Japanese scientists are so hyped up on the possibilities of building a real life space elevator that in just two months' time the country is playing host to a conference designed to set a production timetable. Carbon nanotube technology has advanced so rapidly that a material capable of withstanding the amazing forces in the space elevator cable is almost within reach: according to the chairman of the Japan Space Elevator Association it'd only need to be four times stronger than the current strongest nanotube rope.
The potential benefits of accessing space by crawling up a cable versus launching rockets are mind boggling...especially when you realise it could be 100 times cheaper to get there than using a Space Shuttle. But building a more than 36,000km-long carbon rope (or more likely a series of parallel ropes) to connect an Earth-based "launch pad" with a geostationary-orbiting elevator hub still seems a lot like science fiction. Yet it turns out that development of carbon nanotube technology has seen a more than 100 times increase in the fibre strength in the last five years: four times more strength certainly seems possible.
The Space Elevator Association's director also thinks technology similar to the Bullet train's could be used to build the elevator cars, since nanotubes can be used as electrical conductors. Lets hope his vision that "just like travelling abroad, anyone will be able to ride the elevator into space" comes true: my savings fund for going aloft in Virgin Galactic is going to take waaaay too long to fill up. [Timesonline]
Picture: HighLift Systems.