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Road Map to the LiftPort Space Elevator

version 1.0.1 public beta

1. Introduction
LiftPort’s mission is to provide cheap, safe and reliable access to space. We believe that the
space elevator will enable such access. A few space elevator feasibility studies and preliminary
designs have already been performed by different groups. These studies have generally suggested
a space elevator consisting of a wide, thin ribbon anchored to an equatorial, ocean-based station
on one end and connected on the other end to a counterweight roughly 100,000km up in space.
The ribbon is climbed by lifter vehicles which are powered from the ground by lasers. The tech-
nical roadmap presented here is based on this design, although any system architecture changes
made in the next few years will not significantly change the total timeframe or budget. This
roadmap is an outline of the major tests and demonstrations that must be performed (whether
by LiftPort or others) for technical, legal, and political reasons before the space elevator can be
built. While we have considered many non-technical milestones, that side of the space elevator
has not been developed enough to be able to outline the required steps with much confidence.
The space elevator project will be one of the greatest engineering projects in the history of
mankind. The largest obstacle to building it is the high-strength, low-weight material needed
to make an economically feasible space elevator. Although more is always better in the case
of material strength, we are basing the road map on a “minimum” specific strength that is
roughly 15 times better than the best current materials. Carbon nanotubes (CNTs) have shown
promise in lab experiments to meet this requirement, but to scale up from microscopic lab
samples to industrial material production is a development process which will take years. The
rate of development of the carbon nanotube material greatly affects the timeframe in which the
space elevator can be built. While some skeptics believe that the requisite material will not be
developed in the next century, other optimists think a breakthrough will happen within the next
few years. Our view is somewhere in the middle; we speculate that the necessary material will be
available around 2020, making commercial operation of the first space elevator possible by the
year 2031 if there is adequate funding and no major developmental setbacks. This timeline will
obviously slip if the material advancement takes longer. Unfortunately, the completion date will
not happen much earlier even if the requisite material were available in bulk quantities right now.
Research and development of the numerous other required technologies should begin as soon as
possible, though, for two reasons. First, there is an enormous amount of work to be done in areas
other than the ribbon material. Second, the spin-offs from these research fields will be of great
value whether or not the space elevator is ever built.
Global awareness of the space elevator concept and its perceived feasibility is still low. In
order to clarify some of the steps that need to be taken before this revolutionary method of space
access can be built, we are publishing the attached road map. There is a one page schematic
overview, as well as a three-page Gantt chart for those interested in more details. Aspects of
this road map are subject to debate, and we expect input from various quarters will enable us to
revise the road map and update the time estimates.
The perceived feasibility of the space elevator can be improved if a diverse, coordinated, and
global group of interested parties pursues the large amount of preparatory research required.
Like other companies working in emerging fields, LiftPort has pursued partnerships with
researchers in academia and industry to advance the state of knowledge. But the space elevator
is larger than any single company. We at LiftPort want to promote an open approach to space
elevator development, especially because it is an exciting project for students and researchers
to get involved in. To encourage people around the world to learn more and to contribute to the
growing body of public knowledge, we have created a freely-available online resource contain-
ing space elevator-related research problems. It is available at
The site and its content are still being developed, but we encourage everyone with an interest
in the project to get involved. LiftPort aims to use this site as a way to coordinate the global
research efforts surrounding the space elevator.

