Japan’s Space Elevator

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Japan’s Space Elevator

Tyler Kieft, Staff Writer

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With space exploration and technology advancing at our current rates, it seems like previous impossibilities have now become possible. With experimentation of odd science fiction ideas growing in intrigue, Japan has created a team that is in the process of developing an elevator into space, with hopes of completion by 2050.

The goal of such a large project is to create a method of transportation for people and cargo to and from space, perhaps to be connected to the International Space Station in the far future.

The team is currently being led by Yoji Ishikawa, who believes that such an idea is in fact plausible, despite the multitude of technical challenges that come with it. The first being the height of the elevator, which spans a total 96,000 kilometers (60,000 miles) above Earth’s surface. With something that high in the sky, stability is something of a major concern, especially considering the possible natural disasters that could occur and the harsh winds of the upper atmosphere. Such harsh winds cause the next biggest problem: the practicality of an elevator cable in such an unforgiving environment of winds, gravity, and zero gravity working against it, which cannot simply be solved with stronger materials. Even carbon nanotubes, the strongest material we have at the moment, would be destroyed by such forces.

With these obstacles in mind, the Japanese team had decided to begin testing the concept of an elevator in space this past September, on a much smaller scale. The plan was to launch a rocket from the Tanegashima Space Center, on the island Tanegashima, into space, where a miniature elevator of 4×4 inch proportions, would travel along a cable of around 33 feet in length, connected by two satellites. Such was the first elevator cable testing ever done in space.

The experiment was first planned to be executed on September 11th of this year, but due to harsh weather, it had been delayed to September 25th.

Due to the structural concerns, NASA’s David Smitherman stated that the elevator “requires the center of mass to be in geostationary orbit”. He establishes that an area in the equator that has little to no violent weather patterns would be the best site for the system. Furthermore, Smitherman stated that “The cable is basically in orbit around the Earth. Four to six ‘elevator tracks’ would extend up the sides of the tower and cable structure going to platforms at different levels. These tracks would allow electromagnetic vehicles to travel at speeds reaching thousands of kilometers-per-hour”.

As advanced of a concept this is, it certainly is not a new one. The idea of a space elevator was first proposed in 1895 by Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, a Russian scientist, who had just witnessed the Eiffel Tower and thought of the similarities it could hold with a tower that touched the stars. He called this tower a “celestial castle”, a concept that would later be researched in the 1960s by another Russian innovator, Yuri Artsutanov, who tried to find the challenges we would encounter in building such a structure.

The world has come a long way in scientific advancements since then, and now their ideas may become a reality. No longer are they simply fantastical thoughts, but rather projects being pursued.