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Space Elevator vs Wildlife 307

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the check-and-mate dept.
An anonymous reader writes "The longest test yet of the technology that might one day lead to space elevators has revealed some unusual problems. From the article: "There were several unexpected encounters with wildlife. More than a dozen insect egg colonies had been laid on the tether and curious bats flew around the balloons, apparently attracted by the sound made by the tether's vibrations. Late in the test, swallows were also seen swooping down on the balloons, possibly to sip the morning dew on their surfaces." Maybe all the critters just want to go to space too."
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Space Elevator vs Wildlife

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  • by general scruff (938598) on Wednesday September 27, 2006 @08:33AM (#16212999) Journal
    How adaptable nature really is. Other than things that really destroy an environment, all human interaction and structure isn't harmful. Who knows what type of new eco system could be in the works!
  • by Digital Vomit (891734) on Wednesday September 27, 2006 @08:34AM (#16213005) Homepage Journal

    No, you fools! It's mother nature trying to keep us from leaving this planet! She wants to take us down with her!

    "Oooh, so Mother Nature needs a favor?! Well maybe she should have thought of that when she was besetting us with droughts and floods and poison monkeys! Nature started the fight for survival, and now she wants to quit because she's losing. Well I say, hard cheese." - C. M. Burns

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by jimstapleton (999106)
      No, she's just trying to make a bunch of cheesy 60s/70s space horror flics

      "SWALLOWS... IN SPACE!!!"

      Followed by:

      "BATS... IN SPACE!!!"

      Summing up the series with:

      "INSECT EGGS... IN SPACE!!!"

      You have to end the title "IN SPACE!!!"
      • The big one is yet to come.... snakes will crawl up the tether using their sneaky snaky ways and then

        SNAKES... IN SPACE!!!!
    • by xs650 (741277)
      "No, you fools! It's mother nature trying to keep us from leaving this planet! She wants to take us down with her!"

      No, mother nature is looking for a good seat to watch us leave so she can wish us good riddance.
  • by Z1NG (953122) on Wednesday September 27, 2006 @08:36AM (#16213039)
    The space shuttle sucks, a space elevator swallows.
  • swallows (Score:5, Funny)

    by thhamm (764787) on Wednesday September 27, 2006 @08:38AM (#16213067)
    Late in the test, swallows were also seen swooping down on the balloons ...

    african or european swallows?
  • Nature (Score:4, Funny)

    by qwertphobia (825473) on Wednesday September 27, 2006 @08:39AM (#16213075)
    Nature may abhor a vacuum [imdb.com], but it loves a space elevator!
  • by LiquidCoooled (634315) on Wednesday September 27, 2006 @08:41AM (#16213097) Homepage Journal
    Once it gets out into space, wouldn't the long carbon tether become charged?

    Like the static we discharge walking around the office, any critters setting up home will be in for a nasty shock.
    • by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohn@@@gmail...com> on Wednesday September 27, 2006 @08:54AM (#16213229) Journal
      From an industry report [thomasnet.com] I found sometime ago on Slashdot:
      Among the small wonders produced by nanotechnology are carbon nanotubes, an advanced material as strong as diamond. These amazing carbon cylinders possess 100 times the tensile strength of steel and are 10,000 times finer than human hair. They are believed to conduct heat better than any other material, and they can also conduct electricity or function as semiconductors.

      "Nanotubes are astonishingly promising, and I'm a realist, not an optimist," says Rod Ruoff, a mechanical engineering professor at Northwestern University. "It's a question of making the technology cheap enough." In 2001, only 3 kilograms of the highest quality carbon nanotubes--the single-walled variety--were produced worldwide, each gram worth $300, or 30 times as expensive as gold.

      Now, full-scale production of carbon nanotubes is underway at the world's first ever large-scale nanotube factory, built outside Tokyo by the Carbon Nanotech Research Institute, a subsidiary of Japan's Mitsui & Co. The new facility is expected to churn out 10 tons of carbon nanotubes--albeit the lesser quality multi-walled type--a month, and CNRI anticipates the price will be a much more reasonable $80 a kilogram.

