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Space Elevator
Going up...

"In one moment, Earth; in the next, Heaven."
Academician Prokhor Zakharov, Sid Meierís Alpha Centauri

A concept that gets kicked around a lot in Speculative Fiction as well as among real-life futurists. Exactly What It Says on the Tin: an elevator riding up into space on a cable stretched from Earth into orbit.

Physics dictates the placement. It would need to be placed on the equator, and stretch up in such a way that the center of mass for the system was beyond the geosynchronous orbit level. That means at least 22,000 miles up. Hope the music doesn't suck.

The best materials science we have today tells us that the only known material with a high enough strength-to-weight ratio would be carbon nanotube cable. We so far don't have the ability to manufacture it in the lengths needed. Other theoretical methods include dynamic-support, essentially a stream of magnetized bullets whose momentum pushes up the cable. The idea is surprisingly plausible from a physics standpoint, is judged as medium-hard on the Mohs Scale, and would, once the construction cost was paid off, reduce the cost of putting payloads into orbit. It's been said that we could have a working space elevator about 50 years after everyone stopped laughing. Most of them have.

Many works of fiction suggest building a prototype on the Moon or Mars (before tackling Earth), as the lower gravity makes it easier (and safer in case something goes wrong). Those suggesting Mars are reasonable, although there is a moon between the Martian surface and synchronous orbit. On the plus side, there is a second moon just outside synchronous orbit, which would be handy to use as material to make the elevator.

Lunar space elevators would be placed on the lunar farside pointing away from Earth towards the Earth-Moon L2 Lagrange point. These would actually have to be several times longer than their terrestrial counterparts, but the Moon's low gravity means it's still possible with current materials.

These are sometimes known as "beanstalks", after Jack and the Beanstalk.

Compare Star Scraper.

Examples

    open/close all folders 

    General 

    Anime & Manga 
  • Dirty Pair
  • Bubblegum Crisis Tokyo 2040 has a skyhook.
  • In Gunnm/Battle Angel Alita, Zalem (Tiphares) is at the bottom of a space elevator.
  • One of these plays a significant role in Super Dimension Century Orguss; the ruins of one also play a role in the sequel, Orguss 02.
  • Tekkaman Blade goes one step further, with an entire orbital ring.
  • Kurau Phantom Memory has a space elevator to facilitate travel between Earth and a moon colony.
  • Mobile Suit Gundam 00. Space elevator infrastructure is a major part of the backstory, and every global superpower has one of its own. In fact, whether or not a country or a union has access to one of these determines whether they're considered developing or developed. All three are connected to and serve as the distribution network for the power supplied by an artificial ring of solar energy collectors that encircle Earth and serves as the basis for the energy needs of the 24th century.

    Aeolia Schenberg, the primary founder of Celestial Being, was a major contributor to the space elevator network, and even used his contacts with the many scientific communities at the time to form an Ancient Conspiracy, the objective of which was to gain technological superiority over the forming global status quo, even coopting a mission to Jupiter to ensure that their technological edge was maintained. Even the Humongous Mecha of the series were initially developed to defend the elevators from terrorist attacks and military intervention. (Supplementary materials describe Humongous Mecha which are basically normal units turned into elevator compartments, with their chassis attached to long cables which drag them to wherever on the thousand kilometers of elevator they are required to be.)

    The series also makes a point out of how incredibly fragile such a structure would be. Nobody wants to fight around those things since even the slightest damage could cause the whole structure to collapse (and leave a third of the world without electrical power). Naturally, in the proud Gundam tradition of dropping large objects onto Earth, one of the towers is damaged late in the series and is forced to jettison its outer shell in order to remain upright and balanced. The damage from the millions of tons of falling debris is nothing short of devastating.
  • A Space Elevator named Spiras is built in Tokyo Bay in Silent Mobius. Shame it's main role is to get blown up so Katsumi can face her past.
  • Zone of the Enders: Deloris, i has a space elevator built on Earth, and is the main mechanism by which goods and people are shuttled to and from the surface of the planet. It features heavily in some episodes, and is a critical part of the plot in the later part of the series.
  • A space elevator extends up from the Capital in Eureka Seven, though it's only shown a handful of times. It's called the Megaroad in the movie.
  • In Mahou Sensei Negima! Negi mentions that using these is a part of his project to terraform Mars.
    • UQ Holder, the sequel, features it prominently. The physics are a bit iffy, but given the presence of magic in the setting it's likely Magitek.
  • In Legend of Galactic Heroes, the planet Fezzan is depicted with one, although it is just simply used to connect to its spaceport sited in outer space.
  • In the A Certain Magical Index movie Miracle of Endymion, Academy City debuts a space elevator called Endymion. Index compares it to the Tower of Babel. It turns out the elevator's creators deliberately modeled Endymion to be like the Tower of Babel in an attempt to ruin the world by recreating the original Biblical disaster.
  • GunBuster has cable cars running to space in the final episode.

