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$2,477
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19
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Funding Canceled
Funding for this project was canceled by the project creator on Oct 9 2019
Last updated October 9, 2019

The Space Elevator: From Imagination to Reality (Canceled)

The development of a manufacturable method of strengthening a nanotube cable toward the goal of designing a Space Elevator tether.

The Space Elevator: From Imagination to Reality (Canceled)

The development of a manufacturable method of strengthening a nanotube cable toward the goal of designing a Space Elevator tether.

$2,477
pledged of $50,000pledged of $50,000 goal
19
backers
Funding Canceled
Funding for this project was canceled by the project creator on Oct 9 2019
Last updated October 9, 2019

About

The Big Picture:

What is a Space Elevator and why do we need it?

A Space Elevator (SE) is an earth-to-space transportation system that can lift payloads up from sea level to geosynchronous orbit (GEO) for less than 1% of the cost of rockets (even the reusable kind!) If made long enough, it could also act as a catapult, hurling spaceships to Mars and beyond.

How does it work? Why would a cable hanging down to sea level remain suspended?

The cable stays upright and can hold the weight of an elevator car because it is being swung around by the earth, just like you can make a rock at the end of a string swing around with your hand. The rock not only doesn't "fall down" toward your hand, but in fact pulls on the string if you swing it fast enough. So the SE cable would be fixed to the equator of the earth, and thus become a Space Elevator Tether. At that point, payload can be attached to the tether and be lifted to geosynchronous orbit.

Why geosynchronous orbit? What is so special about it? And what if we wanted to carry something to low-earth orbit?

Geosynchronous orbit is the altitude at which the orbit speed exactly matches the speed of the surface of the earth. Any slower and the object will fall into a different altitude orbit, and any faster, the object will rise to a different orbit. Only at geosynchronous orbit will our tether remain at the same place at all times.

If we want to use our elevator to bring something into low-earth orbit, we will have to bring it all the way to geosynchronous orbit and then release it from there. Then it will need to be slowed down gradually and carefully until it enters low-earth orbit. This can be done with ion thrusters if we wish.

Can it really be used as a catapult for Mars launches?

It really can, if we make it long enough. Any position along the cable past GEO would be flung free if it were released from the cable. For example, if we made the cable exactly twice the height of GEO, a space ship could be sent towards Mars at a speed of 12, 700 mph, a nice boost given that the Mars rover Curiosity traveled at 21,000 mph. Releasing a spacecraft from yet further down the cable would increase its speed proportionately. 

Is the Space Elevator really greener than rockets?

Absolutely! Pound for pound the SE is much greener than chemical rockets. Rockets contribute to stratospheric ozone depletion, as well as damage the ionosphere. They require tons of fuel, and at launch their weight is about 90% fuel alone. The SE, on the other hand will lift payloads into GEO using electrical sources. One way is to beam the power to the elevator car using a laser. 

A Little Closer Up:

So if it's so easy, why haven't we built one?

The catch lies in not having a material for the tether. We need a strength of some 100 GPa, but our best material today only has a value of 4 GPa. Furthermore, we haven't made very much progress in over 50 years since Kevlar was developed in 1965 and it has a strength of 2.5 GPa! 

So what's different now?

You've probably already heard of carbon nanotubes (CNTs). With a host of amazing properties, researchers have been finding lots of good uses since their discovery in 1991. One of those amazing properties is that they are unbelievably strong and light. We have been able to make a large quantity of CNTs at a reasonable cost, but they not ordered or aligned, and therefore not very useful as a tether.

More recently, CNTs have been made in to an ordered state. In fact, up close, that ordered state looks a lot like a rope. Below is an image of such a rope with a 1 mm diameter. 

A 1mm diameter rope made entirely of carbon nanotubes

You can't see individual nanotubes in this image because the magnification is not high enough. The stuff that looks like hair is actual "strands" of the rope, which themselves consist of millions of nanotubes. 

Now things are looking quite a bit different than they looked only 5 years ago. But there's still a catch. The rope shown above is not very strong.

Why not?

In normal rope, the strands making up the rope are as long as the rope itself. But in the CNT rope, the individual nanotubes are very short, and the rope gets it strength only by friction. So when the rope is pulled on, the tubes can slide along each other. The net results is that a rope that is nowhere near as strong as the strands used to make it up.

So this rope doesn't do us any good! 

Time for some materials science to the rescue! If we could somehow "pin" the CNTs to each other so that they can't slide, we could make the rope much stronger. I propose to do just that. 