      These multi-walled carbon nanotubes may not possess all the impressive properties of their single-walled brethren, but mixed with plastics, they make ultrastrong composites or microscale precision parts. Such carbon nanotube-filled plastics are already being used by automakers in fuel lines because they are conductive and can thus be grounded to release static electricity, which can ignite flammable gasoline.
      But this LiftPort PDF [nyud.net] states:
      One issue brought up is the possibility of discharging the ionosphere. Our calculations based on the size and conductivity of the ribbon and the electrical properties exhibited in our upper atmosphere illustrate that a small area (square meters) around the ribbon could become discharged in the worst conditions. The magnitude of this discharging makes us believe with high confidence that no adverse local or global phenomenon will occur. It also shows that it is unlikely, without considerable effort, that any kind of usable power may be generated by this same method.
      I think your concern is valid though for conduction through the ionoshpere or even on the surface of the nano tube/wire -- what would this huge antenna/conducter do to our atmosphere (if anything)?
      • by khallow (566160)
        Sounds like that paper answered your question. That is, not much will happen.
      • by asuffield (111848) <asuffield@suffields.me.uk> on Wednesday September 27, 2006 @10:27AM (#16214385)
        I think your concern is valid though for conduction through the ionoshpere or even on the surface of the nano tube/wire -- what would this huge antenna/conducter do to our atmosphere (if anything)?


        Probably nothing very different to a good thunderstorm. High voltage discharges through the atmosphere aren't anything unusual. Might not be a good idea to live next to the thing.

        You have to realise that the ionosphere is fundamentally unstable, in the same manner that a waterfall is unstable. It's continually eroding and discharging, and only appears to remain there because it has a continual feed of new energy (from solar radiation). Thunderstorms are the most common way for it to dump excess energy. We could perhaps create a small region in which there is an unusual electric field, but we can't do any real damage any more than you can damage a river by standing in it. It may be assumed that all people and equipment near the top of such an object would have to be shielded in the same manner that all space equipment already has to be (since it operates beyond the ionosphere), so it shouldn't cause any significant problems in that respect. The most likely effect of the thing is to reduce the number of thunderstorms in the immediate area (because there will be less voltage around to cause them).

        It should be an interesting experiment to put up a really tall lightning conductor and see what happens.
    • by _Swank (118097)
      would they really get a shock since they wouldn't be grounded? isn't this how they are able to sit on telephone wires without issue? or am i just making stuff up (i freely admit to knowing nothing about electricity)?
      • by aussie_a (778472)
        i freely admit to knowing nothing about electricity

        Well isn't the answer you're just making stuff up regardless of whether or not what you're making up is true? :P
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by painQuin (626852)
        telephone wires are no problem... it's the power lines you're thinking of, and the reason they can sit on them is because they only sit on one. If something touches both parts of a pair of power cables, zap.
      • by Tim C (15259) on Wednesday September 27, 2006 @09:53AM (#16213927)
        Strictly, you don't need to be grounded in order to recieve a shock, you need to have one part of your body (eg a hand) touching an area of high voltage, while another (eg a foot) touches an area of low(er) potential. That creates a potential difference between the two points, which enables current to flow; it is this current that causes the shock. Birds can sit on power lines because the potential difference between their feet is tiny, and so any current that does flow is insignificant.

        Now the situation is a little different if the object is charged. Then, when you touch it, charge will tend to flow from it to you (as you are uncharged). If you're touching an area of lower potential, you'll get a shock, just as the GP mentions. If not, then you'll simply become charged. What happens then depends on a number of factors; perhaps you'll bleed the charge off naturally, perhaps you'll retain some of it until you ground yourself and get a delayed shock (just as you do when touching metal after charging yourself on carpet, etc).

        I suppose if the thing is charged enough, then the short-lived flow of charge into the body could deliver enough of a shock to be problematic, but I'm an (ex-)physicist, not a physician, so I don't know for sure.
    • Unlikely. For a shock to occur, energy has to flow. Energy only flows if there is a difference in current. Else birds sitting on high voltage wires would get roasted.
      • "Energy only flows if there is a difference in current."

        Should read: 'Energy only flows if there is a difference in voltage.'

        It's the potential difference that causes the current to flow from one point to another; it makes no sense to talk about a 'difference in current' in this context. (You could certainly have a difference of current, but that would be if you had two separate currents and were comparing them.)

        If you connect, via a conductor, an area of higher potential (aka, voltage) to an area of lower
    • Once it gets out into space, wouldn't the long carbon tether become charged?

      Like the static we discharge walking around the office, any critters setting up home will be in for a nasty shock.


      The wildlife will be fine, for the same reason that they don't get toasted when sitting on power line.

  • by radarsat1 (786772) on Wednesday September 27, 2006 @08:46AM (#16213147) Homepage
    The team learned that if the tether is pulled hard by wind, it starts to buckle and deform slightly, creating crinkles. The robot climber hit these crinkles and could not proceed because they made the tether too thick for it to handle.

