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Michael Laine, Tuesday, 3-20-12 March 21, 2012

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Michael Laine, Tuesday, 3-20-12

http://archived.thespaceshow.com/shows/1739-BWB-2012-03-20.mp3

Guest:  Michael Laine.  Topics:  Lunar space elevator, general space elevator discussion.  You are invited to comment, ask questions, and discuss the Space Show program/guest(s) on the Space Show blog, https://thespaceshow.wordpress.com. Comments, questions, and any discussion must be relevant and applicable to Space Show programming. Transcripts of Space Show programs are not permitted without prior written consent from The Space Show (even if for personal use) & are a violation of the Space Show copyright. We welcomed Michael Laine for updates on his company LiftPort & their latest space elevator plans.  Michael started the discussion with an overview of his involvement in the space elevator project, his company LiftPort up through its fiscal problems, the reestablishment of the company with intellectual property, & a lunar space elevator study from 2010-2011.  He brought us current with LiftPort plans into 2012 plus what the company & his team have planned for the balance of the year.  Michael talked about his team, issues relating to a lunar space elevator, how the Moon rotates/spins differently than the Earth, & how an elevator would be different than an Earth-based elevator which he said cannot be built at this time.  He made the point that the lunar elevator could be built now, does not need a carbon nanotube ribbon & will likely go from Sinus Medii on the Moon to an orbiting spaceport at the Earth-Moon L1 point where there might be a Bigelow station with EELV or Falcon 9 flights coming up from Earth.  He also said the early flights would be robotic but that both capability and capacity would expand to include humans.  He was of the opinion that the basic lunar space elevator could be completed within a decade.  Eric called in to challenge some of Michael’s technical analysis.  Michael offered to send the math analysis of the project to anyone requesting it.  His email address can be found at the end of this summary.  Later in this hour long segment, I asked Michael about business issues, the market, financing (public, private, both), ROIs, & more.  As you will hear, this part of the LiftPort plan is unfinished.  Michael’s team has been confirming the math analysis for the project & has yet to refine their business plan/due diligence analysis. When pressed, he said the cost might be around $700-$800 million but they were increasing that to $1.5 billion to be a bit conservative.  He also said this was for a small elevator with a payload capacity of 40-240 kg.  In speaking about the commercial aspects of the project, he repeated many times throughout our discussion that they were focused on cash flows and the commercial aspects but first they needed certainty about reaching the technical “go” point.

In our second segment, Michael continued his theme that they do not yet have the business plan components in place.  I then asked if this was nothing more than a feasibility project?  That seemed to summarize our discussion so far.  Michael did point out that LiftPort already had two intellectual property (IP) assets so the company was positioned to make money even before the elevator project got going beyond the study phase.  I pressed him for his public finance plans.  His idea was based on the Railroad Acts which included bond sales guaranteed by the government with the government providing sufficient business revenues to support the bond guarantee.  A listener brought up the issue of space debris & climbers.  Michael pointed listeners to their YouTube channel to see their climber in action.  Mars elevators were mentioned near the end of the program as well as LiftPort internships.  We also talked about the recent Japanese company’s announcement of their own elevator plans (Obayashi Corp.).  Michael also suggested the space elevator conference (http://spaceelevatorconference.org).

Please post your comments/questions on The Space Show blog URL above. You can email Michael Laine at laine@liftport.com).

Comments»

1. It’s Time To Build A Space Elevator, Says LiftPort Group In Successful Kickstarter Campaign |Trax Asia™ - August 30, 2012

[…] One step that is a significant change since LiftPort initially conceived of the project is to build the first space elevator not on Earth, but on the Moon. Citing that “several more breakthroughs” are required to build an elevator for Earth, the group says a Lunar elevator can be built with existing technology in about 8 years and serve as a precursor to building the Earth elevator. To accomplish this, a one-year feasibility study for building the infrastructure needs to be conducted that is estimated to cost $3 million, which is just a fraction of the estimated $800 million to $1.5 billion cost for a completed Lunar elevator with a payload of 40-240 kg, according to a podcast form the spring. […]