2. Roadmap Structure
Although LiftPort is involved in the production of carbon nanotubes, we will likely rely on
the global development of high strength CNT materials. While we assume the material will be
available around the year 2020, earlier availability will not particularly speed up development of
the space elevator. The various tests and demonstrations discussed below are dependent on three
milestones of increasing material strength occurring between now and the year 2020.
As one of the largest infrastructure projects in history, the space elevator will require a huge
inter-disciplinary research effort. To kick-start the research, LiftPort is hosting a public online
resource containing space elevator related research problems, now available at http://questions. The site is new as of October 2006, and we encourage you to browse through the
questions, to tackle any that are of interest, and to contribute new questions. We hope that this
resource will inspire researchers to expand their own related projects to help address questions of
importance to space elevator development. The questions database should provide the focus for
near-term academic research. Topics will include high-resolution laser focus & tracking, ribbon
dynamics, evaluating & addressing physical threats, preliminary designs of major components,
as well as addressing legal & business issues. The research will encompass not only “paper”
analysis, but laboratory experiments as well.
Tethered high-altitude balloons allow us to investigate many aspects of space elevator opera-
tions without the expense of space-based tests. In fact, LiftPort has already begun work in this
area with a 1.6km altitude test and a 2 month endurance test of balloon systems. Next, a series
of three progressively higher balloon-lofted ribbon tests will be used to evaluate multiple issues.
The first test, to an altitude of 3km, will demonstrate basic ribbon dynamics and control as well
as a prototype lifter vehicle. A second test to 10km will examine operation of the lifter vehicle
in varying atmospheric conditions, ribbon behavior and spooling control, as well as weather
effects on the ribbon. The third test, aiming to reach an altitude of 30km or more, will continue
the investigations from the 10km test and also test power beaming to an improved lifter vehicle
The longest tether ever deployed in space was roughly 20km long. Given the history of
problems in tether experiments, it would be imprudent and impractical (at best) to go immedi-

ately to a 100,000km system. In addition, much can be learned by smaller scale tether design
experiments before the final carbon nanotube-based ribbon material is available.
The plan to address all the necessary orbital research minimizes the number of launches
because launching space-based tests is currently expensive (a fact which the space elevator is
intended to remedy). First, a retired satellite will be used to test tracking and focus of laser
power beaming from the ground. At about the same time, the first of a series of three increas-
ingly longer tether deployment missions will go significantly beyond current experience,
deploying a 200km-long tether. Next will come a 2,500km-long tether. Both of the tether tests
will demonstrate ribbon deployment & control, and debris-dodging ability for a pre-touchdown
ribbon. The third tether mission will be roughly 30,000km long. The bottom of this tether
will be a few hundred kilometers above the altitude at which GPS satellites orbit, enabling
safe demonstration of the ability to dodge satellites. A lifter vehicle traversing the ribbon will
be powered remotely by laser, demonstrating an integrated system operating in orbit. Last, an
orbital material exposure facility will validate the combined effects of the orbital environment on
the final ribbon material.
After the necessary research is performed, a detailed engineering design of the components of
the space elevator can begin. Designing, prototyping, testing and fabricating the anchor station,
lifter vehicle, power beaming system, and counterweight will entail large teams working for
many years.
Once all designs are finished and all components have been produced, the space elevator will
be assembled, launched and deployed. Once the initial “seed” ribbon is in place, the system will
bootstrap itself by lifting new ribbon into orbit and adding it to the initial ribbon. This process
will take at least 16 months to scale the ribbon up to a commercially useful capacity. When it is
completed, the space elevator will enable high-capacity, low-cost cargo transportation to Earth
orbit and beyond.

3. Road Map Schematic

A schematic overview of the road map is on the next page. This diagram gives a rough idea
as to the physical regimes in which various system demonstrations will take place, as well as the
time required.
For more details, including dependencies between the elements, please see the three-page
Gantt chart that follows the schematic. Each activity was set to occur as early as possible,
limited only by dependencies on the completion of other activities.

4. Credits
The LiftPort space elevator road map was developed by Tom Nugent, Jasper Bouwmeester,
Michael Laine, and Mannix Shinn. We are very thankful for the valuable input and feedback
provided by Jordin Kare, Robert Hoyt, and Robert Carlson.

