The equatorial Usean city of Selatapura. Offshore, a titanic tower reaches up to pierce the heavens. The cable which extends from its terminus disappears into the morning light, leading on to the lands of the stars so remote. It is the space elevator: humanity’s first full scale attempt at a highway to space. The unprecedented megastructure is nearing completion.
A symbol of the continent’s reconstruction
6 AM. Ferries depart from the harbor of Selatapura where the morning clamor begins to rise. It’s a 30 minute journey to the man-made island of Earthport. The ocean-spanning bridge under construction passes to the side.
Riding with me are migrant workers who have gathered from across all Usea. Myriad languages mix with the scent of coffee on the sea breeze across the bow. This is a trading port, so the container ship traffic is voluminous. Beyond it can be seen the shape of the titanic tower.
The rising sun illuminates the contours of the tower. Those lines stretch down to the surface of the earth from the pinnacle’s height of 12,000 meters, and gradually draw out an arc, blending into the horizon like the base of a mountain. I gasp at its greatness.
What overwhelming mass. To think that humans built this.
The patrol boats and oil tankers at the pier seem tiny. Our ferry is unmanned, but if it were, the pilot would need a rangefinder for sure. The men I met upon the boat wave me on, dumbstruck as I am.
“They work hard. It goes very quickly; a world of difference from my own country where the elderly toil.” The director of the ISEV construction technology research institute Dr. Blüman who traveled alongside me waves again and smiles. The site uses a four-man three-shift system, and construction continues 24 hours a day.
Exiting the breakwater and nearing the island, one begins to see a resort area ringing the circumference. If one lies down on the lawn, one may see all the way up to the peak. We carefully navigate around the gantry cranes lined up beside the container ships and slow. We arrive at the pier.
Passing through the island ingress management gate from the arrival floor and raising my head, I come to face six massive legs which spread from the heaven-piercing elevator shaft. I feel like I’m about to be sucked up into space.
Through the steady advancement of science and technology, we have come down a long path to a tremendous accomplishment. In this there can be no doubt. However, the giant tower at which we’ve arrived did not exist until just a few years ago.
Like many places in Usea, a mere 19 years ago this place suffered devastation from the fall of the asteroid. Fragments of Ulysses fell upon the ocean, and the ensuing tidal waves annihilated the coastal areas of Selatapura. 30,000 were killed. They were further impoverished by the war which resulted from the refugee crisis, the reconstruction of the continent did not progress like it was expected.
How then did such rapid reconstruction come about in the face of that adversity? We may thank a national strategy adopted with the aim of establishing nations as technological and scientific powers with independence from suzerainty and foreign capital.
Made in Usea
The central lobby, where sparks from welding fall. The interior work which will greet passengers is progressing at a fever pitch. The young site director Yao speaking with Dr. Blüman has an Erusean accent. Until 12 years ago when he was in middle school, this area was Erusean. The doctor explains measures to prevent bad wiring in Erusean, and turns his back.
Humans are used where high skill is required and as insurance against problems, while material handling and ceiling and other aerial work is undertaken by construction robots. As opposed to the manufacturing industry, it’s impossible to completely automate such an unforgiving thing as a construction site.
As many as 1,000 people take part in each shift at the vast Earthport construction site. They come from across Usea with short term work permits as temporary workers. They take two weeks of VR education here, work for two months, and return to their own countries with knowledge of state of the art construction techniques and a decent salary. Over 100,000 Useans have taken part in the construction of this facility alone, and their experience reflects the reconstruction across Usea at large. The international space elevator corporation, “ISEV,” is the group which spearheads the administration of this joint international project. It was founded in 2011 under the hand of the previous administration in Osea. The initial capital and technology was Osea’s contribution, but providing for specialized technology and labor was basically up to Usea. Osea believed that merely spreading money through the disaster area would not constitute reconstruction.
The Continental Nations’ Economic Alliance, which was victorious in the Continental War and concluded a peace treaty with the former Erusean Republic, unified the countries of Usea with the FCU at its core. However, the military alliance of ISAF was dissolved, and the refugee crisis has relapsed ever since peacekeeping functions were turned over to the IUN. On top of that problem was laid an energy crisis relating to the reopening of power stations across the land, and with the weakening of the forces that bound them together, nations began to drop out of the Alliance one after the other.
Meanwhile, the great powers which passed through the Circum-Pacific War enjoyed prosperity. Yuktobania’s revenues increased with the expansion of its commodity trading partners and the diversification of its shipbuilding, and Osea enjoyed unrivaled success in information technology, financial services, arms, and space development. The need for reconstruction policies to fill in the widening international gap became evident. This is why Osea christened the space elevator as “Made in Usea.”
They key to it all was space solar power generation, which would use the sun as a source of unlimited free energy. In geosynchronous orbit 36,000 kilometers above the equator are being constructed solar power generation satellites. These satellites collect sunlight to generate power, and transmit this power to terrestrial rectennae (the antennae of receiving facilities). With this, the continent of Usea aims to have a fair and sustainable supply of energy.
