Elevator to Space? It’s ‘Closer Than You Think’

An elevator to space? It’s closer than you think.

That’s according to the International Space Elevator Consortium, or ISEC, which recently issued a call for papers on space elevator topics for its September 2024 conference in Chicago.

The idea has been floating around for a long time but technology is now at a point where the discussions are serious.

In 1895, Russian rocket scientist Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, inspired by the Eifel tower, conceptualized a tower extending to geostationary orbit. The astronautics pioneer’s vision was an Eifel-like tower built from the ground up to the altitude of more than 22,000 miles. T

siolkovsky said, “Man will not always stay on Earth; the pursuit of light and space will lead him to penetrate the bounds of the atmosphere, timidly at first, but in the end to conquer the whole solar space.”

In 1959, Russian engineer Yuri N. Artsutanov proposed a more feasible variation of the concept. Since then scientists and engineers spanning generations have baked out the concept and today plans are on the verge of materializing.

When Japanese physicist and inventor Dr. Sumio Iijima discovered carbon nanotubes in 1991, it provided a theoretically viable material for construction.

Obayashi Corporation, which built the Japan’s tallest tower, plans to start building a space elevator in 2025 with the aim of it being operational by 2050. That’s the same year Japan hopes to achieve carbon neutrality.

The construction process is expected to be done in several stages. Materials would be sent into space via rockets to a spaceship orbiting close to Earth. As the spaceship moves deeper into space, it releases a special cable made of carbon nanotubes.

Assembly and reinforcement of just the cable is expected to take 20 years. If they pull it off, supporters say it will open up a more affordable and sustainable method for space travel. A broader vision for the project includes deploying a space solar power system to harness the solar energy, unaffected by the weather on Planet Earth.

In a 2024 statement, ISEC President Peter Swan predicted that, starting in the late 2030s, space elevator infrastructures will deliver satellites and other payloads to Geostationary Earth Orbit, the moon and Mars at a rate of 30,000 metric tons per year.

The opportunities for space exploration, conservation of resources, and space infrastructure assembly are without parallel, he said, concluding: “As humanity stands on the cusp of this new era, these ribbons from ocean to space offer the promise of making space accessible to all, fostering global cooperation, positioning humanity to address Earth’s challenges, and inspiring a sustainable future for our planet.”