About me:

My name is Peter Renteln. I got my undergraduate degree at Berkeley in Engineering Physics, and my Ph.D. in Materials Science & Engineering at Cornell. I worked for many years in the semiconductor industry, and later developed materials to meet specific performance targets. Most recently i was leading an international R&D team of 18 scientists, engineers and techs in the development of new polymeric materials.

What has been done up to this point? 

I began work on this project in April of this year. After finding the commercially available raw material (the rope), I found several people in the Phoenix area who can advance the project. For example, I have been working with a family-owned engraving company who have a 100 Watt and a 150 Watt laser system. I found a lab for strength testing. I am getting the SEMs at Arizona State University. I found an awards place in which the manager is also a graphic artist. And I hired a friend from California to be my campaign manager. 

So far i have been getting a feel for the material, determining the equipment i will need, developing procedures for getting good data, and refining my ideas based on data collected to date. I wrote a paper and a talk which i recently gave in Seattle at the International Space Elevator Conference, run by ISEC. I also filed a patent application. At this point I am now fully prepared to test my ideas. 

The rope is held inside a central chamber which also allows the tungsten electrodes to contact the rope, the laser to reach the rope (from the top) and a nitrogen feed. Heat is released through a large copper plate.

 Above is a picture of the jig used to hold the rope while it is being operated upon.I have found that with added energy the rope wants to disassemble before it gets anywhere near the pre-melting temperature. Therefore part of the experimental procedure has to include a way to avoid this. It also might be the case that the application of low energy allows the nanotubes to compactify, i.e. get closer together. If that is the case, it may make a good preparation step for covalent bonding. I have shown that the input power at which that appears to happen is around 40 Watts. It can be seen in the graph below, of cross-resistance as a function of applied input energy: 

The effect of applied power on the rope. It may be the case that compaction occurs at 40 Watts

Unfortunately, while the rope got smaller in one direction, it got wider in the other - casting doubt on the compaction idea. So to test i got some strength data, shown below: 

Tensile strength of the as-received rope compared to rope subject to 7 passes of 7.5 Watt laser irradiation

I clearly need to take more data, but so far it at least shows the possibility of a small increase in strength after exposure to low laser energy, and therefore of the possibility that compaction may have occurred.

What is your proposal for significantly strengthening the rope? 

Based on the work done so far, I have developed three approaches for pinning the rope, They are:

1. Apply a very high but uniform temperature to the rope with the objective of reaching the "pre-melting" temperature (the temperature at which the ends and other defect areas melt). If defect areas on each of two adjacent CNTs are proximate, they should form covalent bonds between them. This will serve to "pin" the CNTs. In order to prevent disassembly of the rope, the temperature must be delivered in a chamber applying compressive radial force. 

2. Apply high current along the rope. At each junction (in this case a junction is the point at which current crosses from one CNT to another) of a current path (the lowest resistance path), the temperature will rise because of the high resistance at that point. If the junction temperature rises to the melting temperature, covalent bond formation should occur. Damage to the rest of the CNT should be minimized because the heat is localized. If this can be done for a significant number of different current paths, the rope will be "pinned", and thus strengthened. 

3. Place the rope between two electrodes electrically insulated from the rope. Apply a large voltage across the electrodes creating a strong electric field between them. ("Tipping" the electrodes will intensify the electric field). Inject electrons axially. The strong electric field will accelerate the electrons in the cross direction. If the electrons can pick up 85 kV of energy, they will stimulate covalent bonding by causing knock-on damage. This effect can be assisted with thermal energy. 

However, since the rope is conductive, it will set up a counter-electric field which will impede carrier acceleration. The counter-electric field takes a small amount of time to establish, so the applied field must be set up very quickly. This can be accomplished by the use of a very high frequency (MHz) signal. This dynamic effect can be facilitized by increasing the resistance of the CNTs and slowing the charge carriers, thus frustrating their effort to diminish the established electric field. CNTs can be either semiconducting or conducting. Each type behaves oppositely regarding resistance vs temperature, so an increase in resistance can be achieved by either heating or cooling the rope. 

How do you know these ideas will work? 

I don't. They represent the best ideas based on my understanding of carbon nanotubes from technical papers as well as everything we have done so far. I will apply all my experimental and development knowledge to each idea, and report the results to my $25 and above backers. Since this will likely be before six months is up, i can continue to pursue any of them that look promising. 

And if they are ALL Epic Fails?

In my experience, generating data also tends to generate ideas. The chances are good that the work will continue along a new path.

So what exactly defines success? 

Success is if I strengthen the rope enough so that others feel like it is a real possibility, and a new global excitement about a Space Elevator is born. 

A Democratia Ipsum (Engineering by Democracy)

Maybe i will get an idea from one of my backers. Or maybe you, the backers feel i should pursue one idea over another. I would be very happy to hear your thoughts and ideas.