    "We broke our robot by doing this," Laine says. "It's the kind of failure we never would have learned had we only been doing 6-hour tests." Future designs will have to incorporate sensors to tell the robot when it is about to encounter varying thicknesses.
    Strong but thin


    Hm... do you think that if your tether is beginning to BUCKLE AND DEFORM, you might have a slightly more fundamental problem than just needing to redesign the robot?

    Well, I'm sure they're aware of it. But this kind of thing probably won't become more obvious until they do a 6-month test, I guess. Or 6-years. But the potential for your tether to break off eventually is probably going to be a slight drawback.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by vmcto (833771) *
      Why can't they make the tether resemble a giant 35mm film strip? I think I undertsand that to achieve the strength necessary, the carbon nano-tube structures need to be relatively long and contiguous, but the portions on the edge would only need to be locally strong enough to support the weight of the climber not the weight of the tether itself. And the climber could use an arbitrary large number of the "sockets" on the edge. Perhaps there are good reasons why this wouldn't work, but if it could it would
  • Bats, man. (Score:5, Funny)

    by Rob T Firefly (844560) on Wednesday September 27, 2006 @09:00AM (#16213287) Homepage Journal
    curious bats flew around the balloons, apparently attracted by the sound made by the tether's vibrations
    No, it's just that bats' natural habitats are improbably long tethers that don't really lead anywhere. [wikipedia.org]
  • by e2ka (708498)
    FTFA:

    If the platforms were used as Wi-Fi stations, robots would one day be needed to climb up the tethers to deliver new helium tanks for the balloons (Image: LiftPort Group)

    Or how about a tube running along the tether? Or just using a normal tower for this? I don't see how there can be profit in using a tether system as a glorified radio tower.
    • by aussie_a (778472)
      Thing is, if the elevator's there and that space isn't doing anything, why not whack a few WIFI stations onto it? What's the worst that could happen?
    • by cgenman (325138)
      1. Cheaper to construct
      2. Much higher in the air for better coverage
  • by P3NIS_CLEAVER (860022) on Wednesday September 27, 2006 @09:10AM (#16213391) Journal
    We aren't even 100 orders of magnitude close to having a tether material that work, yet people are spending their time on robot designs that are a trivial problem. Why don't these contests focus on high alitutde tethers?
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      We are within 100 orders of magnitude. 100 orders of magnitude is 10^100 or a Googol. My tennis shoe laces are this close as well.

      Thanks.
      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward
        NASA just called. They want to buy your shoelaces
    • by dfenstrate (202098) * <dfenstrate.gmail@com> on Wednesday September 27, 2006 @10:30AM (#16214405)
      I think you mean two orders of magnitude off, not 100.

      That being said, how far off were we when this idea was first concieved, or practical work began? A factor of 1000? 10,000 ?

      Anyway, we do stuff like this because it's fun and achievable. Most people who follow this sort of thing know that material strength of tether is the current limiting factor, and there is ongoing research in this field.

      But there are plenty of people who don't have the expertise to contribute to the material strength problem, but they can sure have fun screwing around with climbers, can't they? The work has to be done sometime anyway.
    • by ratboy666 (104074)
      100 orders of magnitude? We are a lot closer than that...

      Anyway, your issue is covered in the Fine Article -- the robots are needed to refuel the helium balloons.

      YMMV
      Ratboy
    • by mike2R (721965)
      TFA claims they are thinking of using small tethers to float mobile cells in rural areas. These would need a robot climber to carry helium tanks up to the baloons, so robot design is a problem that needs to be adressed now.
  • This idea just doesn't seem possible. A 60,000 mile tether, strong enough to carry a satellite sitting on a robot elevator all the way up into space. And then successfully deploying the satellite off the elevator. And this would be cheaper than rockets that send satellites into orbit now?

    A space elevator sounds great, it just seems far-fetched. A 100 meter test. Only 96,560,540 more meters to go.
    • by ebassi (591699)

      And this would be cheaper than rockets that send satellites into orbit now?

      as the elevator would stay exactly where it is and as the elevator robot would be reused, it is obviously cheaper on the long run. right now, sending a kg worth of stuff in space costs ~1000 USD; a space elevator would bring down the cost to 10 USD/kg.

      and I won't even mention the secondary gains obtaining when developing a space elevator, in terms of technology and manufacturing breakthroughs.

      A 100 meter test

      the 100 mete

    • by VoidEngineer (633446) on Wednesday September 27, 2006 @09:56AM (#16213957)
      This idea just doesn't seem possible. A 60,000 mile tether, strong enough to carry a satellite sitting on a robot elevator all the way up into space. And then successfully deploying the satellite off the elevator. And this would be cheaper than rockets that send satellites into orbit now?

