If I say Space Elevator what springs to mind? It should conjure images of a vast length of cable running from the Earth’s surface to geosynchronous orbit. An engineering feat that would see 36,000km of this cable disappearing into space that can carry people and equipment out of our massive gravity well and into the vastness of the universe. blah blah blah. This is the stuff of science fiction, right. Well apparently the Japanese don’t think so they have put together a consortium whose aim is to bring about the required technology and construct a working space elevator by 2018.

If you’re like a friend of mine that I told about this you’re thinking, “Why bother?”. It’s true that we currently have technology to boost material into space using chemical rockets, this is tried and true stuff and works fine so why have a space elevator? One big reason is cost. At the moment it can cost up to $10,000 to send one pound (500g for those of us in the civilized world) of material into orbit this means that an average person plus modest accompanying luggage, say 100kg, would run a $2,000,000 dollar ticket. Hhmm a little pricey. With space elevator technology this could drop by a factor of 100, down to a mere $20,000. OK, still somewhat out of my price range.

But tourism isn’t really the goal, if we can shuttle (so to speak) stuff into orbit cheaply then this opens space up to smaller countries, especially communication satellites. Micro G manufacturing is also an attractive option and could create exotic materials that would be difficult or impossible to make on Earth. In addition there are power considerations, solar power would be easily available to both power the elevator and possibly beam power down to Earth, imagine shifting power generation from the surface of the planet into orbit. The possibilities are amazing and endless.

Resources

http://jsea.jp/en

http://www.nanowerk.com/news/newsid=7382.php

http://www.vnunet.com/vnunet/news/2226676/japan-sets-plans-space-elevator

http://www.impactlab.com/2008/09/22/japan-space-elevator-association-to-draw-up-timetable-for-space-elevator/