'Space elevator' could take astronauts 20km into the sky

Patents granted for inflatable structure more than 20 times the height of the world's tallest building

Thoth Space Elevator
(Image credit: Thoth Technologies)

A Canadian company has been granted US and UK patents for a 'space elevator', which they say will lift cargo 20km into the sky, from where it can launch into space more easily.

The ThothX Tower would be an inflatable, freestanding structure containing reinforced segments and would stay upright through a complex series of fly-wheels to guard against over-bending.

"Astronauts would ascend to 20km by electrical elevator. From the top of the tower, space planes will launch in a single stage to orbit, returning to the top of the tower for refuelling and reflight," said Brendan Quine, the tower's inventor.

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Thoth Technology claims the elevator would make space flight significantly cheaper as shuttles would not have to carry the large amount of fuel necessary just to get off the ground. The elevator cars can be powered electrically or inductively, eliminating the need to carry fuel and countering the "extremely inefficient" nature of rocketry, according to the company's patent.

"In our concept, you ascend electrically and remove the whole vertical launch phase," Quine said. "Then you get into a space plane, which is like a passenger jet, and take off horizontally."

Space elevators were previously thought to be unworkable due to the lack of a material that could support itself at such a height. However, The Guardian says Thoth's design "sidesteps this problem by building the elevator to 20km so it sits within the stratosphere rather than all the way in the geostationary orbit, where satellites fly".

The Independent says that despite the structure not technically reaching space, the tower would be more than 20 times the height of the tallest building in the world, the 830m-tall Burj Khalifa located in Dubai.

Thoth President and CEO Caroline Roberts said the tower could also make commercial space flight a more realistic possibility. She said: "Landing at 12 miles above sea level will make space flight more like taking a passenger jet."

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