The Awards

The $500 and $1000 awards are cube-shaped crystals that sit on one corner, with captions "The Space Elevator" and "2019 Tether Project" engraved on one face, surrounding a depiction of an elevator on a tether extending from Earth to a space station. The small cube is 2.5" on diagonal and the large cube is 3.5" on diagonal. The large cube will have an actual piece of the strengthened cable from the project in place of the tether. Here is a picture: 

The 2.5" diagonal (left) $250 and 3.5" diagonal (right) $1000 awards. The large award has an actual piece of the strengthened carbon nanotbube rope in place of the tether.

The $250 award is the signed, original artwork from Andrew Carson Designs. It will look fantastic framed on your wall! 

Andrew Carson Designs Original Signed Graphic of Space Elevator Tether Project

 The $125 award is the original Andrew Carson Designs Space Elevator original artwork, laser-engraved on a 32 oz wide-mouth vacuum-Insulated Stainless Steel powder coated water bottle. The Space Elevator (w/Martian) image is on one side and the "No Rockets" on the other. A great holiday gift! 

32 oz hot & cold laser engraved water bottle (shown on Mars)

The $50 award is Andrew Carson Designs Space Elevator original artwork cell phone cover. A great holiday gift!

Andrew Carson Designs Original Cell Phone Cover

The $25 award is progress updates and Q&A 

The $20 award is the JPG of Andrew Carson's Space Elevator.  

JPG of Original Artwork - "The Space Elevator" by Andrew Carson Designs

The $15 award is the JPG of Andrew Carson's "No rockets" design.

JPG of Original Artwork - "No Rockets" by Andrew Carson Designs

And remember, each award level also includes all the awards below it! 

Acknowledgements

For their significant contribution to this campaign, i would like to acknowledge:

1. Mike Cree & Family, Phoenix Custom Lasering, who will act as my lab partner throughout the process. And the whole Cree family who have offered support, assistance and good vibes from the start.

2. Miguel Borba, who advises on all things related to the campaign. If this campaign is a success, it is due to him.

3. Andrew Carson, the awards guy who turned out to be a graphic artist. The "look and feel" of this campaign is all thanks to him.

4. Sergio Tarango & Paul Duarte of Skyline Productions who developed, produced, edited, contributed to and created the project's video

5. Jim Ferrie of Metals Engineering & Testing Lab for patiently figuring out how to measure the strength of the rope accurately

6. Ken Mossman & Karl Weiss of the Eyring Materials Center at Arizona State University for excellent discussions and diligence in getting high quality SEMs

7. Michael Kelly, Chair of IP @f Jennings Strouss, who, on no notice whatsoever, cleared his schedule for three days so we could file before i gave my talk in Seattle

8. Peter Swan & David Horn of the International Space Elevator Consortium (ISEC) for tirelessly providing leadership in bringing the Space Elevator to reality

Risks and challenges

The experimental work completed in the last 4-5 months allows us to understand much better what may or may not be possible. For example, i learned that the rope falls apart at a very low temperature - much lower than we will need to get covalent bonding. So I now will take measures to prevent this.

I learned that the jig will have to be modified in order to get cross-resistance, since the spring loading that we had was much too strong. Resistance measurements allow us to get more, cheaper and faster results.

At this point I think the "big risk" is simply if none of the three ideas results in significant covalent bonding. And then what? Well, as I said above, doing the work almost always generates new ideas. So the plan is this:

1. Pursue all three approaches
2. If one or more show promise, pursue them
3. If none show promise, maybe some new ideas were generated along the way.
4. If they are all complete failures and no realistic ideas materialize, well, then, it's on to unrealistic ideas. (For example, i may lose scalability, but still be able to show enablement).

Regardless of the results, each approach necessitates thinking about the mechanism. Once the mechanism(s) to achieve covalent bonding is/are developed, it is often straightforward to come up with new approaches.

Sometimes those new approaches require new equipment, or perhaps they point to the need for a simulation, and those things may not be in the budget for this project. In that case they will go right into the budget for the next project. One way or another, the learnings will be captured and shared. And progress will be made.

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Environmental commitments

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Long-lasting design

Great question. If the elevator lasts 5 minutes, it is neither useful nor green. The number of effects which can damage the tether and reduce its lifetime are many, and a few researchers have thought a lot about them, like those at the International Space Elevator Consortium.

The main factors i have thought about include permanent deformation (stretching) of the tether, and the effect of space debris. Permanent stretch should be minimized by successful "pinning" of the CNTs at very close spacing. And space debris- a problem which becomes worse each year - requires that the tether be both extremely tough and "self healing".

