What is a Space Elevator?
The Space Elevator is a system based on a super-strong ribbon going from the surface of the Earth to a point beyond geosynchronous orbit. The tether is held in place by a counterweight in orbit; as the Earth rotates, the tether is held taut. The idea behind a Space Elevator is that vehicles would then climb the ribbon powered by a source of power on ground, not on the vehicle itself. One such way would be to beam energy projected from the surface of the Earth.
A space elevator would be a reusable, low-cost solution to getting material, and people into space. Currently, most of the fuel on rockets is used to carry more fuel. Secondly, no solutions are actively being employed to reuse spacecraft or launch mechanisms. As a result, almost all rockets and capsules launched into space are single use. A space elevator is both reusable, nor does it carry its own fuel thus solving two of the largest problems with current launch services.
Currently, space elevators are viewed to have two primary challenges, or components that need to be developed:
- the tether to connect the orbiting mass to earth
- the climber and associated power beaming mechanism
The USST focused their work on developing a climber and power beaming mechanism.
Space Elevators. USST's Beginnings
In 2005 the USST was unknown to the world as a small group of individuals set out to solve one of the largest challenges faced by the space industry, how to get into space at a low cost. NASA put out a challenge to the world, Elevator:2010. Your challenge, develop a tether strong enough, and a method of power beaming that combined will enable the world to construct a space elevator.
Several students from the College of Engineering at the University of Saskatchewan realized they were the best team to respond to this challenge. And that, turned out to be true. The USST demonstrated through continual achievements how rapidly advancements can be made in this technology, pushing the boundary at each and every competition.
From 2005-2009 the team moved from large designs, to simplistic high power systems. Each year the team's custom-built systems demonstrated what is necessary to achieve the impossible. The USST won the first three competitions, and placed third in the final competition in 2009. As a part of this team members participated in a solar panel construction workshop. Two team members went to Ottawa to learn how to assemble, and manufacture their own solar panels.
Japan Space Elevator Competition
After the cumulation of the NASA Competition, Space Elevator 2010 the USST was not ready to give up on space elevators. So early 2010 saw the team move into a new competition, Japan Space Elevator Competition. At this competition, the USST demonstrated superior technology that resulted in a battery powered climber that had a power/weight ratio better than Formula 1 cars. However, the team was not there to compete, but as a technology demonstration to those competing in the competition.