ( 1343 )

      And The Foundations of Paradise, Arthur. C. Clarke.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Clarke's science > Robinson's science.

        For a large factor of >.

        • by trabby ( 4123953 )
          It will still be 50 years before it is built as everyone still laughs at it.
      • And The Foundations of Paradise, Arthur. C. Clarke.

        I think you meant Fountains of Paradise [wikipedia.org]. Another sci-fi great, famous for his three laws of robotics, did write something called the Foundation [wikipedia.org] trilogy. A space fountain [wikipedia.org] appears to be different from a space elevator, but I'm no expert on the distinctions between these and other combustion-free space launch concepts like the skyhook or orbital ring.

    • by wiggles ( 30088 )

      Nah. No desire to revisit that Communist propaganda. Might as well have been published in The Worker.

      Neat engineering concepts, but his sociological stuff in there was nauseating.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        You wouldn't know communism if you were planting potatoes in a collective.

    • While I've definitely liked some of KSR's work, Red Mars was tedious enough to put me off the rest of that Cycle. I'll not cross him (or is it a she - I can't remember, and can't be bothered to look it up) off my reading list. But the Mars cycle isn't going to get me at the bookshop again.
  • Will it last forever?

    • ...and how will we get it down? [youtube.com]

  • by Tomahawk ( 1343 ) on Monday November 30, 2015 @03:20AM (#51025221) Homepage

    In The Fountains of Paradise, Arthur. C. Clarke wrote about the use of a diamond filament for building the space elevator. The main character, Dr. Morgan, carried around with him a retractable rope made of this filament. He uses it at one point to climb down a cliff face, and it's so thin it can be barely seen...

    Kudos, Arthur...

    • by MrKaos ( 858439 )

      In The Fountains of Paradise, Arthur. C. Clarke wrote about the use of a diamond filament for building the space elevator. The main character, Dr. Morgan, carried around with him a retractable rope made of this filament. He uses it at one point to climb down a cliff face, and it's so thin it can be barely seen...

      Kudos, Arthur...

      And when Morgan realized space elevators could be deployed all over the earth by linking them in a grid in space. Great book, you should check out the NAIC study on the space elevator, it is an equally interesting read.

      Are we 50 years after everyone stops laughing yet?

      • ...you should check out the NAIC study on the space elevator, it is an equally interesting read.

        Are we 50 years after everyone stops laughing yet?

        It is an interesting read, and this study shows that material strength is required that does not exist in any prospective nanotube material. Their design requires operating at 50% of the theoretical limit of nanotube strength. This level of performance will never be achieved in any substantial cable.

        Right now, after 30 years of work, 1 mm long nanotube cable samples just barely break 1% of the theoretical strength. Increase strength 50 times, length of a factor 40 billion, and cross section by a factor of a

    • by MrKaos ( 858439 )
      I knew it was around somewhere: www.nss.org:8080/resources/library/spaceelevator/index.htm
    • If it's so thin, it would slice through your hands if you ever tried to tie it off let alone hold onto it while you descend.

      • If it's so thin, it would slice through your hands if you ever tried to tie it off let alone hold onto it while you descend.

        Not if you wore gloves made out of woven diamond nanothreads.

      • by Tomahawk ( 1343 )

        IIRC, there was a hook attached to it so you didn't need to tie it off anywhere, and you held onto the box that it was coiled up in...

  • It sounds wonderful, but I have two questions before I book a ride...

    How many cubic kilometres of material are needed to build the space elevator?

    Will it turn into a pile of dust if it's hit by lightning?

    • by MrKaos ( 858439 )

      Will it turn into a pile of dust if it's hit by lightning?

      The original NIAC study on the space elevator [nss.org] dealt with issues such as lightning, corrosion from atmospheric acid and oxygen, micrometeor strikes and aircraft exclusions zone. It also dealt with the mass required to anchor it, proposed how it would be built and which areas in the world would be suitable for the first one.

    • by Megane ( 129182 )
      If you want more things to worry about before you "book a ride", the space elevator could take days to reach the top, during which time you have to slowly go through the wonderful Van Allen radiation belts. [wikipedia.org] But maybe we will put up something to drain them of their charged particles by then. (in before all the people whining that draining the belts would somehow permanently remove them, or that the charged particles are the important part of the belts, rather than being the crap that they accumulate)
  • by samantha ( 68231 ) * on Monday November 30, 2015 @04:09AM (#51025333) Homepage

    They are not even close to sufficient in weight bearing capacity for an earth space elevator. Nothing we have is within 3 orders of magnitude of being sufficient. Not even in the smallest testable quantities. Now, we can build a space elevator on the moon. But not from earth.

  • Super strong, super thin threads? Wasn't there a scene in Neuromancer where one of those, extended from a diamond spool worn as a thumb, constituted a deadly weapon?
  • by rastos1 ( 601318 ) on Monday November 30, 2015 @05:19AM (#51025471) Homepage

    At some point in time also a spider silk was the strongest material - stronger than steel. But I have yet to see a crane that uses spider silk to lift containers.

    Wake me up when we can create a 1km long and 1cm thick rope from these diamond nanothreads.

    • by ceoyoyo ( 59147 )

      Stronger than steel per kg. Cranes don't really care too much about the cable's mass so they use steel, which is strong, cheap, plentiful and heavy. If they did care, they'd use any of several synthetic fibres that are much stronger by mass than steel. In space elevators, cable mass is the major limiting factor.

  • The dude who created Molecule Chain was named Sinclair!
  • Come back when you've made 2 metres....

  • The summary links to a lousy article that says essentially nothing about the actual research. Here is an account that describes the material under study [psu.edu].

  • Would diamond/carbon nanofibers be sufficient for a mars or lunar space elevator?

  • ... yet conceptualized? Or how it could be built - given that materials become viable and available?
  • Seriously. This will be the first published use of the material.

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