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Problem

One of the biggest problems of a space elevator concept is that the elevator would have to be centered on the equator, and its tethers would pass through the Van Allen belts that contain super charged particles that are caught in eddies in Earth's magnetic field. A space elevator traveling up and down the tether would have to pass directly through the wide belts at a relatively slow rate in comparison to a spaceship, meaning that any passengers on the elevator would have to pass through the belts of highly charged particles for a dangerously long amount of time.

Question

The belts are constantly changing with a mix of super-charged particles. Could the belts discharge each other if we connect them with a conductive conduit? If so, then would it be possible to make parts of the space elevator/tether conductive so the two belts would dissipate each other?

What if there is only one large belt at a particular time? Would we need to stop the elevator until the belt splits into two?

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  • $\begingroup$ Nice and simple: no. Radiation belts often converge into a single one during solar maxima or otherwise stronger solar activity, so if this worked the way you expect it to, it should happen naturally with each stronger geomagnetic storm. It clearly doesn't. $\endgroup$ – TildalWave Feb 8 '16 at 22:43
  • $\begingroup$ That Van Allen Belts are spaced apart from each other by a vast distance, I would never expect them to naturally touch each other. $\endgroup$ – Rickest Rick Feb 8 '16 at 22:45
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    $\begingroup$ See Van Allen probes revolutionize view of radiation belts and here's also a video of the third belt forming. $\endgroup$ – TildalWave Feb 8 '16 at 22:58
  • $\begingroup$ After reading up on new science on the Van Allen belts, I realize that this is a much larger problem than I had thought! HOW ARE WE EVER GOING TO BUILD A SPACE ELEVATOR?! $\endgroup$ – Rickest Rick Feb 9 '16 at 15:16
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    $\begingroup$ Another possible answer: Electromagnetic shielding. Put a positive charge on your spacecraft that's as high as the energy levels of the hazardous protons and sit back and laugh at the Van Allen belts. If you charge your craft to say +100 million volts then any incoming proton will be slowed by 100 million electron volts--which will stop almost all of them. You add 100 million electron volts to all the electrons but they are easy to shield against. $\endgroup$ – Loren Pechtel Feb 9 '16 at 19:21
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My gut feeling says no.

The problem you face is that the total electric charge in the belts is immense. Your cable is a few meters in diameter tops, while the bands themselves are thousands of kilometers long. Outside of the direct area of the cable, you're not seriously affecting any electron or ion. Sure, you may bend its path, but you don't remove it from orbit. The electron has to hit the cable for any grounding to occur.

In numbers: the van Allen belts have an volume in the order of 10^23 m3. The area directly surrounding your cable is about 10^5 m3. This sweeps much larger volume, of course: a disk about 10^10 m3. Still you're looking at 13 orders of magnitude difference.

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