Last time we checked in with space elevators, NASA had given out a $900,000 prize to a tiny laser-powered carriage that managed to climb a kilometer-long cable. Japan's Obayashi Corporation doesn't think that NASA is moving quite fast enough, so the company has decided to build a space elevator for itself by 2050.
Somewhat unsurprisingly, there isn't a whole lot of detail about this project at the moment. We know that Obayashi wants to build a spaceport on the ground, with a space station some 22,000 miles above the surface of the Earth, in geosynchronous orbit. The two would be connected by a cable, which would extend a total of 60,000 miles into space, serving as an orbital counterweight to hold the cable up. For the record, the moon is only about 220,000 miles away.
To get from Earth to the terminal in space, 30 passengers at a time would take an elevator car upwards at 125 miles an hour. It sounds kinda fast, but the trip would still take nearly eight days. Still, when imagining the view I can't believe anyone would mind just staring out the windows for a week and feeling their weight gradually decrease to nothing. The terminal itself would house living quarters and laboratories.
The cable is the real sticky wicket when it comes to space elevators. Obayashi says that it'll be using carbon nanotubes, which is no less crazy than saying the company would make it out of genetically-modified spider silk: yes, the material exists, and yes, it might be strong enough to make a space elevator cable, but "exists" plus "might work" does not a viable space elevator make. It's going to take a lot of work for Obayashi (or someone else) to come up with a way to make a carbon nanotube cable, and even with a time frame of 35 years and a budget that "cannot be estimated," 2050 still strikes me as a bit optimistic. I hope I'm wrong.