Japan Is Launching a Mini Space Elevator Into Orbit This Month

Tuesday, 04 September 2018 - 12:21PM
Space
Technology
Tuesday, 04 September 2018 - 12:21PM
Japan Is Launching a Mini Space Elevator Into Orbit This Month
< >
Image Credit: Pixabay
As the famous Arthur C. Clarke quote goes, "The Space Elevator will be built about 50 years after everyone stops laughing." Why all the laughter? Because on paper, a space elevator is one of the largest, most mind-boggling engineering projects ever undertaken by humanity: the cable itself would be at least 21,750 miles long, anchored to a giant tower somewhere along the equator, with the other end attached to a counterweight about the size of a small asteroid.

That's why Japan's space agency is starting small—very, very small.

This month, a team of Japanese scientists is launching a very small model space elevator into orbit to test out the mechanics and movement of the elevator. The elevator 'box' itself will be tiny—only 6x3x3 centimeters—and the cable it will travel along will be only 10 meters. The cable will be stretched between two small satellites, both of which are equipped with cameras to monitor the movements of the elevator. According to a spokesperson from the university associated with the project, the little experiment is a landmark in the quest for creating a true space elevator: "It's going to be the world's first experiment to test elevator movement in space."

The Japanese company Obayashi has been eyeing the construction of a full-sized space elevator since at least 2014, and plans to create a working version capable of carrying 100-ton "climbers" by the year 2050. The most difficult part of the project will most likely be the cable, which is projected to be 96,000 kilometers (roughly 60,000 miles) long and built from carbon nanotubes, which, despite being incredibly strong, are also extremely fragile: if one carbon atom is out of place, it can cause the entire structure to rapidly "unweave" itself, causing a catastrophic failure.

If everything works as planned, though, space elevators could be the key to easy access to space—the cost of transporting material into space could drop from $22,000 per kilogram to just a fraction of that, removing one of the biggest barriers (cost) from space travel.

Science
Science News
Space
Technology
No