One of the biggest challenges facing space travel at present is the cost of the hardware involved.
It’s not entirely “business savvy” to launch multiple spacecraft into the depths of space for a one-way flight. That’s why Elon Musk and his company SpaceX have been hard at work developing a reusable spacecraft that can deliver payloads and then land safely back on terra firma (or, at least, a barge in the middle of a body of water). Watching it in action is magical.
It seems we weren’t the only ones enchanted by this, as a Canadian space company called Thoth Technology has been granted the patent for a 20km high “space elevator”. To put the size of that into perspective, the largest building in the world, currently, is the Burj Khalifa, which stands at 829m high. The proposed space elevator would dwarf it more than twenty-four times over.
The inventor, Dr Brendan Quine says that astronauts and their equipment would travel the length of the structure by an electric elevator. Once at the top, spacecraft could launch and return to the top of the tower as regular planes would in an airpot.
An illustration of the top of the tower gives a better perspective of this:
The benefits of this method is that the space craft can be reused, and Thoth is claiming it will “[save] more than 30 per cent of the fuel of a conventional rocket.”.
Thoth’s CEO Caroline Roberts talks about the process:
Landing on a barge at sea level is a great demonstration, but landing at 12 miles [20 km] above sea level will make space flight more like taking a passenger jet.
While this all sounds awesome, we can’t help but question some details of the proposed elevator. Ignoring the remarkable engineering feats that would be needed to build it (if it is at all possible), the amount of money for such a structure would be staggering. The International Space Station reportedly cost €100 billion (R1.4 trillion), and even though it’s the most expensive structure ever built, this space elevator would easily surpass it.
If you have a few spare minutes and would like to get into the inner workings of the space elevator, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (Uspto) has the patent for it, which you can view online. The most interesting bits are the fact that it will try and use pneumatic pressure to stabilise it, and it will also be used for “scientific research, communications and tourism”. That last part really interests us as even the average Joe could get into space without being an astronaut.
Finally, proving that science fiction just gets it right sometimes (and also proving that every idea has already been done by someone else), the patent also talks about its inspiration: The Fountains of Paradise by Arthur C. Clarke in 1978 which proposed a similar structure.[Source – Thoth Technology]