Space Elevator Planned By 2050 In Japan
I think all of us growing up were intrigued by Willy Wonka’s mysterious glass elevator that could seemingly take you wherever you wanted to go, even if that meant crashing through the roof and into the sky. Of course in the world of sci-fi, elevators have frequently taken people beyond Wonka’s ambitions and into outer space, and now Obayashi Corp out of Tokyo is hoping to do the same.
According to Space.com, a plan has been proposed by the Japanese company to build an elevator that would take passengers out of our atmosphere and drop them off at a space station situated in low Earth orbit. With a max speed of 124mph, it would take the vehicle over a week to reach its destination nearly 22,000 miles away. It does not mention what kind of accommodations the maximum of 30 passengers will experience while on the way up, expect something a little more homey than what you get on a Southwest jet, but the space station itself will provide living quarters and laboratories for them to live and work once they’ve completed their journey.
The biggest problem Obayashi is running into is the cost of the 66,000 mile cable that will be needed for the vehicle to run on. Extending three times farther than the station itself, the extra long cable will be capped with a counterweight that will act as an anchor in space to help stabilize the unit. Unfortunately, the proposed material to build the cable, called carbon nanotubes, costs much more than can be considered financially effective. However, their proposal doesn’t put completion of the elevator until 2050, leaving plenty of time for development costs of the material to come down.
At first glance, hell, even at second and third glance, this kind of project seems like the insane ramblings of an eight-year-old who has read too many sci-fi stories. But the actual application of something like this could actually be a very cost effective way to keep the space program active without having to deal with expensive and incredibly dangerous launches that strap astronauts to thousands of tons of volatile gasoline. Sure, taking nearly a week to get 30 passengers to the station is longer than it would take to just blast them up there on a shuttle, but the amount of money saved would be huge since the long cable and magnetic rail system will negate the cost of fuel.
As crazy as this sounds, Obayashi’s space elevator project could be a very interesting development in our journey to deep space, and they’ve intrigued NASA into supporting it. And hey, anything that will get me into space sooner rather than later I am all for. More on this as the project slowly but surely develops.