A Japanese construction company says it will build a space elevator by 2050.
For those unfamiliar with the concept, this is basically an elevator that carries humans and materiel into space. It would consist of three main parts: an earth-based station, located somewhere on the equator; the cable, which would have to stretch all the way to space; and a station in orbit that acts as a counterweight and tethers the construction. The concept is basically the same as a regular elevator, with one key difference–there is no shaft.
The construction company, Obayashi Corporation, would use carbon nanotubes 20 times stronger than steel in the construction. The cable would stretch some 96,000 kilometers, about a quarter of the distance to the moon. The elevator would travel at a veritable snail’s pace of 200 kilometers per hour. At that speed it would take seven and a half days for tourists to reach the first station (at 36,000 kilometers) and 20 days for researchers and specialists to ride to the top. The climber would carry thirty passengers.
The cost of the project is bound to be astronomically expensive and there’s no word on who would fund it. The Japanese government, though, has expressed interest in the concept in the past.
Why would Japan, or anyone for that matter, want a space elevator? Because the present methods of getting people into space is expensive. While the cost of constructing a space elevator would be extremely high, carrying people and equipment into space and back would end up cheaper. The idea is that over time, this would result in significant savings.