Japan’s Space Elevator

space-elevatorSpace Elevator: Most of a rocket’s fuel is spent blasting through Earth’s thick atmosphere and out of the planetâ€s strong gravitational field. But here’s an alternate strategy for getting payloads up to space: Construct a 62,000-mile-long cable jutting straight out from the equator, hold it in place with centripetal force, then lift satellites and spacecraft out of the atmosphere with a giant freight elevator. One major hang-up: Cable strong enough to support the system does not yet exist, though it could be made from carbon nanotubes. Shown above is “The Climber” which sill carry the payload.

One of the most promising technologies for the aspiring outer-space commuter is the space elevator. The concept, like quite a few others, was pressed into the public imagination by Arthur C. Clarke, who in his 1979 novel The Fountains of Paradise described a incredibly thin, incredibly strong carbon filament with one end anchored on Earth and the other extending up to a satellite in geostationary orbit. Now, a group of Japanese scientists are convinced that they can build a space elevator more quickly and cheaply than has been believed possible.

Such a cable could convey cargo into space very cheaply and easily. Carriages would travel up and down the cable under modest power, not the vast expenditures of energy that are currently needed to send anything into orbit.

Technology has crept closer to making it a reality: we have geostationary satellites, and carbon nanotubes promise to be strong and light enough to form the filament, if they can be produced in sufficient quantity. A space elevator would be tens of thousands of miles long.

A few initiatives already exist to make a space elevator a reality. Elevator:2010 sponsors annual contests; LiftPort promises to have an elevator built by October 27, 2031, and is selling tickets on it, at $25/ounce.

The Japan Space Elevator Association, a new player in the field anticipates that Japan’s industrial and research power — “using the technology employed in our bullet trains,” according to Association director Yoshio Aoki — will be able to surmount the outstanding obstacles. The carbon fiber, which needs to have 180 times the tensile strength of steel, is currently under development by Japanese textile companies. The total price tag estimated for erecting the elevator is being estimated at just a trillion yen, or about 10 billion dollars.

3 comments to Japan’s Space Elevator

  • Gilgamesh

    Hem,

    It works perfectly as long as *no* payload is moved along the cable.

    If a payload is moved along the cable then the Coriolis force will tore it. This is because the cable has to "push" the payload to accelerate transversally to the cable in the same plan as earth rotation as it ascend the cable.

    This is similar to the reason why a rocket does not ascend vertically but nearly horizontally towards the end of the mission, it has to accelerate furiously to meet the orbital speed.

    There are other issues to space elevators, don't invest in those companies ;-)

  • RFD

    I believe a force field surrounding tens/hundreds/thousands of platform(s) associated with the elevator is all that is necessary to carry payloads/satellites/astronauts into outer space.–Many thanks.

  • Nichael C Weir

    I am working on a geodesic hot air ship. One of my designs is to make an airship that would be geostationary at 40000 feet, at the equator. Another airship will ferry the elevator and its cargo to the 40000 airship. At that height you could use available fibers on the market today to make the tether. You could have the elevator ready to be built in 5 years.

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