Japan Plans To Have A Space Elevator By 2050

It might the stuff of science fiction dreams, but a Japanese construction company has announced that it will have built a working space elevator by 2050. Where can I join the queue?

According to the The Daily Yomiuri, construction company Obayashi Corp has announced it will have built a space elevator capable of shuttling passengers 36,000 kilometers above the Earth by 2050.

The company plans to use carbon nanontubes, which are 20 times stronger than steel, to produce the cables required for the elevator. Those cables will be stretched to a counterweight 96,000 kilometers above our planet, about one-fourth of the distance between the Earth and the moon.

The terminal station, 36,000 kilometers above Earth, will be reached by cars that can carry 30 people and travel at 200 kilometers per hour. An Obayashi official said:

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

I can estimate the cost: ridiculously, needlessly expensive. But I don't much care: I mean, it's a space elevator. Whether this claim can actually become a reality is up for discussion -- but they're not the only horse in the race. I just hope it happens in my lifetime. [The Daily Yomiuri]


    36000KM at 200km/h is 180 hours, or longer than a week... Thats kind of a long time to be stuck in an elevator with 29 other people!

      That is assuming that 200km/h is reach instantly, it could take a while to reach maximum speed... those cars better be big, otherwise no one will be happy sitting in a box for well over a week!

        that 36,000 km is to geosynchronous orbit. you are in space after an hour although you would not be at orbital velocity. Also, the longest carbon nanotube ever observed is around 20 cm so some advances will be required before this happens.

      Did you ever consider that once out of earth, 200kmph will be a quite significant speed simply due to the fact that there is no air resistance in space? so i assume it'd be a fair few hours less, but nonetheless i agree, its an awful long time to stay in a elevator.

      Though, the product being japanese, i have little doubt it will fail, since, lets be honest, japan gave us the great JDM cars, so this is a mere staircase ;)

        In the early days of Qantas it took you a week to bunny-hop from Sydney to England

          200kmph is 200kmph - regardless of air resistance

          Japan also gave us fukishima...


        200kph is 200kph regardless of how much air resistance there is...

        I think what you meant was that, if it is capable of 200kph in Earth's atmosphere, then in the vacuum of space it can probably travel faster.

    Gundam 00 must be more popular in its homeland than I thought.

      The very first thing I thought of

        ....then you must know what happened to the orbital elevators right? and the cities underneath them..and....yeah.....

      Yeah, now to wait for the other two world power-houses to build their own, get some solar receivers up and have some fun! :P

    Thought: would hoisting people a certain distance up the elevator then dropping them in a sort of glider make for efficient air travel?

      Well if you hoist them 100km up and they get a 10:1 glide, they could travel 1000km. But leaving aside the feasibility of the idea, spending trillions of dollars so 30 people at a time can fly a little cheaper is probably not a practical business proposition.

    where were you wehn they built the ladder to heaven (japan building faster and better then Stan, Kyle and cartman

      nine eleeeveenn

    Expensive, absolutely. Prohibitively so? Quite possibly. Needlessly? Not so sure about that... Unless you're dismissing the idea of extra planetary colonisation in general (which is obviously your prerogative), a space elevator is generally regarded as the most affordable and effective means of shuttling folks to orbit, as I understand it.

    The idea necessitates the construction of ships in orbit/space, of course, but that's still better than building and launching them right here on Earth. At least with current technology.

    Anyone else get the vibe of the Escalator to Nowhere from the Simpsons?

    there is 7 billion people in the world , if everyone is taxed $1 per year , we can do this thing !!! COME ON!

      For most of those 7 billion people, $1 is a very significant portion of their income (if they have one).

    That is so cool. The technology exists, it's just whether or not they can fund the fucker.

    No way they will build it outside of Japan and no way it can work anywhere but on the Equator. i.e. Ain't gonna happen.

      Interestingly being near the equator is not really a problem. As a result of centripetal forces the ribon will naturally end up above the equator but it can curve down to an anchor point a considerable distance from the equator. The biggest problem is lightening and electrical activity.

      Great big Ribbon made of carbon streaching up into the sky is an amazingly good lightening conductor. So it is more important to build the space port in a low lightening area and interestingly 400km off the coast of australia is one of the best places in the world!

        The stresses involved in curving it away from the equator would be far too high - carbon nanotubes have amazing tensile strength but do not like being bent.

    Why 36,000km? That is a fair distance when the ISS orbits at around 300km.

      Maybe the end needs to be in geostationary orbit, which is 35.786km?

    eerrrmmmm, are you sure its 36,000km? 360km sounds more like it, this is the minimum orbit of the ISS

      Just over 100 km would get it in what is regarded to be outer space, however the exosphere extends to approx 10,000km. The article states that the counterweight would be 94,000km away yet only transport people 36,000km. So I think there is a fair bit that needs to be clarified

        See the explanatory pic here: http://www.yomiuri.co.jp/dy/national/T120221004421.htm

        36,000km is geosyncronous orbit (the clarke belt) this is where the speed of the object matches the speed of the earths rotation so it always stays in the one place above the earth. Unlike the ISS which orbits the earth once every 90 minutes.

