LiftPort is a company that has been researching what is needed to make the space elevator project reality. Their research has been less than successful on how to make a space elevator on Earth. This is mainly due to the fact that the material needed to make the space elevator work on Earth hasn’t been developed yet. The only materials that could withstand the strain a space elevator undergoes are solid diamond and carbon nanotubes. While we are learning more about carbon nanotubes, we haven’t found a way to make a seamless ribbon of carbon nanotubes that is long enough. We can make strings of carbon nanotube that are inches and maybe a few feet long but not near the 22,000+ miles needed. So is the space elevator concept useless until further materials advances made? Not if we make one on the Moon.
So why would we want to make a space elevator on the Moon? It would allow just about any rocket capable of Geostationary Orbit to dock with the space elevator and transfer goods directly to the surface of the Moon. The U.S., Europe, and Russia all have had rockets with this capability for decades. While it’s difficult to design whole spacecraft specifically tailored to landing on the Moon and taking off again, it’s rather commonplace for spacecraft to dock in space. Since the Moon doesn’t have any atmosphere and 1/6th the gravity of Earth, it’s much easier to implement a permanent space elevator solution and is possible using today’s technology and materials. This solution may be the simplest and cheapest way to transfer large amounts of people and goods both to and from the Moon using existing technology.
We are still a long way from making this a reality. LiftPort is currently having a funding drive on kickstarter to raise funds for testing here on Earth. They plan on continuing their research by sending tether climbing robots up balloons until they have reached the 100,000ft mark. Since the rarified atmosphere is similar to the vacuum of space, this should be enough to iron the bugs out of the robotic, life support, and other problems that will arise. LiftPort isn’t the only company working on space elevator components, as LaserMotive has won tether climbing contests and Obayashi Corp has set a goal of a Earth based space elevator by 2050.
To create working space elevator systems has been a dream for decades but only recently has it become feasible for a Moon based space elevator. If we are to exploit the Moon for it’s resources we are going to have to find a more cost effective way to do it besides using conventional rockets. Developing a working space elevator on the Moon could save billions of dollars and decades in our quest to colonize and utilize the Moon.