Liftport, a company founded to research and develop a concept called the space elevator, has started a fund raising effort on Kickstarter to raise $8,000 as the first step to build a space elevator on the surface of the moon.
The Kickstarter effort
According to Kickstarter, Liftport proposes to use the $8,000 to conduct an experiment to build a balloon-anchored tether that would reach two kilometers up. A robot would climb up and down the tether to test the concept of a space elevator. Liftport mentions that such balloon-anchored tethers could also serve as communications towers for cell phone and other networks. As of this writing, Liftport has raised more than $24,000, far exceeding its initial goal.
The first step toward a lunar space elevator
The next major step, after getting a space elevator test regime started, will be to raise $3 million for a lunar space elevator. The idea, according to a story in the UK Daily Mail, is that building a space elevator on the lunar surface would have fewer problems than one on Earth, due to lower gravity and a lack of an appreciable atmosphere. Thus no new technological breakthroughs, such as mass-produced carbon nanotubes, would be necessary. Liftport, which is a revival of a similar effort that went under during the 2007 downturn, believes it has achieved a technological breakthrough that would enable a lunar based space elevator.
What a lunar space elevator would be good for
A lunar space elevator, according to the UK Daily Mail account, would start at one of the Lagrange Points, where the gravity of the Earth and moon cancel out. NASA is already considering building a space station at one of the Lagrange Points as a way station for deep space missions, to the moon or other destinations. A tether would be stretched from the Lagrange station to the lunar surface. Elevators would then travel to and from the lunar surface along the tether far cheaper and more reliably than traveling there by rocket ship. The Lagrange Station would be reachable by any commercial space craft, such as the SpaceX Dragon or the Boeing CST-100, as well as the NASA Orion, using existing launchers. Crew and cargo would transfer to the space elevator and ride the rest of the way to the moon.Crew and cargo, including fuel refined from lunar water, would use the space to return to the Lagrange Base.
The concept of a space elevator, which would allow people and cargo to travel into space at a fraction of the cost of riding rockets, has been around for decades. The main stumbling block has been the lack of a material strong enough to build the tether between an Earth station and a space station at geosynchronous orbit. The idea of a lunar elevator would serve as a test of the concept before technology has advanced to create an Earth based elevator.
Mark R. Whittington is the author of Children of Apollo and The Last Moonwalker. He has written on space subjects for a variety of periodicals, including The Houston Chronicle, The Washington Post, USA Today, the L.A. Times, and The Weekly Standard.