The first three posts in this series have discussed the advantages and disadvantages to using rockets, mass drivers or the “PR method” to deliver raw materials to orbit. This post will describe the pros and cons of using a lunar space elevator to achieve that goal.
First, what is a lunar space elevator? The best, most succinct answer to that question can be found on Wikipedia:
A lunar space elevator is a proposed cable running from the surface of the Moon into space.
It would…be constructed with its center of gravity in a stationary position above the surface of the Moon, providing a controlled means to transport people and/or materials between the surface and lunar orbit.
Here are a few videos of how the system may be built and how it might work (h/t LiftPort). Bottom line: the lunar space elevator will allow a continuous flow of lunar regolith to be delivered to orbit for a very low price per pound.
Bottom line: a lunar space elevator will regularly deliver thousands of tons of raw materials to orbit for very little money.
That is, if it works.
Let’s start with the good news:
- Highly efficient – once in place, delivers lots of material with low operating costs (lunar ground ops, ribbon maintenance, interorbital transport, etc.) relative to other systems
- Easy access to large supply
- more technologically achievable than an Earth space elevator
And now the challenges:
- deployment/maintenance on target totally unknown, orbital debris/micrometeorites/radiation destroying/degrading the ribbon
- slow rate of lift – probably not able to carry people
- the giggle factor
- pr issues surrounding excavating the moon i.e. “scarring the surface of the moon”