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The orbital siphon : A new space elevator concept

McInnes, C.R. and Davis, Chris (2006) The orbital siphon : A new space elevator concept. JBIS, Journal of the British Interplanetary Society, 59 (10). pp. 368-374. ISSN 0007-084X

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Abstract

A new concept for propellantless payload transfer from the surface of the Earth to Earth escape is presented. Firstly, a simple model of a payload ascending or descending a conventional space elevator is developed to explore the underlying dynamics of the problem. It shown that an unconstrained payload at rest on a space elevator at synchronous radius is in an unstable equilibrium, and that this instability can be used to motivate the development of a new concept for payload transfer. It will be shown that a chain of connected payloads stretching from the surface of the Earth to beyond synchronous radius can be assembled which will lift new payloads at the bottom of the chain, while releasing payloads from the top of the chain. The complete system therefore acts as an 'orbital siphon', transporting mass from the surface of the Earth to Earth escape without the need for external work to be done. Indeed the system performs net work by transferring energy from the Earth's rotation to the escaping mass. The dynamics of the siphon effect are explored and key engineering issues are identified.