    Literature 
  • Arthur C. Clarke
    • He did not invent the idea, but his novel The Fountains of Paradise was among the first to promote the concept to the general public.
    • This extends to his other works, including in Firstborn which were destroyed (cut off) when the Spacers retaliated against Earth dropping a nuke on Mars, with surprisingly low (or even zero) casualty, since the cable fell and burned, while the station was floating around in orbit.
    • The final sequel to 2001: A Space Odyssey (3001: The Final Odyssey) features not one, not two, but four space elevators (one each in Africa, South America, Indonesia, and the Pacific) connected by a ring. Built of Jupiter's diamond core that got blown to bits when the planet became a tiny star in 2010.
    • The Last Theorem also features a space elevator, which like the one in The Fountains of Paradise is built in Sri Lanka, far from the equator. An author's note explains, tongue-in-cheek, that for The Fountains of Paradise he moved Sri Lanka south until it rested on the equator, and for The Last Equation, to make a change, he moved the equator north.
    • The Songs of Distant Earth features a spaceship with a built-in space elevator - the ship remains in orbit and lowers a cable to the planet's surface to take on or discharge cargo.
  • In "Foundation's Triumph", we learn that Trantor (a planet-wide city) apparently used a network of space elevators to transport people and supplies to and from Trantor, at least until the Great Sack.
  • Charles Sheffield's novel The Web Between the Worlds was published almost simultaneously with Clarke's, and bears some close similarities, including a near miss with the name of the protagonist. However in a foreword to Sheffield's novel, Clarke discounts any suggestion of plagiarism, pointing out merely that the space elevator was an idea whose time had come.
  • Charles Sheffield's Summertide, in the Heritage Universe series provides us with a retractable space elevator, the Umbilical, strung between two planets that, of course, share a barycenter - Quake and Opal - in orbit around the stellar focus of their planetary system.
  • Mentioned in Robert A. Heinlein's Friday (the title character complains about how riding one nauseates her).
  • In The Science of Discworld books, humanity will eventually build a whole network of space elevators.
  • Kim Stanley Robinson's Red Mars features a space elevator on Mars and the effect of bringing one down. And by Green Mars there are several on Earth.
  • Old Man's War by John Scalzi has a space elevator. Interestingly, it's gratuitously unrealistic in universe— even though Space Elevators are compatible with the laws of physics, this particular one isn't (its center of mass isn't far enough from the surface.) That it works anyway is one of the first indications that the Colonial Union, who built it, is hiding technology up its sleeve.
  • In Accelerando by Charles Stross, space elevators are used to disassemble the inner solar system into computronium.
  • In Saturn's Children, Mars has one giant space elevator called Bifrost.
  • Chasm City by Alastair Reynolds has a space elevator on the planet Sky's Edge; the main character gets attacked while he's riding it into orbit.
  • Robert L. Forward's various books often feature these.
    • The hero of Timemaster owns a company that made him a trillionaire largely through building space rotavators and related technology. Rotavators don't touch the ground, they are large cables that are rotating slowly with good momentum. On Earth they just barely touch the upper atmosphere and are timed to touch down in specific location every few hours so a large plane can load a capsule on to the Rotavator. It should be noted the author was the head of the NASA team that designed them...
    • Dragon's Egg and Starquake feature aliens living on a neutron star who, after getting help from orbiting human astronauts in kick-starting a scientific revolution, rapidly advance literally overnight to building space elevators of a variety of types.
