It might the stuff of science fiction dreams, but a Japanese construction company has announced that it will have built a working space elevator by 2050. Where can I join the queue?
According to the The Daily Yomiuri, construction company Obayashi Corp has announced it will have built a space elevator capable of shuttling passengers 36,000 kilometers above the Earth by 2050.
The company plans to use carbon nanontubes, which are 20 times stronger than steel, to produce the cables required for the elevator. Those cables will be stretched to a counterweight 96,000 kilometers above our planet, about one-fourth of the distance between the Earth and the moon.
If you haven’t heard already, Japan is seriously planning to build a Space Elevator, e.g. an elevator that goes from Earth to space. The idea, first envisioned by the master of science fiction, Arthur C. Clarke, in his 1979 work The Fountains of Paradise, has in the last few years grown from science fiction to a genuinely achievable prospect.
In 2008 the book “Leaving the Planet by Space Elevator”, by Dr. Brad Edwards and Philip Ragan, was published in Japanese and entered the Japanese best seller list. This led to a Japanese announcement of intent to build a Space Elevator, which in turn has led to NASA and other space organizations and industries around the world also becoming interested in the idea.
Can it be done?
To build a Space Elevator the engineers will have to build a 22,000 mile-long (36,000km) cable, which has to be very light weight but super strong, attach one end to Earth and the other end to a geostationary-orbiting satelite. The centrifugal force generated by the Earth’s rotation will keep the tether from falling down.
Japan is increasingly confident that its sprawling academic and industrial base can solve the complex engineering problems this huge project will bring.
Space Elevator competition
On August 8th-9th the first Space Elevator competition outside the US was held in Tokyo.
The eight teams that were present had built battery driven climbing machines that had to weigh less than 10 Kg, the vertical and horizontal dimensions had to be within 1m and the battery had to be 12V or less. The competition was to see which machine could climb a 150m long tether the fastest. The tether, made of synthetic fibers, was floated up in the air by helium balloons.
First place went to a German team from the Technical University of Munich. Their machine climbed the 150 meters in 52 seconds. The best Japanese team consisted of students from Nihon University. Their machine, Sakurana, got the time 3 minutes and 3 seconds.
The purpose of the competition was to compare different ideas and gather some basic data for future developments.
Here’s a video from the winning teams machines onboard video camera.
It may not look much like a Space Elevator, but this is just the beginning. Maybe within the next 20 years a complete space elevator will be ready to transport people to space. If achieved, it would be an unprecedented feat of human engineering. It would revolutionize space travel, making it much easier and significantly cheaper to travel to space.
Do you think it’s achievable? Which country will be the first to build a Space Elevator? Would you want to ride an elevator to space?