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A space elevator is a revolutionary means of transport from earth into space. Here is how it would work. First a stable platform, similar to an oil rig would be built in the sea. Then a rocket would launch a special satellite into space that would position itself in geo-stationary orbit over the platform. This means that the satellite would remain directly over the platform for its entire deployment. Next the satellite would begin to drop a ribbon or tether all the way down to earth. New technologies in nanotechnology are making the development of a light-weight but strong tether possible. Once the tether reached the platform, it would be attached.
Specially designed vehicles would shuttle up and down the 100,000 km (62,000 mile) tether from earth to space. The trip would take about a week and the vehicle could be powered by a laser beam sent from earth. There are a few technological hurdles but the experts working on the research are confident that the difficulties could be overcome.
The best way to realize the benefits of a space elevator are to consider the conventional method of reaching space. Rocket launching is expense and inefficient for at least three major reasons: 1) rocket fuel is dangerous and expensive 2) the rockets themselves are generally not reusable 3) if the free-flying spacecraft are intended to return to earth, they must be equipped with heat sheids to withstand the immense heat generated by re-entry.
A space elevator bypasses all of the inefficiencies of traditional space travel: single-use rockets and expensive rocket-fuel are not required. Furthermore, re-entry into earth's atmosphere is done at relatively slow speeds so heat shields are not required. These benefits are expected to drop the cost of going to space from the current $15,000 per kg ($6,800 per pound) to as low as $50 per kg ($23 per pound).
The elevator could be used to release satellites into space. People could also ride up to experience weightlessness. Space vehicles destined for more distant locations, could also ride up the elevator and take off from the station at the top; this would drastically reduce the cost for long-range space travel. Once the first elevator was established it could be used to deploy the satellites required for further elevators. Perhaps it is this technology that could bring space travel into the mainstream.