How Space Elevators Will Work

The space elevator ribbon will be anchored to a mobile platform in the equatorial Pacific. As part of a system to help the elevator avoid orbital debris, the mobile platform can be repositioned.

Photo courtesy LiftPort Group

Space Elevator Maintenance

At a length of 62,000 miles (100,000 km), the space elevator will be vulnerable to many dangers, including weather, space debris and terrorists. As plans move forward on the design of the space elevator, the developers are considering these risks and ways to overcome them. In fact, to make sure there is always an operational space elevator, developers plan to build multiple space elevators. Each one will be cheaper than the previous one. The first space elevator will serve as a platform from which to build additional space elevators. In doing so, developers are ensuring that even if one space elevator encounters problems, the others can continue lifting payloads into space.

Avoiding Space Debris

Like the space station or space shuttle, the space elevator will need the ability to avoid orbital objects, like debris and satellites. The anchor platform will employ active avoidance to protect the space elevator from such objects. Currently, the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) tracks objects larger than 10 cm (3.9 inches). Protecting the space elevator would require an orbital debris tracking system that could detect objects approximately 1 cm (.39 inches) in size. This technology is currently in development for other space projects.

"Our plans are to anchor the ribbon to a mobile platform in the ocean," said Tom Nugent, of LiftPort. "You can actually move your anchor around to pull the ribbon out of the way of satellites."

Repelling Attacks

The isolated location of the space elevator will be the biggest factor in lowering the risk of terrorist attack. For instance, the first anchor will be located in the equatorial Pacific, 404 miles (650 km) from any air or shipping lanes, according to LiftPort. Only a small portion of the space elevator will be within reach of any attack, which is anything 9.3 miles (15 km) or below. Further, the space elevator will be a valuable global resource and will likely be protected by the U.S. and other foreign military forces.