Water is cheap and useful for many purposes in space (fuel, life support, radiation shielding and maybe even as the bulk part of construction material if covered from sublimation in vacuum). But getting it to orbit is expensive, and it is rare in the inner solar system. So I wonder if there have been any ideas around in this creative business, to "launch" water itself without packaging it.

Water leaves Earth's atmosphere naturally at some rate. Could water conceivable be "steamed" up (steam me up Scotty!;-) to orbit in a way so that at least a useful fraction of it could be collected in LEO? Maybe from a high altitude balloon. Maybe using microwave beams to excite and direct it.

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    $\begingroup$ See Does it snow in LEO? I know, a stupid title, but I'm asking there how a water jet or a cloud behaves in vacuum. Similar thing, I was just interested for a different application (drag augmentation). As for balloons and LEO, that's a huge difference there in atmospheric density, speed and altitude. How do you envision that without introducing significant drag in LEO? If I get your question correctly, then best analog I can think of are plumes of cryovolcanoes, such as on Enceladus. $\endgroup$ – TildalWave May 21 '15 at 16:56
  • $\begingroup$ @TildalWave Since I'm experimentalist enough to heat fast food in my microwave oven (like any FRB-researcher, ehum) I know that microwaves can give water molecules escape velocity. And I read that microwaves and lasers are used to control the movement of molecules in laboratories at ridiculous precision. So my question is that maybe that magic could be applied to wafting steam beams of water through the heaven? A balloon at high altitude could eliminate most of the atmospheric problems. It might even be tethered to the ground and cheap electricity for its microwave beam, or whatever needed. $\endgroup$ – LocalFluff May 21 '15 at 17:24
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    $\begingroup$ Terry Virts tweeted one really interesting photo a couple of days ago that might present the problem better. That's (I think) disassociated water haze (O + OH) with most of its hydrogen lost to space. It's at about 200 km altitude so still only about half the altitude of ISS. I'm not sure of its radial velocity or dissipation rate, but if we presume it follows Earth's shadow (Venus has similar O haze in that region), it's still some 7.3 km/s off from orbital velocity. And it's really tenuous. $\endgroup$ – TildalWave May 21 '15 at 17:43

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