A 'space elevator' by 2050?
A Japanese firm would like to take tourists spaceward, to a station connected to a 22,370-mile stretch of cable. Could it happen?
Ever dream of flying into outer space? In the next 40 years, adventurous space tourists might be able to get there without even boarding a rocket ship. A Tokyo-based firm is planning to build a space station thousands of miles above the planet, transporting passengers to-and-from orbit with a futuristic space elevator. Going… up? Here, a brief guide to the "thrustingly ambitious" project:
What is a space elevator?It's kind of like a regular elevator, but instead of transporting passengers between floors, it takes them to a space station anchored some 22,370 miles above Earth. British science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke imagined this kind of orbital tower in his 1979 novel The Fountains of Paradise, says Britain's Daily Mail, and now the "outlandish" prospect is one step closer to a reality.
Someone really wants to build one?Yes. Obayashi Corp. — a firm currently building Japan's tallest structure, the 2,080-foot Tokyo Sky Tree — has unveiled plans to build a working space elevator, which it hopes to have up and running by 2050.
How would it work?Tourists would travel "on some type of vessel tethered to carbon nanotube cables," says Rebecca Boyle at Popular Science. Early plans call for an elevator car equipped to carry 30 people, traveling at 125 mph. Powering the structure would be solar cells attached to the orbiting station. The cable would be attached to a "spaceborne counterweight" a quarter of the way between the Earth and the moon, with a single trip taking a little over a week.
But isn't the Earth always rotating? It is. That's why the floating station would be placed where it could have a "geosynchronous" orbit, circling in sync with the spinning of the Earth and always remaining in the same spot relative to its base on the ground, says Boyle.
Then why not just use a rocket ship? With an elevator, tourists wouldn't require any training beforehand, allowing the space station to work as a true destination. The reusable vehicle would be powered upward by solar panels on the orbital base, making it a low-cost way to get people and payloads into space.