Imagine being able to go into space for roughly the price of an ultra-luxury cruise. A Japanese company may soon (and here, "soon" means "in 40 years or so") be making that a reality, via a space elevator.
Japanese construction giant Obayashi believe that carbon nanotechnology is developing quickly enough that a space elevator may be a reality as early as 2050, and they plan to be the first to make one, according to ABC News Australia.
The Obayashi space elevator would essentially be a magnetic track, made of carbon nanotubes, that would lead to a space station approximately 96,000 kilometers (59,000 miles) above the equator, according to Obayashi research and development manager Yoji Ishikawa.
"The tensile strength [of carbon nanotubes] is almost a hundred times stronger than steel cable so it's possible.Right now we can't make the cable long enough. We can only make 3-centimetre-long nanotubes but we need much more... we think by 2030 we'll be able to do it."
If successful, a space elevator would fundamentally change the nature of space travel. Using robotic cars, a journey from Earth to the space elevator would take about seven days, according to TVNZ. Once at the orbiting space station, however, spacecraft would be able to launch further into space at a much lower cost, due to not having to pay the heavy fuel cost of escaping the Earth's gravity. The would even put the Moon, or Mars, into easy reach (well, much easier that they are now, anyway).
Currently, the cost of launching cargo into space is about $22,000 per kilogram. With a space elevator, that cost comes down to about $200 per kilogram. In other words, a person weighing 220 pounds could go into space, via a space elevator, for about $20,000. Currently, Obayashi is also working on making cars that could carry 30 people on the space elevator, so Moon tourism may be a thing in your children's lifetimes.
Right now, space tourism is the domain of The One Percent. Millionaire Dennis Tito, according to this Inquisitr report, spent $20 million for an eight-day trip to the International Space Station in 2001. With a space elevator, though, space tourism might become a reality. An expensive reality, but within reach of, say, The Five Percent or Ten Percent.
A space elevator would also help with the world's energy problems, according to ABC News Australia. Free from the Earth's atmosphere, solar power generators could generate virtually unlimited solar power and send it back down to Earth via the space elevator cables. Nuclear waste could be carried up the space elevator and stored in space, or launched out of sight.
Building a space elevator isn't going to be cheap, says Mr. Ishikawa, but he believes that, with multinational cooperation, it can and will be done.
"I don't think one company can make it, we'll need an international organisation to make this big project."
Would you pay to take a journey on a space elevator (if you could afford to)? Do you think you'll see a space elevator in your lifetime? Let us know in the comments.
[Image courtesy of: ABC News Australia]