ID Task Name Start Finish '06 '07 '08 '09 '10 '11 '12 '13 '14 '15 '16 '17 '18 '19 '20 '21 '22 '23 '24 '25 '26 '27 '28 '29 '30 '31 '32
1 Definition of Research Projects Mon 8/7/06 Fri 4/13/07
2 Material Development Fri 1/1/10 Tue 10/26/27
3 Milestones Fri 1/1/10 Wed 1/1/20
4 5 MPa m^3/kg Fri 1/1/10 Fri 1/1/10
5 25 MPa m^3/kg Sun 1/1/17 Sun 1/1/17
6 50 Mpa m^3/kg W ed 1/1/20 W ed 1/1/20
7 SE Ribbon Production W ed 12/24/25 Tue 10/26/27
8 Academic Research Projects Mon 4/16/07 Fri 7/2/10
9 Lifter Component Research Mon 4/16/07 Fri 1/15/10
10 SE Dynamics (Finite Element Analysis) Mon 4/16/07 Fri 7/2/10
11 Space Debris Tracking and Avoidance Mon 4/16/07 Fri 1/15/10
12 Radiation and Atomic Oxygen Protection Mon 4/16/07 Fri 1/15/10
13 Laser Power/Clustering Mon 4/16/07 Fri 7/2/10
14 Laser Tracking Mon 4/16/07 Fri 7/31/09
15 Laser Focus Mon 4/16/07 Fri 1/15/10
16 Liftport Component Research Mon 4/16/07 Fri 1/15/10
17 Space Law and Legal Issues Mon 4/16/07 Fri 1/15/10
18 Geographic Location Mon 4/16/07 Fri 8/29/08
19 Market Analysis Mon 4/16/07 Fri 3/14/08
20 Social & Politics Mon 4/16/07 Fri 2/13/09
21 Atmospheric Research Mon 1/1/07 Fri 4/1/16
22 3 km Balloon Test Mon 1/1/07 Fri 10/5/07
23 Design & Construction Mon 1/1/07 Fri 2/23/07
24 Operation Mon 2/26/07 Fri 8/10/07
25 Analysis Mon 2/26/07 Fri 10/5/07
26 10 km balloon test Mon 10/8/07 Fri 9/4/09
27 Design Mon 10/8/07 Fri 3/21/08
28 Construction Mon 3/24/08 Fri 7/11/08
29 Operation Mon 7/14/08 Fri 6/12/09
30 Analysis Mon 3/23/09 Fri 9/4/09
31 30 km balloon test Mon 9/7/09 Fri 4/1/16
32 Design Mon 9/7/09 Fri 1/21/11
33 Construction Mon 2/9/15 Fri 10/16/15
34 Operation Mon 10/19/15 Fri 11/13/15
35 Analysis Mon 10/19/15 Fri 4/1/16
36 Space Research Fri 1/1/10 Tue 12/23/25

ID Task Name Start Finish '06 '07 '08 '09 '10 '11 '12 '13 '14 '15 '16 '17 '18 '19 '20 '21 '22 '23 '24 '25 '26 '27 '28 '29 '30 '31 '32
37 Power Beaming to GEO Satellite Mon 5/7/12 Fri 8/23/13
38 Selection of Existing EOL Satellite Mon 5/7/12 Fri 7/27/12
39 Construct System Mon 10/22/12 Fri 6/28/13
40 Power Beaming Tests Mon 7/1/13 Fri 7/26/13
41 Analysis Mon 7/29/13 Fri 8/23/13
42 Orbital Material Exposure Facility Wed 1/1/20 Tue 12/23/25
43 Design W ed 1/1/20 Tue 11/2/21
44 Construction W ed 11/3/21 Tue 3/21/23
45 Launch W ed 3/22/23 Tue 9/5/23
46 Operation W ed 9/6/23 Tue 7/8/25
47 Analysis W ed 2/21/24 Tue 12/23/25
48 200 km GEO-centered Tether Fri 1/1/10 Thu 4/16/15
49 Design Fri 1/1/10 Thu 4/19/12
50 Construction Fri 4/20/12 Thu 2/20/14
51 Launch Preparation Fri 2/21/14 Thu 8/7/14
52 Operation Fri 8/8/14 Thu 1/22/15
53 Analysis Fri 10/31/14 Thu 4/16/15
54 Close Project Fri 1/23/15 Thu 2/19/15
55 2,500 km GEO-centered Tether Fri 4/17/15 Thu 7/5/18
56 Design Fri 4/17/15 Thu 3/17/16
57 Construction Fri 3/18/16 Thu 8/3/17
58 Launch Preparation Fri 8/4/17 Thu 10/26/17
59 Operation Fri 10/27/17 Thu 4/12/18
60 Analysis Fri 1/19/18 Thu 7/5/18
61 Close Project Fri 4/13/18 Thu 6/7/18
62 30,000 km GEO-centered Tether Fri 7/6/18 Thu 1/11/24
63 Design Fri 7/6/18 Thu 5/7/20
64 Construction Fri 5/8/20 Thu 3/10/22
65 Launch Preparation Fri 3/11/22 Thu 8/25/22
66 Operation Fri 8/26/22 Thu 7/27/23
67 Analysis Fri 5/5/23 Thu 1/11/24
68 Close Project Fri 7/28/23 Thu 11/16/23
69 SE Component Design Mon 8/3/09 Tue 10/21/31
70 Power Beaming Development Mon 8/3/09 Tue 9/26/28
71 Laser Design Mon 8/3/09 Fri 5/4/12
72 Optical Focus Design Mon 1/18/10 Fri 10/19/12

