Monday, February 27, 2012

Space Elevator Plans Unveiled by Japanese

Getting to space may become be as simple as pressing the "door close" button of an elevator, as imagined by Japanese construction company Obayashi Corp.

The company unveiled plans Wednesday to build a space elevator with a hopeful completion date of 2050.

According to the proposal, 30 passengers at a time would depart from the equator and travel in an enclosure guided by a 60,000 mile (96,000 km) cable that stretches a quarter of the way to the moon.

The final destination would be a spaceport that contains laboratories and living quarters 22,000 miles (35,000 km) above the Earth's surface.

Engineers expect to anchor the cable by a counterweight attached to the space end to help keep the line taut. Solar panels would provide electricity to power the station.

Don't expect a quick ride though. Even travelling at 124 mph (200 km/h) the trip would expect to take a week.

One issue that has plagued space elevator designs is finding the right material to build such a long cable. Engineers from Obayashi Corp. believe carbon nanotubes, super-light and super-strong sheets of carbon rolled into tubes, might be the answer if they can be mass produced cheap enough.

"At this moment, we cannot estimate the cost for the project," an Obayashi official reported. "However, we'll try to make steady progress so that it won't end just up as simply a dream."

Safety would play a large role in the construction of the elevator. Passengers need to be protected from the expected radiation exposure during the trip. In addition, the elevator and spaceport would not orbit around the Earth, which puts it at risk of collision with orbiting satellites.

Space elevators are not a new concept. In 1895, Russian scientist Konstantin Tsiolkovsky was inspired by the Eiffel Tower and conceptually designed a space elevator 22,200 miles (35,800 km) high he called a "celestial castle", according to NASA.

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