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Space Elevator ROI Excerpt II

The second in a series of excerpts from an article I contributed to;

Liftport: The Space Elevator: Opening Space To Everyone
edited by Michael J Laine, Tom Nugent, Bill Fawcett
Published 2006 - 308 pages

Limited preview
- Table of Contents - About this book

[Links to previous/following posts in this series listed below]

In the first excerpt (see below or in the archives) Jim Benson of SpaceDev explained the fundamentals of space industry economics.

Benson draws on his decades of experience to delineate one of the problems of making an SE project sustainable - ”keeping [the SE] from being destroyed by [space] junk” and in doing so comes out as one of the first space environmentalists.

“I think it’s inevitable [that we have to] vacuum the vacuum. We’ve got to stop generating [space debris] and clean up what exists,” Benson explains. “People thought the ocean was so big that that it just didn’t matter and here we are not only polluting it but depopulating it.

“Most of the satellites and therefore debris are at LEO. [Debris] is a huge consideration. One I don’t think they have a good answer for yet.”

Benson has but to ask the author of his inspiration, Dr. John S. Lewis, Planetary Sciences Professor at the University of Arizona about the space debris problem. Dr. Lewis sees not only a danger but also a recycling opportunity in the man-made space flotsam orbiting our globe.

“They’re not only threatening debris they are a fairly substantial source of solar cells and metals. You can assume that any spacecraft that’s died up there has exhausted its attitude control fuel so you don’t really expect to retrieve volatiles,” explains Dr. Lewis. “On the other hand you do have the structural metals and solar cells. I’m sure that if you do have a source of any kind of mass up there you’d think of a way to use it if only for radiation shielding.”

Dr. Lewis points out that gravitational geographies preclude a geosynchronous SE from use as a launch platform for all but a scant few asteroid mining expeditions but an SE still has practical benefits over blasting into space.

“If you’re talking about a geosynchronous tether, it has two main functions as I see it,” says Dr. Lewis. “It has the ability to put large masses in GEO and launch science payloads at very high speeds to a wide range of destinations. Those are the clear-cut advantages.”

He has no trouble listing several commercial satellite applications.

“Solar Power Satellites (SPS) number one … a constellation of [manufacturing] stations girdling the earth … and orbital hotels,” outlines Dr. Lewis. “[The potential of] orbital hotels should not be under-rated. This is a real cheap way to get to GEO and you should be thinking of having tourists up there.

“If you’re talking about launching one or more communications or surveillance platforms in geosynchronous orbit this is a great way to do it,” Dr. Lewis concludes.

Look for another excerpt next week or subscribe to SEJ by clicking


Space Elevator ROI (Excerpt I)

Space Elevator ROI (Excerpt III)

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