        The reason for the counterweights is simply to keep the cable taught and to stop it from falling back towards the earth. You then have another advantage because you can then launch spacecraft from this location and they can use the earths momentum to give them a kick start making launches 100 times cheaper

          Don't forget that as the cable is extended down towards earth, it must also be extended in the opposite direction to maintain the dispenser station in GEO, newtons third law and what not.

    so, how are we wasting the earths resources today... oh shi...

      Haha, if it wasn't for the fact that we'd be bringing down resources mined in space, refined in space with clean space based solar power and partially manufactured with vacuum and microgravity techniques, this'd be funny.

    To bad it's not an original idea. The Japs pulled the concept from Arthur C. Clarkes " Fountains of Paradise" written in 1979. Perhaps they should give old Arthur the laurels for a briliant piece of Science Fiction.

      Only difference is that they succeeded in the book, this will never get off the ground. Pun intended.

      Don't forget Authur C Clarke got the idea for the elevator in the book from a scientific paper published (by a Russian I think) many many years beforehand

      Indeed. And also Kim Stanley Robinson's "Red Mars" trilogy.

        They need to look to Charlies' Great Glass Elevator for inspiration, No launch tube nesessary.

    Typical of geeks - no discussion of what happens when 96000km of superstrong cable break ( accidents,terrorism, meteors, aircraft collision etc ) and whip around the earth at high speed. Safety? - doesn't matter , lets build this insane white elephant , oh we so clever!!!

    White elephant? Think ISS, space shuttle - cost so much to build there's no money left to actually do anything afterwards.

      Yes, that's the attitude that got society to where it is today. I'd be more worried about asteroids. There is a whopper due to pass within geostationary orbit in a few years.

      Yeah, totally! The people who developed aircraft over the last hundred years should have had a reality check too. I mean think of all the lives that wouldn't have been lost to accidents, terrorism etc. if they hadn't been stupid geeks with their silly flying gadgets

        Yeah , thank goodness the inventors of the zeppelin weren't put off by the safety issue of flying round with a few thousand cubic meters of flammable hydrogen in close proximity.

        If they were , we wouldn't now be enjoying our glorious present of quiet pollution free ecologically sustainable zeppelin travel. Book me for the Hindenburg! Oh wait......

        Just because some technological advancements proceed and improve our lives , that doesn't mean every new idea , no matter how crazy , gets to be implemented without first surviving rigorous examination of practicality and safety considerations.

        Face it , the space elevator is never going to happen , it will fail miserably on both counts

          Or if the USA had not blocked Germanys access to He then the Hinderburg would have had a hard time burning.

            You're making the assumption, from this one little article, that people are not considering these things...

            Oh wait, but you know better because naturally, no one has your foresight!

            Hey Inventors and Scientists! I've just discovered a guy who can tell you in advance whether you are wasting your time on any proposals. Just ask RealityCheck first!

    "It might the stuff of science fiction dreams"

    I don't mean to be picky but is it really too much to ask that professional writers proof read their own work? I only mention this here because it is a recurring problem on Giz. We are geeks, please don't expect us to read things that sound like they are written by uneducated teenagers.

    don't worry about cost...the main thing that will fail....as always....is maintenance. you just simply cannot maintain something like this. it's hard enough keeping an aircraft up in the air..... let alone keeping on top of such a incredibly MASSIVE structure like this.

    Could be possible.
    Look at the advancements we have had in the last 40 years. Think another 40 in to the future. I still am waiting fir flying cars though...just saying

    Depending upon the counterweight and the included elevator once it reaches the end would this have affect on the earth's rotation in any way?

    Will I receive mobile reception during my travel?

    You guys needs to read the Kim Stanley Robinson, Reg, Green, Blue mars trilogy - this is a rehash from there.

    The technology is there - it is the will and the costs to do it.

    Good luck with a terrorist finding something strong enough to crash into a carbon nanofibre tube and do it any damage.

    yes it does need to be at the equator (for a number of reasons) - the cost for running and maintenance are minimal if they can use the empty cars coming back down to bring something back from space.

    Finally we can set up those micro-gee exotic material fabrication industries we've all been waiting for!

    A good way to dispose their radio active waste and everyone elses. Just shoot it to the sun. Mission accomplished.

    U could also use perspecs glass that has cushion lined holes tunneling through it, where a variety of cable materials are run through from top to bottom for erectile support as the perspecs would be moulded attached as sections. Then you would place that glass cylinder over a hydro water plant where the required pressure provided to push the cylinder lift up the tube. It would be a circular motion perpetuating the pressure and speed of waste disposall.

Join the discussion!