In real life, a space elevator to geosynchronous Earth orbit won’t be seen for a awhile, waiting for better materials technology and a little safer orbital debris environment. However, a few days ago I read about a similar effort that can help develop the technology in the interim. The side of the Moon that we always see faces not only us, but also the Earth-Moon L1 Lagrange point, and a company called LiftPort wants to build a space elevator between the lunar surface and that Lagrange point. In case you’re not familiar with Lagrange points, they are areas of gravitational equilibrium between two bodies (stars, planets, moons) in space…places where items follow different orbital rules. You can put something in a Lagrange point and it just kind of hangs there. Different Lagrange points can be used for different things depending on location and the need for stability (some Lagrange points are more stable than others).
Liftport wants to use a lunar space elevator to lift resources from the moon and gently land spacecraft down to it to aid the development of humanity’s space expansions, including the development of an Earth-based space elevator. The company recently launched a letter writing campaign to the U.S. Congress to try and get a NASA funded project going.
It would require a lot in the way of startup funding to move such a project forward of course. They would have to lift a whole heck of a lot of equipment to the lunar surface, something that is still very expensive right now. Will they build a spacecraft that can land on the moon and then build the system using robotics? Or will they send people? Such a project would almost have to have a high-value return (cash crop) already planned out and ready to deliver all the way back to the Earth’s surface in order to fund its operation immediately after it is built, so several Earth-return vehicles would need to also land on the moon. So this is really two separate, expensive, projects. There are such products there, Helium 3 is very expensive here on Earth and existing supply is almost depleted. It might seem like low-hanging fruit since it is believed to be plentiful on the Moon, yet its rarity also limits demand at the moment. Someone needs to deliver more of it here to get that started. Is Liftport’s lunar elevator the best way to launch a lunar Helium3 mining industry? Maybe they can partner with someone else to do the actual mining. Maybe they can get their startup funding through partnerships with a variety of lunar commercial startup interests.
I wonder how useful that Lagrange point really is in comparison to the moon itself as a launch destination and point of origin. It doesn’t really take much to launch from the lunar surface with rockets, and I’m guessing that a Lagrange point is a less convenient routine destination than the moon, since gravity won’t be able to decelerate arriving spacecraft. Is it easier to rover the dust and other things to the space elevator teather for lift, or just launch it from wherever it is straight to space and an Earth-return orbit all in one shot?
It’ll be fun to watch and see where this goes…more fun than talking about Justin Bieber‘s uninvited house guest. Yes, I included that because he’s trending again today and I am shamelessly entering this much more important space elevator topic into that discussion. Shame, shame shame… 😉