  • The Great Glass Elevator enters space in Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator (the sequel to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory), though not on a cable. It uses a cable with "skyhooks". One end is hooked to the elevator, the other to... Hey! Look! A convenient distraction! That's more Wonka deflecting the question by handwaving the Elevator's support/propulsion mechanism than a genuine explanation. Essentially, the book does not contain an explanation. The elevator also has "rockets" which the illustrations depict as nothing more than an exhaust bell underneath, attached to the outside of the glass, with no sign of the rest of the rocket engine or the fuel tanks. Really the thing works by something between Applied Phlebotinum and magic, and it is not useful to try and explain it rationally.
  • Halo expanded universe:
    • There is a space elevator in the novel Contact Harvest. This being Halo, it of course doesn't last long.
    • Another one is destroyed above Earth by the Spartans during their fight with the Covenant.
    • The Covenant destroy the very first one in Halo 3: ODST, via the damage inflicted on in Halo 2. The very first space elevator was in New Mombasa.
    • There's another one in Corbulo Academy in Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn. It's destroyed by plasma fire...though there's a twist in that there's people still aboard it, which then have at least a minute of falling time before they start hitting the ground.
  • A substantial portion of David Gerrold's novel Jumping off the Planet takes place aboard a space elevator.
  • In the Wing Commander novel Action Stations, recounting the initial events of the Terran-Kilrathi war the Kilrathi target, as part of their attack on the Confederation base at McAuliffe (Pearl Harbor IN SPACE), the skyhook that supports the base, using torpedoes with the newly developed capability of bypassing the massive shielding on bases and capital warships, against which fighters were otherwise mostly useless, relegating them to scouting or other supporting roles.
  • In John C. Wright's Golden Age trilogy, there is a space elevator on Earth. Phaethon zooms up the space elevator after getting back his spiffy armor, to face his trial. On his return from the spoiler, since he was exiled from the Golden Oecumene, he has to take the long way down. The stairs.
  • In a short story by Iain M. Banks, terrorists give the protagonist a powerful Culture-built handgun that only he can use, and try to blackmail him into taking out a government target with it. While contemplating what the weapon is capable of, the protagonist imagines using it to destroy the planet's Space Elevator, trying to picture the resulting destruction and idly wondering whether it would come crashing to the ground or simply spin off into space.
  • Also by Banks, Feersum Endjinn is set in a giant castle-like structure which used to be the Earth terminal of a space elevator.
  • A space elevator enables the premise of Frank Schštzing's novel Limit. (Which is: The worthwhile mining for Helium-3 on the moon.)
  • In the Uplift novel Sundiver, Earth had two of these by the 23rd century. They're named Vanilla Needle and Chocolate Needle.
  • In Niven & Barnes's The Barsoom Project, Cowles Industries host a major conference to recruit nations' and other megacorps' support of a Mars-terraforming program that would use this in its operation. The possibility of building one on Earth after a Martian version has been proven safe and reliable is also discussed.
    • In The California Voodoo Game, the villain's corporate espionage is suspected to have been committed on behalf of the Ecuadorian government, which has a vested interest in learning Cowles' Space Elevator designs due to Ecuador being one of the few suitable sites for one.
  • In Marrow, the eponymous world at the core of the Great Ship is connected to the rest of the ship by a small space elevator, which moves extremely quickly to pass through the containment fields surrounding Marrow.
  • The planet Leeshore in Robert Reed's novel The Leeshore has a largely decrepit space elevator, maintained by a few hundred workers at a long-forgotten refueling planet. The elevator is armed with a variety of lasers to blow up anything approaching it, including the Living Gasbags which block out the sky everywhere on the planet. The workers cut the elevator's tether point out of spite when their settlement is attacked, causing the elevator to go soaring out of the atmosphere.

