A space elevator is one of those thoughts that sounds ultra-insane at first yet when you get familiar with it. Despite everything it sounds completely insane however you can see the upsides. It’s actually what it sounds like, a goliath lift that you get in down here on earth and venture off of in space. So, how close are we for a space elevator?
First we need a grapple on earth which would fill in as the stacking station for the lift vehicle, a tether extending into space for the vehicle to go along, and a stabilizer way out in space to keep the tether instructed. Plans fluctuate however it would appear that the counterweight could need to be similar to 100,000 kilometers over the earth. In excess of a quarter the separation to the moon. Sounds nuts, yet for some, it’s not only a la-la-land thought, but it’s also something they’re effectively moving in the direction of.
In September of 2018 specialists from Shizuoka University in Japan propelled a trial to the ISS to test the practicality of one part of a space lift. The trial includes two little cubic satellites associated by 10 meters of cable, with a little compartment moving along the cable with an engine. It’s a long way from an undeniable space lift, however, the objective was to demonstrate that velocity along a cable in space was conceivable.
The experiment is in collaboration with the construction firm Obayashi, which six years prior announced plans to build a space elevator by 2050. They’re not the only one’s toying with the idea. China intends to build one by 2045, and NASA has commissioned studies to look into how feasible the idea is. But hold up, why all the fuss about space elevators to begin with?
What’s wrong with good old chemical powered rockets?
Well while we have rocket technology right now to lift payloads and people into space, It’s extremely costly. According to SpaceX, it costs roughly $2,700 to put one kilogram of cargo into low earth orbit. An elevator to space would be a massive construction project, but by one estimate, once built, could cost as little as $200 to get one kilogram into space. Meaning I would only need $13,000 to get off this planet, as opposed to $175,000.
Obayashi estimates it would cost about $90 billion to make a space elevator but compared to the cost of conventional rockets it would recoup that once it had lifted about 4.5 thousand tonnes, which is about the weight of 11 International space stations.
A space elevator would open up so many possibilities, like
Building and launching ships in orbit. It could make trips to Mars less fuel intensive, because a ship could plummet towards Earth like an Olympic high diver, using Earth’s gravity to boost it on to the red planet.
Tourists could make trips up regularly and get the selfie of a lifetime.
Flat Earthers could finally see what we have been trying to explain to them all along! There is actually no reason not to do this!
Except that we can’t do it yet, Surely we could build many of the components with the materials we have today, like the anchor on earth, the counterweight out in space, and the elevator car itself.
What’s the challenge?
The actual tether that holds the whole thing together, that makes it a space elevator, is an extreme challenge. As of today, there’s no material strong and light enough to stretch 100,000 kilometers into space. That’s almost 2 and a half times earth’s circumference. The material has to be resistant to weather, radiation, and orbital debris. The closest thing to that right now are carbon nanotubes, which can be 100 times stronger than steel. But they’re difficult to make longer than a few centimeters, which is about 100,000 km short of the goal.
Still, Japanese scientists are committed to building a lift to the heavens, and the first stop will be proving an elevator car which can travel along a 10-meter cable in space. Carbon nanotubes were discovered by a Japanese researcher, and their expertise is part of why they are more dedicated to building a space elevator than most other countries.