by Mark Ollig
In 2007, yours truly wrote how a nanotube ribbon-like material, might be used to build a space elevator which would “lift” payloads into Earth orbit.
The idea is, instead of using rockets to get cargo into space, why not build an elevator with a type of unbreakable cable extending from the ground, to a counter-balanced object fixed in a geostationary-orbit many miles above the Earth.
It would be a reusable space elevator, with one end of its ribbon-like cable anchored into the earth, and the other end reaching about 22,000 miles above the Earth.
It would maintain its stability and equilibrium by being attached to a counterweight traveling parallel with Earth’s orbit.
This miles-long ribbon cable, made from strengthened nanotube materials, would be the physical medium on which a conveyor belt would transport from Earth into space (or from space back to Earth), an attached cargo capsule.
All of this sounded like an attainable goal to me; but remember folks; I’ve watched a lot of “Star Trek.”
Famous science-fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke wrote about a space elevator in his 1979 book, “The Fountains of Paradise.”
Before he passed away in 2008, he was asked when he thought the space elevator would be built.
“My answer is, about 10 years after everyone stops laughing,” he replied.
Well, Mr. Clarke, today some people have definitely stopped laughing.
A revolutionary new strength material called “diamond nanothreads,” has the potential to be used for constructing the super-strong cable strands needed to support a space elevator.
These diamond nanothreads are extremely thin, and yet exceptionally strong.
In fact, it promises to be stronger and more resilient than carbon nanotubes, heavy-duty conventional polymers, and high-strength materials like Kevlar.
I watched a recently made video by John V. Badding, a professor of chemistry at Penn State University, who leads the research team that discovered how to produce these diamond nanothreads.
“We’ve made a tiny thread of diamond,” begins Badding, sitting at a desk next to a computer monitor showing a 3D image of the individual molecule structure of this new diamond nanothread – which has never been seen before.
“It is as if an incredible jeweler has strung together the smallest possible diamonds into a long miniature necklace,” Badding explained.
The video shows one of the key features of this diamond structure as being the carbon atoms linked together by bonds in all three dimensions. Each of the carbon atoms is linked to four other carbon atoms, forming a configuration known as a tetrahedron.
Badding emphasized a diamond “is the hardest material known, to human-kind. It’s just about the strongest material known as well.”
He described cutting a thread out of a diamond structure, and fashioning a diamond nanothread.
The lengthy diamond nanothread image he showed was made up of carbon tetrahedrons having hydrogen atoms connected in a twisting, DNA-like image.
A beautiful, high definition, colorized photo of this diamond nanothread can be seen at: http://tinyurl.com/mbh6qcs.
Diamond nanothreads open up possibilities for a whole new variety of strong, yet light, materials.
For example, new material based on diamond nanothreads, could be used to build lighter, and thus, more fuel-efficient vehicles.
Badding also speculated how diamond nanothreads could bring the building of the futuristic geostationary space elevator closer to becoming a reality.
It is believed these diamond nanothread materials will be able to tolerate the incredible stresses a 22,000-mile-high space elevator would need to withstand.
One can only imagine the cost for diamond threads some 22,000-miles long.
Still, the idea of an elevator lifting cargo to the International Space Station, or, whatever science-living quarters humans will have orbiting the Earth in the future – is intriguing.
Building a space elevator would have to be considered humanity’s greatest engineering feat.
Imagine, someday, there may be human-operated spacecraft in orbit around a planet (Mars, for example), sending and receiving equipment to and from the surface using a space elevator.
Here’s a shortened link to the Penn State University YouTube video: http://tinyurl.com/p2len5w.
Photo source: http://science.psu.edu/