Massive elevators, connecting the surface of the Earth with outer space, are something of a sci-fi staple. While such structures might be hard for us to wrap our minds around, they might someday send into space more cheaply and efficiently than any rocket. At least that's the dream. A new study into the practicalities of space elevators has recently concluded, giving us a glimpse of what these impossible-seeming structures might actually look like someday.
Conducted by a diverse field of experts working for the International Academy of Astronautics (IAA), the study has come to two (primarily) encouraging conclusions. First, space elevators seem possible. Or at least, there's no scientific evidence that the IAA researchers found that entirely rules them out. Second, if we band together as an international community, we could probably fund one of these suckers.
Unlike rockets or space planes, a space elevator would travel at speeds similar to a high speed train. A trip from the surface to Geostationary Earth Orbit (GEO) would take as long as a week. That may not sound very fast at all, but in terms of cost, it's way better than a rocket. A space elevator thought, would run on solar power generated by a solar array on the orbital docking platform. Along with carbon nanotube tech (for the cable), advances in solar panels are the chief technology that needs to advance in order for a space elevator to become a reality.
Maybe, in another ten years, says study leader Peter Swan, another such study will find that technology has advanced enough to start construction on humanity's first elevator to space. Then again, it might take us until 2050, or 2100. Either way, Swan and his team seem confident that, if we want one, humanity can someday have its own elevator to the stars.