Early Space Elevators

space elevator (Earth) 2
Two elevator cars on the Tannga Bintang pass each other at 6000 kph, twenty thousand kilometers above Sulawesi. At this height the cable is a flat tape four metres wide, and less than a centimetre thick

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 objects.

The first space elevator, the 'Tangga Bintang' ("Ladder to the Stars"), was extended down from orbit in 143 a.t. 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.

Space Elevator (Earth) 1
Image from Steve Bowers
Like many early elevators, the Tangaa Bintang was constructed from a tapering polyfullerene ribbon, wider at the top to provide more support. Here the tape is nearly ten meters across

A second elevator, the 'Espaço' was extended down to an artificial island in the mouth of the Amazon, by Greater Brazil, Argentina and Gran Colombia; this one was finished in 152.

The major Central African economy, Republique du Tchad, with the backing of the United States, Russia and the EU finished the Freedom international tower, 'Freedom', in Gabon, in 164 (2132 c.e.), eventually the largest one, more than a kilometre wide at the orbital end.

A fourth elevator, the 'Ascension', was extended to the West Coast of Ecuador in 237 to accommodate the ever increasing flow of trade and population on and off the Earth. Other elevators, such as the Azanian Alliance's project in the highlands of East Africa, were locally and even globally important, but did not have the same impact on history as the original "Big Four".

The Tangaa Bintang (above) was constructed using a thin braided tape 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 special 'vacuum cleaner' craft. The tape is covered in self-repairing nanomaterial, and incorporates a magnetic track on each thin edge to support the elevator cars. 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.

space elevator (Earth) 3
Image from Steve Bowers
Four major space elevators and several minor installations were built in the Interplanetary Age to serve the needs of the Hothouse Earth

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Development Notes
Text by Steve Bowers

Initially published on 05 November 2003.