Space travel without rockets could be possible as per a new study that describes the development of a lunar elevator could be developed. This elevator could be used to transport lunar resources to Earth. The study's authors, University of Columbia astronomy PhD candidates Zephyr Penoyre and Emily Sandford believe it can be done for a few billion dollars. This is proposed in their study published in 2019.
Helium-3, a rare type of helium from the moon, could be used in fusion power plants on Earth. Rare elements like neodymium could be mined and shipped back to Earth for usage in smartphones and other electrical devices. The majority of the 400,000km to Earth would be covered by a cable anchored to the lunar surface. Due to the relative movements of the two objects, it couldn't be directly linked to the Earth, but it would end high up in Earth orbit. That would also put it above the bulk of our space trash, which is becoming more of an issue as more satellites are launched into space. Solar-powered robotic shuttles might go up and down the cable, serving as a conveyor belt for important resources to be transported back.
Space travel, resource mining could be done by a Lunar Elevator
The study states, “Perhaps the biggest hurdle to mankind’s expansion throughout the Solar System is the prohibitive cost of escaping Earth’s gravitational pull. In its many forms, the space elevator provides a way to circumvent this cost, allowing payloads to traverse along a cable extending from Earth to orbit. However, modern materials are not strong enough to build a cable capable of supporting its own weight. In this work, we present an alternative to the classic space elevator, within reach of modern technology: The Spaceline. By extending a line, anchored on the moon, to deep within Earth’s gravity well, we can construct a stable, traversable cable allowing free movement from the vicinity of Earth to the Moon’s surface. With current materials, it is feasible to build a cable extending to close to the height of geostationary orbit, allowing easy traversal and construction between the Earth and the Moon.”
How would the Lunar Elevator work?
The wire would be slightly thicker than a pencil and would weigh 40 tonnes, as per the research. This is well within the capabilities of contemporary rockets like SpaceX's Starship. Unlike a space elevator that travels from Earth's surface into space, a lunar elevator that stops just short of the Earth would not be subjected to massive gravity forces. The Moon, like the Earth, has no atmosphere, which makes things easier for an elevator. That means the cable might be manufactured from current materials like Kevlar rather than the super-strong materials needed for an Earth-to-space elevator that has yet to be produced.
Artemis mission and potential monetary benefits from Moon's resources
Every year, Jeff Bezos sells $1 billion in Amazon stock to support his Blue Origin space tourism enterprise. The Artemis mission, which will carry the first female astronaut and the first astronaut of colour to the Moon later this decade, is estimated to cost $86 billion. On July 26, Jeff Bezos wrote an open letter to NASA offering a discount of $2 billion for allowing his company to build a moon lander. Because the Moon's resources are so valuable, another research calculated that a lunar elevator would pay for itself in just 53 flights. NASA has negotiated agreements with international partners to supply several components for the gateway, including the European Space Agency (ESA), Russia, Japan, and Canada.
China's plans for space missions and research
These two studies and programmes could be integrated in the future. In June 2021, China's publication, Global Times, revealed the country's plan for a "Sky Ladder". For this a spaceship would be launched up an elevator from Earth's surface to a waiting space station, then launched towards the Moon, where it would meet another elevator and be lowered to the lunar surface. As reported by them, China also has plans to explore asteroids and the Jovian system, which comprises Jupiter and its moons.