The "tough" part is clear, and my video shows how tough the rope is.

The term "self-healing" is used in the polymeric industry and is an unfortunate misnomer. What it really means is that there is a way to "heal" damage from space debris after it has impacted with the tether, and to restore the tether to its original strength.

I believe a tether made from CNTs can do that using the same techniques i use in this project. The tension would have to be removed by a strong clamp apparatus, and a tool which applies a welding technique could then act on the damaged area to create new welds between nanotubes, and restore the rope to its original strength.

Sustainable fulfillment and distribution

First of all, The Elevator replaces rockets. Chemical rockets inherently emit toxic gasses and damage the ozone layer as well as the ionosphere. And many parts must be disposed of each launch (even for the reusable kind). Further, the number of rockets will continue to increase, and if we want to go to Mars, it will dramatically increase. So whatever damage they are doing now will get worse.

The electricity required to run the SE is probably not much more than that required to run a skyscraper, so i would not expect it to be a significant addition to the present load on the grid. And while it is still the case that half the nation's electricity is generated by coal, an increasing number of plants are being converted to natural gas - a much less carbon emitting (per kWH) energy source. As a nation, we should continue to migrate to completely carbon neutral sources such as concentrated solar power.

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Support

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    Our Profound Thanks

    Your pledge of $1 helps us get noticed, and increases our chances of success. Very much appreciated!

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    JPG of Original Art - "No Rockets"

    JPG of original artwork by Andrew Carson - "No Rockets". Put it on a tee shirt, a coffee mug, a bumper sticker, or just post it!

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    JPG of Original Art - The Space Elevator

    JPG of original artwork by Andrew Carson - "Going to Mars on the Space Elevator". Put it on a tee shirt, a coffee mug, a bumper sticker, or just post it!

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    Q&A and Progress Updates

    Have you ever wondered how researchers approach a complex problem? I will be providing updates on my approach to strengthening the cable. I will talk about the physics of it, share the data and explain why i think that a given method can work.

    No one else that i know of is doing the work this kind of work. You will be on the forefront of real research on a real engineering project of paramount importance.

    ALSO, this is your chance to participate! I will answer selected questions about my experiments and overall progress. Any of those "why?" questions as well as those "why not?" questions!

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    Andrew Carson Designs Cell Phone Case

    Take the Space Elevator with you everywhere you go!

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    • JPG of Orignal Artwork - "To Mars on the Space Elevator"
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    Double-Sided Engraved H2O Bottle

    Both of Andrew Carson's original designs engraved on each side of a wide-mouth powder-coated stainless steel water bottle. This reward is both practical and it shows your support for green space travel! Take it wherever you go, or gift it to your favorite science/space enthusiast!

    Includes:
    • JPG of Original Artwork - "No Rockets"
    • JPG of Orignal Artwork - "To Mars on the Space Elevator"
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    Original Signed Framed SE Artwork

    Original signed artwork of the Space Elevator (Martian included!) from Andrew Carson Designs (unframed). A great addition to anyone's fine art collection!

    Includes:
    • JPG of Original Artwork - "No Rockets"
    • JPG of Orignal Artwork - "To Mars on the Space Elevator"
    • Q&A and Progress Updates
    • Andrew Carson Designs Cell Phone Case
    • Andrew Carson Designs Water Bottle
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    Small Space Cube

    This awesome-looking crystal cube looks great on any desk. The crystal sits on a corner and looks like it's floating in space. A cool reminder of your participation in humanity's journey upwards!

    Includes:
    • JPG of Original Artwork - "No Rockets"
    • JPG of Orignal Artwork - "To Mars on the Space Elevator"
    • Q&A and Progress Updates
    • Andrew Carson Designs Cell Phone Case
    • Andrew Carson Designs Water Bottle
    • Original Signed Artwork from A. Carson
    • Free Shipping to Continental U.S.
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    Large Space Cube w/Cable

    Stunning 3.5" diameter crystal cube sits on its corner and looks like its just floating in space! Face shows the elevator and the cable is an actual piece of the strengthened carbon nanotube rope! Left of the cable it reads "The Space Elevator" and to the right of the cable it reads "The 2019 Tether Project". Looks awesome sitting on a light source! Be part of humanity's journey upwards!

    Includes:
    • JPG of Original Artwork - "No Rockets"
    • JPG of Orignal Artwork - "To Mars on the Space Elevator"
    • Q&A and Progress Updates
    • Andrew Carson Designs Cell Phone Case
    • Andrew Carson Designs Water Bottle
    • Original Signed Artwork from A. Carson
    • Small Space Cube
    • Free Shipping Everywhere!
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Funding period

- (30 days)