What Do Broomsticks and Rockets have in Common?

Under normal circumstances, broomsticks and rockets have nothing (that I can think of) in common. But at the December 2008 Space Elevator Conference in Luxembourg, these trusty sweeping untensils get the job–of going to space–done.

European Space Agency engineer Age-Raymond Riise used a broomstick and an electric sander to demonstrate how a hypothetical “space lift” or “space elevator” might pull its cargo mechanically. The project could see a 100,000km long cable anchored to the Earth as a means of cheaper transportation to space.

I wrote about the concept of a space lift a few months ago. The simplicity of the idea, combined with the numerous and complex hurdles in technology needed to morph a project like this into life is what fascinates me. I suppose it’s a prime example of the notion that “old” ideas aren’t necessarily bad ones to be quickly tossed out in favor of the completely innovative; they can be modified and applied to new situations.

Riise proposed powering the cable mechanically, with a sharp thrust of its base. Holding a broomstick upright (to represent the cable held in tension) he tied three brushes or “cargo” around the broomstick and turned on the electric sander at its bottom. The rhythmic vibrations caused by the sander allowed the bundle of brushes to grip the broomstick (even as it moved slightly downward) and slide up, straight to the top of the stick (you can watch a video here).
Riise says the same principle could power a cable-based space elevator. Anyone need a lift?

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