    Live-Action TV 

    Tabletop Games 
  • Android has the iconic Beanstalk built at the city of New Angeles by Jack Weyland, founder of Mega Corp. Weyland Consortium.
  • The Traveller 2300 Tabletop RPG had the "Beanstalk" adventure, which involved a Space Elevator on the planet Beta Canum.
  • The 2300 AD Tabletop RPG had the "Beanstalk" adventure, which involved a Space Elevator on the planet Beta Canum Venaticorum.
  • The Tabletop RPG Jovian Chronicles has one on Mars, but the one on Earth proved to be too difficult to engineer in the high terrestrial gravity and thick atmosphere. Earth uses "Skyhooks", shorter versions, where the top is in low orbit, and the bottom flies in the stratosphere, moving cargo between high-altitude planes and low-flying spacecraft.
  • A Shadowrun supplement had several Mega Corps planning to build a Space Elevator atop Mt. Kilimanjaro, over objections of some of the most powerful nature spirits in Africa.
  • Transhuman Space has the Olympus Project in Kenya, although it hasn't been completed yet. As in other examples, there's a completed elevator on Mars, linking Diemos to New Shanghai.
  • Called "Orbital Spires" in Warhammer 40,000 because it sounds fancier. Since most factions already have aerospace crafts that can cheaply move people to and from a planet's surface they're mostly used by Forge Worlds for heavy cargo lifting.
  • Numenera has one of these in the northern section of the Beyond. It's called the Beanstalk, and has been conflated with the story of Jack and the Beanstalk by the locals, who have no idea how to work it.
  • Dragonstar has the "skyhook" on the planet Aelding, which the local silver dragons use to be the galaxy's leading spacecraft manufacturers.

    Video Games 
  • Mega Man X8's problems eventually revolve around a Space Elevator. Sort of. As is typical for a Mega Man game, an entire level is built around riding the Space Elevator to the top. Oddly enough, the writer's couldn't seem to figure out exactly what they wanted their Space Elevator to be. In the opening intro, it's depicted as some kind of tubular, spiraling roadway, with car-type vehicles driving up and down the outside of the tube (one explodes and falls into the park, setting off the story). Later, X, Zero and Axl take an actual elevator up to the top, which takes about five minutes and involves enemies dropping in from above, when any movement inside an actual elevator would be difficult due to zero-g and the fact that the car would have to be sealed...
  • In Xenosaga we see an Orbital Elevator over the planet of Fifth Jerusalem.
  • The Helghast in Killzone 3 have one that works on laser propulsion.
  • F-Zero GX has a track set on a space elevator, Cosmo Terminal: Trident. It's particularly difficult as it is a network of three paths, none of which have safety railings. For the first two laps the track is constantly moving upwards, providing a disorienting background to distract you, and only on the final lap does the elevator reach the spaceport at the top.
  • In Civilization 4 the Space Elevator is a wonder you can build, which boosts by half production on space ship parts required to win the Alpha Centauri victory.
  • It's also a wonder in Call to Power, where it creates a space city above the city containing the wonder, and allows units to travel between the two without the drawbacks of other space launch methods.
  • It is also a Secret Project in Sid Meierís Alpha Centauri (the movie for which provides the page quote), which doubles the energy (i.e. cash flow) at the base you build it at, doubles the speed with which all your bases can build orbital improvements (satellites and space installations that give your whole faction benefits), and lifts the requirement that any base building an orbital improvement have an Aerospace Complex. Since orbital improvements are pretty darn awesome (Orbital Hydroponics Stations give each base +1 Nutrients to grow faster; Orbital Power Transmitters give you +1 extra Energy per base, potentially giving you loads of cash; Nessus Mining Stations give you +1 Minerals per base, letting you build stuff faster; and Orbital Defense Pods give you a 50% chance of stopping Planet Busters), provided you haven't pissed off Planet too much, so this is kind of a big deal.
  • Halo
    • In Halo 2, the New Mombassa Space Elevator is destroyed when Regret's Assault Carrier enters slipspace within the city itself. In Halo 3, the Master Chief must fight his way along a highway in the same region, around which scattered bits of the elevator can be seen. One Marine mentions it's scattered over East Africa. The actual collapse of the elevator is seen in Halo 3: ODST. The "cable" part of the elevator floats off into space while the massive ring things around it come loose and fall to earth.
  • Latale has the Bifrost map, which is called a space elevator, though instead of riding an actual elevator up, you have to climb the entire thing.
  • In Dystopia, there are five space elevators located on or very near the equator, and four of them are the traditional kind. However, one of those is anchored to Atlantis, a free floating city in the Atlantic Ocean. It has yet to be explained how the elevator maintains geosynchronous orbit.
  • In Sonic Colors, this is how Dr. Eggman's intergalactic amusement park is accessed from Earth. This being a Sonic game, of course, you eventually descend on foot.
  • The world of Syndicate Wars has one in Colombo, Sri Lanka, a Shout-Out to Arthur C. Clarke who lived there. You take a ride on it in the final missions.
  • In RefleX the boss fight against Scorpio takes place in one of these, while climbing.
  • In Infinite Space, orbital elevators are the usual method for space travelers to travel between orbital spaceports and planetary surfaces.
  • The last part of Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine happens inside one of those Orbital Spires mentioned above, since it happens to act as a fairly good grounding rod for the Big Bad's warp portal.
  • In EV Nova the Kane Band, an artificial ring around Earth's equator, is connected to the surface by six space elevators, colloquially known as Kane's Ladders.
  • In Border Down, the enemy forces try to topple a space elevator on the colonized and terraformed Mars in order to destroy the Martian capital of Sheffield. Frank destroys the elevator by accident trying to defend it
  • In The Old Republic, several of these installations, known as "gravity hooks", exist on the surface of Makeb. Interestingly, thanks to the Star Wars universe's Casual Interstellar Travel, they're horrifically inefficient; they are mostly useful on planets such as Makeb where the atmosphere is unstable enough to pose a threat to spacecraft.

