Olympus Space Elevator


I said before that from the far distance, the space elevator looks like a minute black thread stretching up from the caldera of Olympus Mons. That thread’s about 23,000 kilometers long—long enough for the asteroid tethered at the far end to keep the cable pretty much taut. On their way up, the carriers on the space elevator reach speeds of about 500 kph in atmosphere. Around 200 kilometers up, where there’s practically no more atmospheric friction, they punch it up to 2,000 kph and maintain that speed for the rest of the ride. At 17,000 kilometers of altitude—aerostationary orbit—they either detach from the cable and slide into orbit for load out, or keep going, and shoot off the far end of the elevator at a velocity high enough to reach the Belt in just a few weeks, provided the launch window is right. Basic, the whole thing can double duty as a mass driver for in-system transit.

Sorry for geeking out on this thing’s specs, but if there’s one thing I can’t resist, it’s a big sexy eff-all machine, and that the space elevator is in spades. The first space elevator (on Earth) had one cable. The carrier had two big wings for picking up microwave power beamed at it by an array of sun-fueled satellites. Took forever to get up that cable; it had to be twice as long as those on Mars to reach geostationary altitude. And the jokers who came up with the thing never really had a good answer for what’d happen if something diffused the beam. The Olympus Mons space elevator has eight cables: four for carriers to run on, four configured as superconductors to act as the third rail for the carrier cable with which they’re paired. They got so much juice running along those rails, the practical max delta-V for the carriers, when you factor in the acceleration due to centrifugal force you’re getting off the planet itself, is around 14 kps. But the cables can’t handle that much friction, and I guess the people riding the carrier might be a concern as well, so ships skipjacking off the end of the cable generally only get about 9 kps—which is still pretty damned good for not burning any fuel.

The elevator never stops running, and it’s on a tight schedule, taking account of both the masses being lifted and their side effects on the structure. Carriers make the whole cable structure oscillate slightly as they travel, plus the Coriolis force drags at them as they climb, which bows the cable a bit. Schedules have to take this into account, with the result that there’re only two trips in each direction every day. There’re four cables, but the elevator’s rolling stock is a lot bigger, with hundreds of carriers ready on the ground and sitting in parking orbits near the elevator’s center of mass. Some are just barely pressurized bulk cargo containers, while others are fitted out for passengers and high value or perishable cargo. And some are actually long-haul freighters. These are the ones that skipjack off the end of the cable; they got just enough fuel in them for course corrections and decelerating at their destination.

The whole ride up takes almost nine hours. Download something to read before you leave. The passenger section on the space elevator is one of the only places in the system with limited mesh connectivity. OIA’s so terrified of anyone monkeywrenching the elevator, they actually lined the walls of the passenger compartments with double-thickness Faraday cages. You need a special permit for mesh access. Only people with serious hypercorp connections get them, and even they get watched like hawks by the onboard infosec monkeys. Then again, hypercorp big shots hardly ever travel by space elevator, unless it’s for good press.

Taking the space elevator is like taking the bus; the main virtue is that it’s cheap. You can get to orbit in five minutes by rocket, but a lot of people on Mars can’t afford that, especially if they have to make the trip regularly. Aside from the initial acceleration, the second acceleration when you leave the atmosphere, and deceleration at the end of the trip, passengers can walk around the carrier. There ain’t much to see, though. Aside from the acceleration couches, there’s usually an observation area (always helluv crowded and only faces the planet if you’re lucky); a bar with the most watered-down, overpriced drinks you’ll ever find outside a Mormon hotel in New Salt Lake; and lavs that are just big enough to skronk in if you’re a lanky ruster and your partner’s a double-jointed bouncer. Not that I’d know or anything.

A lot of the people you meet riding the elevator are those who get classified as cargo: soldiers, work gangs, consignments of pleasure pods, and anyone else whose job sucks enough that they get writ off as a replaceable part. For a while before the Fall, corps tried keeping all of their worker morphs in orbit and egocasting people up as needed. They found their psych bills going through the roof. Take a previously well-adjusted construction specialist who used to be in a biomorph and beam her up into an orbital work synth, and she’s apt to get glitchy. Then you’ve got an expensive synth using up space and resources while it malfunctions and doesn’t get any work done. Far better to acclimate your workers on the ground where psych and power are cheaper, then send them up the space elevator without having to get resleeved. It’s one of those rare occasions where labor interests and profit actually overlap.

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