An elevator to space
Wouldn´t it be nice if you could take an elevator to space?
IN the future, you may be able to. Michael Laine hopes that his new business, LiftPort Group, will complete a space elevator by 2018. But we already have rockets and satellites, so why an elevator? Well, it´s not cheap to get satellites into orbit. To reach 35,793 km up — where about half of all satellites go — costs above $100 million. Add another 10% to 20% for insurance. And make sure you build that satellite right the first time because, once it´s up there, you can´t fix it.
The private space industry is expected to grow, but many of the new ventures like the space elevator seem extremely risky. Of course, Laine knows that things will not be easy. First of all, there´s the start-up cost: He thinks that the construction of the elevator will cost between $7 billion and $10 billion over five years. Then there´s the fact that the cable for the elevator needs to be stronger than anything in industrial use today — about 30 times the strength of steel.
Laine runs the company on a tight budget and employs only five people. He says he plans to raise capital and set up joint ventures with other technology businesses. When it is finally completed, the elevator could compete with NASA and the Russian Space Agency.
It wasn´t so long ago that Laine himself was skeptical of the potential for making money in space. “Other space enthusiasts were saying, "Let´s go to the moon" or "Let´s go to Mars," he remembers. “I kept saying "What´s your return on investment — your ROI?" Currently, the cost to deliver a kilo of stuff into space using rocket launch is $20,000.The elevator could carry loads of five thousand kilos per day. It could deliver over a million kilos of material per year — resulting in billions of dollars in sales.
But with so many problems to overcome, will it ever happen?