NTRS - NASA Technical Reports Server

Back to Results
Technology Development and Demonstration Concepts for the Space ElevatorDuring the 1990s several discoveries and advances in the development of carbon nano-tube (CNT) materials indicated that material strengths many times greater than common high-strength composite materials might be possible. Progress in the development of this material led to renewed interest in the space elevator concept for construction of a tether structure from the surface of the Earth through a geostationary orbit (GEO) and thus creating a new approach to Earth-to-orbit transportation infrastructures. To investigate this possibility the author, in 1999, managed for NASA a space elevator work:hop at the Marshall Space Flight Center to explore the potential feasibility of space elevators in the 21 century, and to identify the critical technologies and demonstration missions needed to make development of space elevators feasible. Since that time, a NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts (NIAC) funded study of the Space Elevator proposed a concept for a simpler first space elevator system using more near-term technologies. This paper will review some of the latest ideas for space elevator development, the critical technologies required, and some of the ideas proposed for demonstrating the feasibility for full-scale development of an Earth to GEO space elevator. Critical technologies include CNT composite materials, wireless power transmission, orbital object avoidance, and large-scale tether deployment and control systems. Numerous paths for technology demonstrations have been proposed utilizing ground experiments, air structures. LEO missions, the space shuttle, the international Space Station, GEO demonstration missions, demonstrations at the lunar L1 or L2 points, and other locations. In conclusion, this paper finds that the most critical technologies for an Earth to GEO space elevator include CNT composite materials development and object avoidance technologies; that lack of successful development of these technologies need not preclude continued development of space elevator systems in general; and that the critical technologies required for the Earth to GEO space elevator are not required for similar systems at the Moon, Mars, Europa, or for orbital tether systems at GEO, Luna, and other locations.
Document ID
Document Type
Conference Paper
Smitherman, David V., Jr. (NASA Marshall Space Flight Center Huntsville, AL, United States)
Date Acquired
August 22, 2013
Publication Date
January 1, 2004
Subject Category
Spacecraft Instrumentation and Astrionics
Meeting Information
55th International Astronautical Congress. Symposium on the Far Future: Renewed Vision and Space Eleveator and the Future of Tethers in Space(Vancouver)
Distribution Limits
Work of the US Gov. Public Use Permitted.