Japan Seeks to Build Space Elevator by 2050

Posted by on February 22nd, 2012
japan space elevator.jpg

We’ve talked, a lot about space elevators on the Weird Things podcast. For good reason. We are in an exciting period of engineering evolution where our drive to get things into space cheaper and cheaper is merging with stronger and cheaper components.

The future or is now.

Or 2050 if you are the Obayashi Corp., a Tokyo based company which hopes to use carbon nanotubes to built an elevator to freaking space.

In Obayashi’s project, a cable would be stretched up to 96,000 kilometers, or about one-fourth of the distance between the Earth and the moon. One end of the cable would be anchored at a spaceport on the ground, while the other would be fitted with a counterweight.

The terminal station would house laboratories and living space. The car could carry up to 30 people to the station at 200 kilometers per hour, which would mean a 7-1/2 day trip to reach the station. Magnetic linear motors are one possible means of propulsion for the car, according to Obayashi.

The problem? Right now there is no estimated budget for the project and Obayashi brass simply hope to make incremental progress until… boom… space elevator. We aren’t sure how a project this big and this ambitious can survive a 40 year construction cycle with no solid budget. Hopefully, when I am 68 years old you can call a Double Dumbass on me during our seven day trip to outer space.

[Yumiori via Gizmodo]

  • I will be long dead

  • Glad to see someone at least putting a timetable on this and seriously considering it a goal, but it doesn’t really sound like they’ve solved any of the basic problems (e.g. being able manufacture ~100,000km lengths of carbon nanotubes which are strong enough to not only withstand the force but overly-strong enough to handle issues like holes from micrometeors and any coatings needed for atmosphere protection, etc, or how to power the damn climbers (don’t say lasers)).

    And where exactly is Japan going to anchor this? My understanding has been that they’re not exactly anywhere near an ideal location.

  • mxyzptlk

    Two questions:

    1.) Will they skip floor 13?

    2.) How long will it take maintenance to get you out when you’re stuck 37,000 kilometers up?

  • What concerns me is that at 96000km it’s over twice the circumference of the earth. ¬†What happens to it if it all goes wrong?

  • My brother, who is an idiot, had the same concern several months ago when I was trying to explain to him how awesome a space elevator would be. “That’s a TERRIBLE idea! If anything goes wrong, that cable is going to wrap around the whole planet THREE TIMES! If it breaks at the base, its going to drag the cable across the earth and DESTROY EVERYTHING! Rabble rabble rabble I’m an idiot!” …okay, so maybe he didn’t actually say that last part, but that’s what I heard.

    I would imagine anything above several thousand km, and centripetal force and counterweight would be all the stabilization it needs (considering the ISS has a stable orbit at <500km). If worse comes to worse, it shouldn't be to hard to design a fail-safe that separates the cable into segments, and carries them up into a safe spacejunk orbit.

    I suppose something else to consider would be building the space elevator in Antarctica, where there is nothing to destroy. But the frigid climate would make maintenance a nightmare, not to mention the month long trips to and from the spaceport on earth.