      A space elevator sounds great, it just seems far-fetched. A 100 meter test. Only 96,560,540 more meters to go.


      Ah, I see that your glass is half empty. While you say "A 100 meter test. Only 96,560,540 more meters to go" implying it's impossible, we say "A 100 meter test! Only 96,560,540 more meters to go" with the idea that we're simply going to do that 100 meter test 965,600 more times. Yes, that oversimplifies things, but it's a half glass full kind of perspective.

      Consider: As I understand it, the wiring in the Golden Gate Bridge, if layed end-to-end, would stretch around the globe three times over. Considering the circumfrence of the earth is something like 40,000km, that would mean that we've already built bridge structures that incorporate over 100,000km of cabling. Granted, the design of the space elevator is completely novel; but this stuff is based on modern engineering understanding.

      People get the scale of this whole project wrong. The initial ribbon would need to be small and slender and thin for weight purpouses of the initial ribbon. After that's established, we would start adding mass to the space elevator, until it's a megastructure, not unlike the Golden Gate Bridge. Eventually, the dream is to create a verticle subway system of sorts. Access to space would be cheaper than rockets once the space elevator was built up to the scale of the Golden Gate Bridge or the New York City Subway System.
      • Why not go top down?

        I always wondered why they couldn't start and the shuttle with some cabling and dropped it down towards the earth. Put enough mass on the end so that it actually reaches the earth and enough thrust on the shuttle (or other vehicle) to keep it up until the rest of the support mechanism is worked out.
        • by Kombat (93720)
          I always wondered why they couldn't start and the shuttle with some cabling and dropped it down towards the earth. Put enough mass on the end so that it actually reaches the earth and enough thrust on the shuttle (or other vehicle) to keep it up until the rest of the support mechanism is worked out.

          Because the shuttle is only capable of Low-Earth-Orbit, which means that once it reaches orbit, it is tracing a track along the surface of the Earth at a speed of around 17,000 mph. It does this at an altitude o
    • by heli0 (659560) on Wednesday September 27, 2006 @10:34AM (#16214483)
      "A circumnavigational flight sounds great, it just seems far-fetched. An 852 foot test. Only 131,472,000 more feet to go."
      -- Overheard circa 1903

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 27, 2006 @09:12AM (#16213413)
    The pollution (and therefore environmental damage) caused by using a rocket to put one ton of payload into space is about a zillion times what would be caused by using the space elevator for the same load. The problem is that the space elevator would be so much cheaper that many more tons of stuff would be put into orbit. So, the total pollution would probably end up being more. On the other hand, we have many more people trying to get into space now. It's probably just a few years before we have at least one private company putting stuff into orbit so the pollution will happen anyway.

    Trying to put everything into perspective, the elevator is probably the least offensive solution in terms of the environment.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Gospodin (547743)
      The pollution (and therefore environmental damage) caused by using a rocket to put one ton of payload into space is about a zillion times what would be caused by using the space elevator for the same load.

      Hey, thanks for putting that in perspective.

    • The pollution (and therefore environmental damage) caused by using a rocket to put one ton of payload into space is about a zillion times what would be caused by

      Wait, wait -- is that U.S. or British zillions?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 27, 2006 @09:22AM (#16213507)
    If the dolphins start trying to jump on these things we might need to start worrying.
  • If these space elevators do take off, would they need their own air traffic control at each one? Imagine a plane clipping one of these things while people are going up? Tower of Terror [go.com] would lose all it's business.
    • by rhaig (24891)
      the navigational charts would list the locations of these elevators and pilots would know to avoid them. Much in the same way that pilots avoid radio towers, restricted military airspace and skydiving operations.

      The base station at each elevator would have a communications office anyway. There would probably be someone on site to act as some sort of ATC though. The airspace around an elevator would likely be controlled or restricted in some manner.
    • by mike2R (721965)
      No, I think we wouldn't bother telling pilots about them, and just let them take they're chances.

      Seriously, who modded this Insightful??
    • by green1 (322787) on Wednesday September 27, 2006 @02:26PM (#16217939)
      we already have proven systems in place to keep air traffic away from stationary objects, what I'd be more concerned with would be failure modes, if something were to cause the tether to break, (wether it be your airplane, or any of a number of other situations) it would seem that there would be a LOT of tether to fall to earth... I certainly wouldn't want to be under it if it fell... and with the length of the tether, I would expect a rather large radius that would have the potential to be affected.