ID Task Name Start Finish '06 '07 '08 '09 '10 '11 '12 '13 '14 '15 '16 '17 '18 '19 '20 '21 '22 '23 '24 '25 '26 '27 '28 '29 '30 '31 '32
73 Tracking and Pointing Design Mon 8/3/09 Fri 5/4/12
74 Construction W ed 5/12/27 Tue 9/26/28
75 Lifter Development Mon 1/18/10 Tue 10/21/31
76 SE Construction Lifter Mon 1/18/10 Tue 6/4/30
77 Preliminary Design Mon 1/18/10 Fri 12/17/10
78 Proof of Concept: Scaled Prototy Mon 12/20/10 Fri 6/3/11
79 Detailed Design Mon 6/6/11 Fri 5/4/12
80 Prototype Mon 5/7/12 Fri 4/5/13
81 Test & Verification Mon 4/8/13 Fri 3/7/14
82 Set-up Manufacturing Facilities W ed 4/12/28 Tue 8/1/28
83 Production W ed 8/2/28 Tue 6/4/30
84 SE Cargo Lifter Mon 3/10/14 Tue 10/21/31
85 Preliminary Design Mon 3/10/14 Fri 11/14/14
86 Proof of Concept: Scaled Prototy Mon 11/17/14 Fri 2/6/15
87 Detailed Design Mon 2/9/15 Fri 11/10/17
88 Prototype Mon 11/13/17 Fri 10/12/18
89 Test & Verification Mon 10/15/18 Fri 2/28/20
90 Set-up Manufacturing Facilities W ed 8/2/28 Tue 12/18/29
91 Production W ed 12/19/29 Tue 10/21/31
92 Liftport Development Wed 9/4/24 Tue 3/12/30
93 Preliminary Design W ed 9/4/24 Tue 5/13/25
94 Proof of Concept: Scaled Prototype W ed 5/14/25 Tue 8/5/25
95 Detailed Design W ed 8/6/25 Tue 5/9/28
96 Construction W ed 5/10/28 Tue 3/12/30
97 Ribbon & Counterweight Development Fri 11/17/23 Tue 9/26/28
98 Ribbon Design Fri 11/17/23 Thu 10/17/24
99 Counterweight Design Fri 10/18/24 Thu 9/18/25
100 Component Production Fri 9/19/25 Thu 8/20/26
101 Test & Verification W ed 10/27/27 Tue 4/11/28
102 Launch Preparation W ed 4/12/28 Tue 9/26/28
103 Space Elevator Deployment Wed 9/27/28 Tue 10/21/31
104 Launch Components to LEO W ed 9/27/28 Tue 8/28/29
105 Assemble Components at LEO W ed 8/29/29 Tue 9/25/29
106 Boost Orbit to GEO W ed 9/26/29 Tue 3/12/30
107 Deploying Ribbon W ed 3/13/30 Tue 6/4/30
108 Expanding Seed Ribbon to Commercial SE W ed 6/5/30 Tue 10/21/31