By Elton Gomes
A Japanese team has reportedly developed the world’s first space elevator and is ready to conduct a first trial this month. Developed by researchers from Shizuoka University, the test equipment will hitch a ride on an H-2B rocket that will be launched on September 11 by Japan’s space agency from the southern island of Tanegashima.
If the trial is successful, it will provide proof of elevator movement in space along a 10-metre cable suspended between two satellites that will support it by keeping it taut. The mini-elevator will travel along the cable from a container in one of the satellites. “It’s going to be the world’s first experiment to test elevator movement in space,” a spokesperson from the University told AFP.
What is the mini elevator, and what will it do?
Japan plans to use an elevator that is only six centimetres (2.4 inches) long and three centimetres (1.1 inches) high and wide. Japan’s space agency will launch an H-2B rocket carrying two mini satellites – one of these satellites will contain the elevator stand-in. Once the satellites reach space, motors will power the elevator along with a cable strung between the two mini-satellites that will be positioned 10 meters apart from one another. Both satellites will be equipped with cameras to monitor the motion of the elevator.
Challenges in building a space elevator
Previous plans to build an elevator to space were put on hold due to lack of strong materials. The same problem still persists, as no material has proven strong enough to survive the stresses placed on the elevator cable due to gravity and wind in the upper atmosphere. Even carbon nanotubes, the strongest material devised thus far, would rupture under the stress.
Problems like developing electromagnetic vehicles to ride the cable and finding a suitable counterweight that can be moved in order to tether the cable are other challenges in sending an elevator to space. Additionally, it still remains unclear as to how an elevator would function in zero gravity.
Although several challenges exist, the Japanese are determined to taste success in this trial. “In Japan, the space elevator is practically a part of the national psyche due in part to a deep expertise by Japanese researchers in the fields of robotics and carbon nanotube technology, starting with the 1991 discovery of carbon nanotubes by Japanese researcher Sumio Iijima,” Michelle Z. Donahue told Smithsonian.
Japanese construction company hopes to get a space elevator operational by 2050
In 2016, Japanese construction giant Obayashi Corporation company
Speaking to ABC News, the company said that the elevator could reach 96,000 kilometres (59,652 miles) into space. It will use robotic cars powered by magnetic linear motors to ferry cargo as well as humans to a new space station.
What do space elevators mean for the future of space travel
Explaining how space elevators will be helpful, Dr. Peter Swan, president of the International Space Elevator Consortium, said that space elevators present a way to generate large amounts of solar electricity. More importantly, space elevators could expand “the aperture of the human spirit,” Swan believes. He told Futurism, “By having extremely low-cost access to space, you can open up the human mind, so moving off-planet is not a dream, but a reality.”
Elton Gomes is a staff writer at Qrius
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