Some months ago I had a conversation with Michael Laine and some of the other great minds at the Liftport Group about just how far from the equator a space elevator could be. I was surprised when I found out that, although the equator is an ideal, wavering many kilometers out the way is perfectly feasible.
“It will look like a hockey stick…” Michael explained. The ribbon dangling from anchoring mass out in geosynchronous orbit would still point directly at the equator, but if someone on the ground took hold of the end and simply pulled in in one direction or another, then the tail of the ribbon would just bend in that direction.
Like a hockey stick.
I’m been writing stories set on the moon, about 150 years in the future. You can find the first of these in Liftport’s new magazine, Get LF8D (Read that as “Get Elevated.” Free download!) To give myself flexibility as a writer, especially doing short stories, I decided that the moon would have several elevators (some newer than others) and about a dozen cities.
I think the moon should have a couple of hockey sticks. Why? Well, it’s certainly not practical, but from a writer’s point of view it lets me tell the hockey-stick story (demonstrating some real science, always appreciated in good Science Fiction) and it would simply be awesome to tell stories about a place called H. E. Double Hockey Sticks.
Now, for the plausibility part. I’ve decided that the story requires two elevators on the moon, near each other, but not on the equator.
Why two? That’s easy… one dedicated up and the other dedicated down.
Why not on the equator? That’s more difficult.
Here are some possibilities.
- The moon’s equator actually is made of green cheese, making it a very poor place to build anything.
- The engineer’s horoscope indicated the off-equator location would be good feng-shui.
- Some con man painted a line in the lunar soil and put up a sign saying “This is the equator.” The engineer’s boss decided to cut costs by not actually surveying to locate the equator for themselves, and instead decided to trust the big red line in the gravel.
- The site is close to a prime center for H3 mining, and it was more cost-effective to let the elevator bend a bit as opposed to shipping the goods across the surface to an equatorial elevator.
- After the first couple of elevators were built, the lunar government created some rather unreasonable laws regarding any structure or facility built on the equator, and the hockey-stick engineer got around all those laws by building away from the equator.
Now… I need to ask my friends another question. Or, you can answer it here if you know…
Up close on the ground, the elevator ribbon looks like it’s going up at an angle.
Far far away, it just looks like a straight line.
If the base of the hockey-sticks is one hundred kilometers from the equator, at what distance would a human looking at the ribbons say “Hey, that looks like a hockey stick!” ?