    Web Comics 
  • Schlock Mercenary features one on Luna (The Moon). It is destroyed as a result of the Partnership Collective's sabotage of the Toughs' first flagship, causing a massive amount of damage. The Earth courts decided to inflict equal damage on the group of conscience-less lawyer drones — and gave a contract to Tagon's Toughs to destroy one million of them. Cue a Running Gag — a snake with tie will die.
  • This Irregular Webcomic! shows a problem with space elevator: two days of elevator music.
  • In Real Life Comics, Tony builds a space elevator to his space station, except it has a retractable elevator cable, making it more of a "space rope-ladder".
  • xkcd
    • A comic suggests that, since a space elevator will be built 50 years after everyone stops laughing, all we have to do is put Mind of Mencia on every channel and wait.
    • A later one illustrates a rather severe setback in such an elevator's grand opening.
  • In the backstory of Drowtales, the Val'Nabhan'veaka clan of Chel'el'sussoloth essentially wanted to build one of those, though instead of to space it went to the Surface from the Underworld. Unfortunately, the Skyhole collapsed during construction and set off a series of Disaster Dominoes that continue to resound in the present day.
  • Westward uses a space elevator in place of Space Planes or Teleporters and Transporters as a means of travel between the titular Cool Starship and a planet's surface. The elevator is portable — it is carried around by the starship, deployed at a planet as needed, then pulled up and stored on board again for the next trip. Needless to say it breaks some rules of physics and engineering (though no more so than transporters and shuttlecraft, perhaps) but it provides a unique alternative with an "analog" feel, which was the author's stated purpose for it.

    Web Original 
  • In The Pentagon War, the bigger asteroids in the Human-Centauri star system have space elevators to ferry cargo and passengers from the space stations to the surface. They can get away with it because the surface gravity of these asteroids is only 0.5%-1% of Earth's, so the elevator cables won't snap under their own weight.

    Western Animation 
  • Centurions has one, but it's set up more as a train, rather sensibly, as the ride is looong.
  • Generator Rex has one leading to an orbital research station.
  • On Rocko's Modern Life Ed Bighead starts off (literally) at the bottom of Conglom-O, but as he makes good company decisions (using a "Magic Meatball"), he quite literally moves up in the company via an elevator, until the view outside his office is the Earth from space.
  • In Ed, Edd n Eddy, Ed spends most of an episode building one out of junk that reaches the moon.

    Real Life 
  • Some people have stopped laughing. There is a growing group of enthusiasts and scientists, ISEC, working on it and a full-blown annual conference. It's worth noting that the more serious thought that is developed about space elevators, the more problems are discovered with the concept though. Some have proposed other ideas while others have abandoned the idea as infeasible even with near-future technology.
  • A probably better idea is the launch loop. It's still largely unknown to the masses (because a strip of rotating wire is a lot less glamorous than a wire shooting up into the sky), but seems to be a lot more practical, not to mention more feasible at our current technology level (you don't need carbon nanotubes to make it).
  • Even better than those two is a Mass Driver. Which is basically a 100 plus kilometer long space gun.
  • Liftport Group proposes to develop a complete Lunar Space Elevator Infrastructure - having previously developed some initial proof-of-concept works, such as one that was successfully demonstrated in 2005. The group - having experienced some bumps in the road, along the way - has recently and successfully completed a funding project at Kickstarter

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