A Canadian company could soon change the way we blast off into space.
Thoth Technology of Pembroke, Ontario has been granted a patent for a 20-kilometre-high freestanding space elevator that would enable astronauts to launch into space from a platform high above the Earth.
Inventor Dr. Brendan Quine from the Algonquin Radio Observatory compares the experience to that of a passenger jet.
“From the top of the structure you would be able to launch using a single stage space plane directly into low Earth orbit, and the return to the top of the structure and you wouldn’t need any expendable rockets that would come off during the flight,” said Dr. Quine, according to The Canadian Press.
The structure would be pneumatically pressurized and guided over its base to allow it to stand freely.
“The centre of the patent is how to control such a huge and slender structure,” Quine said. “We basically null out the external forces on the tower using pneumatic pressure and actually lean the tower, actively guide the centre of gravity towards things like hurricanes so that the tower won’t fall down.”
According to Quine, the company plans to use pneumatic cells made of materials like polyethylene and kevlar and rely on the power of gas pressure to create a rigid structure that’s strong enough to hold up the gigantic mass.
So, what’s the point?
The elevator is designed to carry astronauts to a platform where they can get picked up by spacecrafts. Launching into space via the elevator means that a vertical launch isn’t necessary, saving more than 30 per cent of the fuel of a conventional rocket. Quine calls the ascent phase “extremely energy intensive and very inefficient.”
In addition to space travel, the space elevator could be used for wind-energy generation, communications, and tourism.
It all sounds great in theory, but the idea has yet to be tested (and therefore may not even be possible).
The next step is to build a demonstration tower that’s approximately 1.5 kilometres tall to test the concept. Quine says the company wants to license the technology “to a wide range of interested companies” in order to make the space elevator a reality as soon as possible.
Not surprisingly, it won’t come cheap.
The project will cost between $5 billion and $10 billion US. It could take three to five years to complete the demonstration tower, and another three years to finish in its entirety.