2. It’s Time To Build A Space Elevator, Says LiftPort Group…Just Not On Earth | Singularity Hub - August 30, 2012

[…] One step that is a significant change since LiftPort initially conceived of the project is to build the first space elevator not on Earth, but on the Moon. Citing that “several more breakthroughs” are required to build an elevator for Earth, the group says a Lunar elevator can be built with existing technology in about 8 years and serve as a precursor to building the Earth elevator. To accomplish this, a one-year feasibility study for building the infrastructure needs to be conducted that is estimated to cost $3 million, which is just a fraction of the estimated $800 million to $1.5 billion cost for a completed Lunar elevator with a payload of 40-240 kg, according to a podcast form the spring. […]

3. Joe - March 21, 2012

Granted: This is an interesting idea. It is a great source of revenue for gifted mathematicians, as long as it stays on paper. Keep doing what you are doing. You are onto something. Applying this magnificent set of mathematics is a completely separate problem to convince future buyers of such a device. It will be a big hill to climb. Just like what Sir Edward Hillary said once, “You climb it one step at a time.”.

A satellite at a Lagrange Point stays there by definition unless an additional force other than the neutralized gravity force is applied to the satellite.

If you unfurl a ribbon of a given mass and attach it to the Moon’s surface, you have to counteract the gravity pull on the mass of the ribbon, otherwise, the satellite will be pulled away from the Lagrange Point towards the Moon’s surface. To keep it’s relative position stable, fuel must be spent at finely tuned gradual increments of thrust in a precise direction relative to the Moon’s surface. The thrust must be constantly aligned with the force pull from the mass of the unfurling ribbon and the center of mass of the satellite.

This is complicated beyond shear mathematics. The complications involve the reliability and robustness of an automated control system of a satellite that has a hard enough time just staying there and pointed in the right direction. Even the fuel combustion changes due to which side the fuel tank is being heated by the sun or cooled by shadows. I could be wrong, but my point is, going from paper to a real system with fuel sloshing around and valves opening and closing and hydraulic systems actuating the engines, not to mention, the finesse of throttling the thrust of the engines to keep everything going like it does on paper and in 6DOF simulations that take into account the movement of the center of mass as well as the changing moments of inertia, is going to be quite a challenge that holds great financial risk to those who bought in the elevator system.

Moving the satellite further away from the Moon in line with the Lagrange Point may counteract this additional force coming from the mass of the ribbon, thereby neutralizing all of the forces applied to the satellite to keep the satellite stationary relative to the Moon’s surface.

Since the center of mass of the satellite plus the ribbon will always be at the neutral point, the satellite should theoretically remain stationary relative to the Moon’s surface. However, the purpose of the elevator is to lift additional given mass from the surface of the Moon to the satellite. Any additional mass of a surface payload added to the satellite and ribbon mass shall pull on the ribbon a lot at first and dwindle to zero pull at the completion of the lift. This action would require the satellite’s position to be even further from the neutral point at the Lagrange Point. Moving the satellite to this new position and keeping it stationary prior to lifting the surface payload will be difficult to achieve. As soon as the payload is lifted from the surface, the satellite in its neutral position would have to be at an instantaneous given distance from its neutral point. I believe there is no such thing as being in two places at once instant in time. That is why I believe it to be very difficult.

The control system will have to turn engines on and off constantly to maintain a steady lifting force as the mass of the total system acting on the surface payload travels towards the satellite. This difficult task to accomplish must smoothly lift the surface payload, otherwise, going fast and then slow and then fast repeatedly will cause the ribbon to stretch and release which would likely lead to a harmonic oscillation that could grow exponentially and whip the payload around and ultimately snap the ribbon. I believe this has happened to some degree on every space tether experiment to date. Going fast and slow is a relative term and may mean going fast is really, really slow to maintain travel speed stability and to manage the inherent harmonic motion.

Good luck, Michael!


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