Imagine getting into an elevator, pressing the button and your next stop is a satellite in outer space. Sound like science fiction? Space scientists have been planning just that for some time now. The idea is to reduce the cost and risk of sending materials and people into space. So far, however, the implementation of the idea has been beyond the reach of current technologies.
Japan is Leading the Race
In September 2018, a Japanese team of scientists will take this dream one step closer to reality when they do the first trial of an elevator in space. Researchers at the Shizuoka University have produced the test equipment. On the 11th of September, Japan’s space company will launch it into space – destination the International Space Station.
The idea is to prove the elevator concept by moving a miniature version of the elevator along a 10-meter cable. The cable will be strung between two small satellites each measuring ten centimeters. The elevator will move along the cable. Cameras on the satellites will record the entire process. This is the world’s first experiment on how a space elevator will behave in zero gravity.
The idea of a space elevator has been around since 1895
The Idea is an Old One
The idea of a space elevator has been around since 1895 when Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, a Russian scientist known as the father of rocketry, first got the idea when he saw the Eifel Tower.
The idea is to put a cable into the orbit of the Earth. It would be anchored at a place somewhere along the equator. The weather is most predictable in equatorial regions. The cable would extend almost fifty thousand kilometers into space. It would have several tracks running up the side of a tower. Electromagnetic vehicles would travel up and down the tracks at high speed. They would require no fuel.
The elevator would reduce the cost of taking goods into space by a factor of 100. It is also a lot safer than the current rocket technology. It is estimated that the cost of building the space elevator will be around $90 billion.
One of the obstacles to developing a viable elevator is finding the materials to build the cables. The cables must be cosmic ray resistant. Japan is technologically well placed to develop the first space elevator. Japanese scientists have extensive experience with robotics and carbon nanotubes, which are almost ten times stronger than steel. This technology is relatively new and may help to overcome the last obstacles to making a viable space elevator.
The initial concept has the elevator running from a platform in the sea to a space station in orbit around the earth. Space elevators would take eight days to reach their destination.
The Space Elevator May Start Operations in 2050
Obayashi Corporation, a Japanese construction company. started working on the technology about six years ago. The company has given technical advice to the researchers at the University. It plans to have a space elevator operational by 2050. Each elevator will carry up to thirty people into space on one trip.
In order to realise the dream of making a viable elevator, Obayashi Corporation must overcome the problem of making carbon nanotubes that are long enough to reach into space. This technology does not yet exist. The time frame for making the nanotube cable is 2030.