...And space elevators are still a pretty cool idea. As the Kurzgesagt – In a Nutshell video linked here indicates, however, creating one presents some formidable engineering challenges, of which the material that the tether is made up of is only just one.
I have to admit that, even though I recognize the potential such an approach would have, I have never been all that enthused with their long term prospects for large scale, earth to orbit, throughput. It just isn't that efficient on a tonnage to time ratio (two days per traverse each way, with the lifter having definite limits on both size and overall weight each time up), which, given its initial costs, might be a negative when one thinks long term.
What has always amazed me, however, is the lack of consideration given to another possible approach: Using mass drivers to accelerate things into orbit.
I know, these face their own set of engineering challenges, as well as the primary consideration as to where you could possibly build one. To be able to launch large payloads into orbit it would have to be some combination of both a large diameter, as well as a lengthy acceleration barrel. And if humans were to be involved, not to mention any other cargo you don't want to compress into useless junk, or jelly, the longer it is the better as far as acceleration g loading is concerned.
How in the hell would you make such a long barrel, and still have it angled upward appropriately?
Well, as it happens, I have always had a pet idea for just such an approach. You do this by building the worlds first underwater, suspended tunnel, as the launch barrel. And you start by putting the launch base in the deepest ocean trench we can find at, or near, the earth's equator.
I know, recoil, suspension from what exactly, tremendous ocean pressures, just to name a few of the challenges, present formidable engineering problems of their own, but the thing is, going this route not only would be considerably safer long term (with no tether to worry about getting broken and falling back to earth, or whipping around it), it offers a better chance of more throughput over time. And best of all, if you were to pursue hydrogen production at sea with Tornado wind turbines you would already be producing the support platforms with which to suspend the barrel by. Not only that, but you would also be putting into place the production infrastructure to produce those platforms (the modular design of which lends them to mass production far beyond what the oil industry has managed so far) a great deal more cheaply, as well as great deal more rapidly than anything that has gone on before.
And let me just emphasize once more: Going this route also gives you the potential for throughput tonnages far beyond anything an elevator could ever achieve, popping multi hundred ton shots, say, every 10 to 2.4 hours.
I make the point of throughput repeatedly for a reason. This is so because we need to be very clear on the fact that we need launch infrastructure as big and robust as we can possibly make it. And we needed that some time ago. This, in turn, is so because the lead times involved here are tremendous no matter what approach you take and, with not only the list of things that we need to not be doing on planet, that we could do out there, growing, but the number of possible bad things that could happen down here also growing as well, not having options involving very large scales of ability is a prescription to our ultimate demise. And we would be fools indeed if we did not address this lack ASAP.
As always, just a thought.