Space elevators are no longer confined to the realm of science fiction. The Japanese construction giant Obayashi Corporation recently announced its plans to build a working space elevator by the end of 2050. The plan (if successful) could revolutionize aerospace travel and change the global economy as researchers heading into space in the not-too-distant future could travel by an elevator rather than a rocket.
The idea of space elevators appears to be a feasible option today. A 2012 international study concluded that elevators of this kind are scientifically practicable thanks to advances in super–strong carbon nanotubes. Researchers say that their tensile strength is about 100 times stronger than steel cables and hence it’s possible. Presently, researchers at Obayashi Corporation can make carbon nanotubes that are 3 centimeters long. But they expect to extend its length by 2030 so that the cable is long enough to reach into space.
The elevator would reach 96,000 kilometers (59,652 miles) into space. It is estimated that the robotic cars (powered by magnetic linear motors) of this device will be capable of transporting people into the region at a fraction of the cost of rockets.
If the project is successful, the researchers at Obayashi Corporation expect that this could drastically reduce the cost and danger associated with space expeditions. A device of this kind could possibly end scientist’s dependence on expensive and unreliable earth-based rockets. The space cargo usually costs around $22,000 per kilogram via shuttle and by using Obayashi’s elevator this cost could be as low as $200. Further, these rockets can be used to explore more in to the Solar system and be directly launched from platforms in orbit. This in a way would minimize the total amount of fuel required to break the Earth’s gravitational pull.
Apart from cost benefits, the device can possibly store nuclear waste and deliver huge amounts of cheap solar power. It is estimated that the entire space journey will take seven days and the car will be able to transport about 30 people. In addition, it could also exploit the possibilities of cheaper space tourism.