What would a space elevator tether made from 2D materials look like?

At the time of writing there are three potential materials that are light enough and strong enough to make the tether for the space elevator. Carbon nanotubes, Graphene and hexagonal Boron Nitride.

Of the three-candidate materials graphene is emerging as the most likely at present because the industrial manufacturing process has advanced rapidly.  Graphene can now be made at industrial lengths and speeds.  The quality is not good enough for a tether at the moment but given the pace of manufacturing progress this can now be considered a credible future material.
A graphene tether has yet to be made for real so we need to look at the molecular structure of graphene.
We know that graphene has an electron cloud called a pi (π) orbital above and below the plane of the rings. When photons arrive at this surface, they encounter the electrons. Some absorb these photons promoting the electrons to a higher energy level. When the electrons drop back down to a lower energy level, the photons are re-emitted, and this is what creates the characteristic metallic appearance.

This means bulk, multi-layered graphene will look like a shiny metallic mirror.  This bulk material is what will be used to make the space elevator tether.

So, to answer the question posed at the start, a space elevator tether would look like a glittering sliver mirror ascending into the sky piercing the clouds to reach for space.


This post originally appeared as a newsletter entry for the International Space Elevator Consortium (ISEC) and can be accessed at the following link:


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