      I would bet this has already been thought of, but I'd be curious to see what came of these thoughts?
  • Ants (Score:5, Interesting)

    by StarfishOne (756076) on Wednesday September 27, 2006 @09:29AM (#16213619)
    Crazy thought:

    Assuming ants can climb up the elevator, I wonder which altitude they could reach, given the fact that they supposedly don't need a lot of oxygen with their small bodies. (I know that ants don't have lungs and breathe through tiny pores, but still)
    • Re:Ants (Score:4, Funny)

      by radish (98371) on Wednesday September 27, 2006 @10:43AM (#16214605) Homepage
      "Ladies and gentlemen, uh, we've just lost the picture, but what we've seen speaks for itself. The Corvair spacecraft has apparently been taken over -- 'conquered' if you will -- by a master race of giant space ants. It's difficult to tell from this vantage point whether they will consume the captive earth men or merely enslave them. One thing is for certain: there is no stopping them; the ants will soon be here. And I for one welcome our new insect overlords. I'd like to remind them that as a trusted TV personality, I can be helpful in rounding up others to toil in their underground sugar caves."

    • Re:Ants (Score:4, Funny)

      by sckeener (137243) on Wednesday September 27, 2006 @12:45PM (#16216215)
      On behalf of Texas and most of the South, I will gladly send all our fireants [wikipedia.org] to space.
  • Wonkavator (Score:3, Funny)

    by urbonix (644718) on Wednesday September 27, 2006 @09:36AM (#16213703)
    The snozberries taste like snozberries.
  • Isn't this how Earth aracnids manage to enter space and mutate. Once we have interstellar travel, we might reencounter another space faring species from Earth.
  • I would've guessed that wildlife would've been their last worry. I didn't read the article, but did they mention how a space elevator would WICK THE EARTH'S ATMOSPHERE INTO OUTER SPACE! First person to try and build one of these things is gonna get a swift kick straight to the nuts, so help me...
  • I can see tethered cellular towers as well as WiFi towers (802.11n, something with some range) at elevations of a few thousand feet -- high enough to give them excellent line-of-sight coverage, but below air traffic corridors.

    In situations like Katrina, or western wildfires, these could reinstate the communications grid very quickly and at minimal cost.

    All they need as payloads would be a solar cell array and batteries for power (or run a power cable up the tether), a lightweight omnidirectional antenna, an
  • by foniksonik (573572) on Wednesday September 27, 2006 @10:04AM (#16214077) Homepage Journal
    Welcome our new Irradiated Insect Eating Mutant Swallow-Bat Hybrid Overlords

    Luckily we will be able to shoot them off the elevator with the laser beam that powers to climber ;-p
  • ..when you compare it to the support city that will spring up around the base of any such endeavor.

    I'm not saying that is a bad thing, btw. If done will, maybe this technology would be cleaner overall than rockets or some kind of mythical antigravity fusion powered jet-pack thing.
  • by Rankiri (1002633) on Wednesday September 27, 2006 @10:54AM (#16214753)
    Here's a quote from an IEEE Spectrum article (Aug, 2005):

    "It now costs about US $20 000 per kilogram to put objects into orbit. Contrast that rate with the results of a study I recently performed for NASA, which concluded that a single space elevator could reduce the cost of orbiting payloads to a remarkably low $200 a kilogram and that multiple elevators could ultimately push costs down below $10 a kilogram. With space elevators we could eventually make putting people and cargo into space as cheap, kilogram for kilogram, as airlifting them across the Pacific."

    The article answers many space elevator-related questions. Those who want to know more about the project can read it here:

    http://spectrum.ieee.org/aug05/1690 [ieee.org]

    There are some technical problems (mainly related to construction of the cable) to be solved first, but the space elevator idea is definitely worth serious consideration, as it could provide humanity with extremely cheap and easy access to space.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by khallow (566160)
      The IEEE article is off by almost an order of magnitude. Russia puts stuff into space for $3,000 to $4,000 per kg, maybe less these days. I think both the Atlas V and the Ariane V are well under $10,000 per kg. In fact, the only commonly used launch system that costs $20,000 per kg is the Space Shuttle and it certainly is disingenuous to compare your phatom project to one of the most expensive launch vehicles ever.
  • Maybe... (Score:4, Funny)

    by CrackedButter (646746) on Wednesday September 27, 2006 @11:01AM (#16214817) Homepage Journal
    Maybe the wildlife is trying to let us in on what the Dolphins already know?
  • by Ruvim (889012) on Wednesday September 27, 2006 @03:09PM (#16218807)
    ... we could use them to power the Space Elevator!

It is impossible to travel faster than light, and certainly not desirable, as one's hat keeps blowing off. -- Woody Allen

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