Will the Space Elevator Out-Musk Elon Musk?

Space elevators.  A complete inversion of what humankind has historically associated with what it takes to leave Earth.  Huge contraptions stapled to the Earth that use maglev technology and gravity to haul freight into space.  No rockets, no fire, no astronauts fastened to seats atop a controlled thermal detonation, but rather a platform running along unimaginably strong nano carbon tensile stretching between here and space.

Sounds a bit too distant future? Not at all.  According to Japan’s Obayashi Corporation, the technology necessary to produce nano carbon tensile at requisite lengths will be available within 15 years, and within 35 years we could very well see a fully operational space elevator.  Seems no longer an if but a when.  And when it comes, it will revolutionize humanity’s relationship with the infinity surrounding us.

One person who may take elevated levels of interest in this project is Elon Musk – a man who is currently leading the charge of private corporations into space.  Musk’s SpaceX is presupposed on the idea of making space access more affordable by a factor of 10.  According to Musk, a guy who has an incredible track record and ambition to achieve what he imagines, freight costs of $1200 per kilo is achievable.  This is especially disruptive when taking into account how much it cost NASA with the shuttle – $22,000 per kilo. 

What SpaceX is to expensive, bureaucratic government space programs, the space elevator is to SpaceX.  With an estimated cost to create of $6.2bn – which amounts to a mere fart in terms of financing – the space elevator is extremely cost effective.  For comparison, the average cost per flight for the space shuttle was $1.3bn and totaled $193bn between 1971 and 2010.  Furthermore, keeping in mind NASA’s $22,000/kg cost and Musk’s target of $1200/kg, the space elevator’s projected $200 per kilo price tag is more efficient than than its nearest potential rival by a factor of 6.  Keeping in mind the progression of technology, these costs may drop further in the years to come.

When you begin to consider the space elevator in this context, is becomes increasingly plausible we may see Musk out-Musked in the space industry.