Sometimes the best ideas take a long time to come to fruition, and apparently that is the case with the space elevator. The idea of a fantastically tall space elevator stretching miles into the sky from which spacecraft can launch and land was actually first suggested by Russian scientist/futurist Konstantin Tsiolkovsky more than 120 years ago, and a Canadian firm named Thoth Technology announced this week it was actually planning to build one.
Space elevators have been a topic of science fiction writers for decades, but if Thoth’s plans come to pass, humans will be inexpensively launching spaceplanes into the upper atmosphere within just a few years.
More on Thoth Technology’s plans to build a space elevator
A space and defense technology firm founded in 2001, Thoth is developing detailed plans for an elevator reaching all the way to space, and has recently received a patent from the U.S. Patent Office for the structure. A space elevator is designed to help cut back on the huge amounts of fuel and other expenses required for launching rockets into orbit. The plan as outlined in the patent is to construct a freestanding tower that reaches a height of 20 km.
“Astronauts would ascend 20 km by an electric elevator. From the top of the tower, space planes will launch in a single stage to orbit, returning to the top of the tower for refuelling and reflight,” according to inventor Dr Brendan Quine.
Caroline Roberts, president and chief executive officer of Pembroke, Ontario-based Thoth, noted that the space tower will also include self-landing rocket technologies to launch a new era of cheap and efficient space transportation. Referring to the recent test flights by Elon Musk’s Space X, she noted “Landing on a barge at sea level is a great demonstration, but landing at 20 km above sea level will make space flight more like taking a passenger jet.”
The Thoth design for a giant space elevator uses inflatable sections and flywheels to provide dynamic stability for the relatively lightweight structure.
While some forward-looking engineers have suggested even taller space elevators almost completely past the pull of Earth’s gravity, 20 kilometers is generally considered the end of the atmosphere and the start of space.