The first space elevator could become a tangible reality by 2050, if a Japanese company goes through with recently announced plans to construct such a device. These elevators would serve to put people in space without the use of rockets.
Having access to such an instrument would have considerable benefits, especially for space exploration and for developing new technologies. This would also enable the creation of orbital construction yards, which could in turn put together very large spacecraft, or even spaceships.
Space agencies are dreaming of being able to do this, but the costs currently associated with delivering cargo to orbit – as well as with developing heavy-lift delivery systems – are simply prohibitive.
By gaining access to an entirely new method of putting cargo in low-Earth orbit, this goal would be brought closer to fruition. Plans on how to do that are being developed by the Obayashi Corporation, which is headquartered in Tokyo, Japan.
According to a report published on February 22 in the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper, it would appear that the company is intent on constructing the first operational prototype as early as the mid-century.
The basic design of such an elevator is not that complex. All that's needed is a very long, very sturdy cable, a solid attachment to the ground, and a space station at the other end of the line. A shuttle would then climb up and down the cable, ferrying passengers and cargo.
The Japanese corporation is saying that the elevator could travel at a speed of about 124 miles (200 kilometers) per hour. This would enable a shuttle carrying 8 passengers to reach a space station located about 22,000 miles (36,000 kilometers) above the surface in less than 8 days.
While this approach is not as spectacular as a rocket launch, it does have the potential to be safer and more reliable overall. In addition, a space elevator would be able to carry more passengers and cargo than even the American-built orbiters could.
Experts from Obayashi Corp. say that the space station would be located about one quarter the distance separating the Earth from the Moon. The elevator cable would not end with the station, but rather with a dead counterweight, located even farther away from the planet's surface, Space reports.
What is interesting about this plan is that it also includes other technologies proposed in Japan. For instance, the cable connecting the station to the ground would also be used for transmitting solar power collected directly from space down to Earth's power grids.
“At this moment, we cannot estimate the cost for the project. However, we'll try to make steady progress so that it won't end just up as simply a dream,” Yomiuri Shimbun cites an Obayashi official as saying.