Nanotechnology Project


Nanotechnology Gives Lift to Space Elevator

Tuesday, May 30, 2006 • 12:30 PM

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Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars • 5th Floor Conference Room

WASHINGTON – In 1979, celebrated science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke wrote about a “space elevator” that someday would transport people and cargo between the earth and planets or platforms in space. Outrageous as the concept sounds, an “Earth-Sputnik-Earth” elevator was proposed by a Soviet engineer in 1960.

As incredible as it might seem, nanotechnology might provide the materials that could make this science fiction writer’s fantasy into a reality. Often described as a transformative technology, nanotechnology might offer the means to overcome that greatest barrier to space exploration—gravity.

Today, a company based in Bremerton, Washington is working toward the goal of building a space elevator. Since their founding in 2003, LiftPort, Inc. has gone through 14 generations of robots, successfully climbed over 1000 feet, and opened their first carbon nanotube factory in Millville, NJ. They envision a carbon nanotube composite ribbon—like a small railroad track—stretching some 62,000 miles from earth to space. Robotic elevator cars—“lifters”—would move up and down the ribbon, carrying payloads of satellites, solar power systems, exploration probes, factories, and eventually passengers.

Is Clarke, who predicted the use of satellites, right again? Does nanotechnology potentially make a space elevator more than a science fiction dream?