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Glossary of Space Elevator Related Terms

Anchoring Body: The primary (largest mass) planet, moon or planetoid to which the SE is anchored.

Ascend or Up / Descend or Down: To move towards synchronous orbit, or away from it, respectively. This is not the same as up and down which is in reference to the anchoring body.

Cable: General historic term discussing the physical line connecting Earth and counterweight on a space elevator. In the current design the cable is referred to as a ribbon due to its dimensions.

Carbon nanotubes: a.k.a: CNTs, SWNTs, MWNTs A tubular molecule of hexagonally arranged carbon atoms. These tubes range from a couple nanometers in diameter to tens of nanometers in diameter and as long as 4 centimeters in length to date. The unique arrangement of carbon with no edges nor dangling bonds makes carbon nanotubes the strongest possible material with the exception of possibly solid hydrogen which does not exist except in rare instances. Carbon nanotubes were discovered in 1991 and since have been been developed in the lab. As of 2008 they are only starting to get into the commercial market. Carbon nanotube are the only material known that a space elevator ribbon or cable can be constructed from though other materials may be found in the future.

Climber: The vehicle that ascends the ribbon or cable on a space elevator

CNT: abbreviation for carbon nanotube

Counterweight: The mass attached to the SE at or beyond synchronous orbit that produces additional tension force to balance the gravitational force pulling on the lower end of the space elevator ribbon or cable. The counterweight can be a single mass such as an asteroid or a conglomeration of masses such as expended construction climbers.

Dynamics: How the cable in a space elevator moves due to the forces acting on it.

GEO station: A facility in geosynchronous orbit around the Earth. Often referenced as a generic space construction project enabled by the completion of an operational space elevator.

Lifter: obsolete-see climber

Orbital Debris: Collection of objects, both natural and man-made, in orbit around the anchoring body. Usually considered for the hazard they may represent to synchronous structures due to their generally high relative velocities.

Oscillations: Generally used in reference to the movement of the ribbon under the influence of the gravitational forces of the moon and sun, wind and climber transport. Oscillations can be created intentionally by moving the anchor station to move the ribbon out of the way of orbital debris or simply be naturally induced and something to be understaood and dealt with.

Out / In: Out is the direction away from the anchor body. In is towards it. These are independent of synchronous orbit, which is the destination for "up" and "down".

Power beaming: Due to the great distances spanned by the elevator an energy source can be carried with the climber or energy can be delivered to the climbers over great distances. Power beaming is the delivery of energy over great distances without a physical connection.

Space Bridge: Synonym for Space Elevator.

SE: Abbreviation for Space Elevator

Ribbon: The main structural element of an SE. May be flat, round or of varying shape in fact, but a curved ribbon is expected.

Rollers: Part of a climber that contacts the Ribbon

Taper: SEs may well be tapered, either to minimize ribbon mass or to allow growth. A "Normal" taper is one where the ribbon has less linear mass density (is "thinner") near the anchoring body. A "Reverse" taper is one where the ribbon is "thicker" near the anchoring body.

Taper ratio: The ratio of the cross-sectional area of the ribbon at synchronous orbit to the cross-sectional area at the surface of the anchoring body


Vertical Railroad: The term selected by the Japanese space elevator effort to refer to the space elevator.

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