Selatapura was named as a candidate for the construction site of Earthport as a base. On the ocean near the equator, with easy access as a free trade port, and the only free state which was not ceded by the Erusean Republic, it's a place of geopolitical importance where people and business from around the world gathered due to the investments of multinational corporations. Selatapura, drinking in all these things, grew with rapid momentum. Osea couldn’t refuse.
“Erusea declined, of course. But an atmosphere of wanting to press on into the future was already dominant among us.” In Spring 2012, the institute of technology which Yao and his associates attended shared a construction roadmap and 12 month syllabus through the ISEV, and scholars from Osea and North Point were dispatched. Dr. Blüman was invited as a lecturer at this time as well.
However, due to the immense size of the space elevator, it would become a favorite target for terrorism. Accordingly, an increase in peacekeeping force garrisons and new defense systems were announced. Opposition activity by Erusean citizens in response increased, but the postwar provisional Erusean government did not have the right to resist any of these things, and they had no choice but to think long and hard about the very state of their nation.
Mankind’s Largest Structure
Earthport is a requirement of the earth and space-spanning space elevator. It’s a terrestrial base for the transportation of humans and matériel, from which climbers depart for space. To sum it up, the elevator’s structures are many, and the scope of their construction is vast. Roughly speaking, those are the ascent/descent cables, the climbers, the ground facilities, and the space facilities. Various services will lag, but from the completion and start of service of the space station in geosynchronous orbit, the total construction time will extend to 70 months. I should say, a mere 70 months.
The first cable transportation rocket was launched from Comona in January 2013. Using a laser beam emitted from the ground, the construction ship constructed in LEO (Low Earth Orbit) circled the earth while rising under MPD (Magneto Plasmo Dynamic) propulsion. By May, it had reached GEO (Geostationary Earth Orbit). After that, the spacecraft, now circling at the same speed as the rotation of the earth, began to extend a cable – both towards the ground and out towards space – while continuing to rise.
In September of that year, the earth end of the cable arrived, and Earthport base was established. On one end, with the spacecraft at 96,000km altitude as a counterweight, and the basic shape of the space elevator was complete. However, at this stage, the load bearing capacity of the single cable was a mere 500kipf, and could not bear even a single car. From there, reinforcement work began by attaching reinforcement cables to gradually increase its carrying capabilities.
“The speed of construction affected the construction rate of the entire project, so we really had to put on our thinking caps.” The doctor’s idea was thus. First, to gather and fasten not the two cables needed for the elevation but six, and while raising them reinforce all at the same time. The first climber released the second unit when it had attained 12,000 kilometers. Little by little the climbers multiplied, using themselves as counterweights at the upper end. Repeating this, a maximum of 24 climbers were put into operation at the same time, and carrying capacity increased at an accelerated rate. At the end of 5 years, climbers up to 100 tons became practical. Previously, the space station in geosynchronous orbit began test operations, and preparations for three passenger climbers began.
I’m presently headed to the climber terminal to see an elevation test for myself. The giant elevator shaft at the center of the facility is covered by a disaster prevention shield to protect the climbers from wind and attacks from the outside. Facing the glass window on the terminal level, a massive white climber emerged from underground. As it is under construction, we wear a pressure suit for safety. I already feel like an astronaut.
“Let’s head up.” I could see the white teeth of the doctor and Yao helmeted. The climber door shut, and we began slowly to rise. This will be a test to measure the pressure differential generated by the passing of three climbers within the shaft, so regrettably we will not go to space today. Nonetheless the main shaft is the tallest structure of any kind on earth, and the largest ever made by man.
We began to climb at a comfortable rate at the time of departure, but nonetheless the ground drew away, and after we attained a speed of 200km/h, we were moving along smoothly without accelerating further. We passed a climber as we pierced the cloud, and a bit later we passed another. We certainly shook a bit from the change in pressure, but the interior stabilized soon enough.
Gradually our speed slowed, and we stopped at the upper part of the tower. Looking straight up, the six cables seem to disappear into the deep blue sky. “Look to the side. This is our favorite landscape.” What Yao was pointing at with his outstretched finger was the sky at 12,000 meters. I could see the curvature of the earth beneath the clouds. The whole of faraway Selatapura could be taken in at once, and the sun dazzled. This is the view of a high altitude plane.
“Right below us used to be a crater. We’ve come a pretty long way from down there.”
This isn’t a story of the far future. We’ve brought this into being in our own time with our own strength of will. In the doctor’s smile was the shape of a man who has accomplished something. We’ve built roads and highways to lands once unknown. They are neither things which were there from the start nor things which came about in an instant. They’re something our ancestors thought about, and then made through action. Doing so, we found we’d come across whole new fields of activity and previously unseen perspectives. The space elevator directs this upwards. What new perspectives will this bring humanity? It’s becoming clearer by the day.