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Posted: September 22, 2008
Japanese consortium proposes plan for building space elevator
(Nanowerk News) The Japan Space Elevator Association has published plans for the structure, which it estimates could be put in place for as little as $9bn. It would revolutionize the cost of satellite communications systems and make orbital manufacture economically feasible.
At an international conference in November, a group of ambitious engineers and would-be astronauts will draw up a proposal and a timeline for building the world’s first space elevator, which would give humans access to orbit via 22,000-mile-long cables.
“Just like traveling abroad, anyone will be able to ride the elevator into space,” Shuichi Ono, chairman of the Japan Space Elevator Association, told the Times.
The plan calls for the use of carbon nanotubes attached to a fixed platform in orbit and run down to a base station on earth. These would need to be about four times as strong as existing nanotube technology but the strength of such materials has increased a hundredfold in the last five years.
The tubes would be anchored to a fixed point in orbit and run down to a base station on earth. Elevators attached to the tubes could be powered by electricity, drastically reducing the cost of moving materials into orbit.
Orbital manufacturing has many advantages over earth based production, not least vast amounts of available solar power. Nasa has already shown the ease of growing perfect crystals in zero gravity and other exotic materials could also be produced more easily in zero gravity.
In addition, the lowered cost of getting into orbit would drastically cut the cost of setting up satellite communications systems to those parts of the world where landlines are uneconomic.
The concept of a space elevator was first conceived in an 1960 article by Yuri Artsutanov in Pravda: "To the Cosmos by Electric Train". This article is the granddaddy of all 'space elevator' concepts and first to propose the idea that a cable-based transport system could become an alternative to rockets for launching people and payload into space. See our Nanowerk Spotlight "To the cosmos by nanotechnology " for more.