The hardest part about space travel is actually getting to space. Tearing through Earth’s atmosphere and escaping its gravitational pull requires a huge amount of fuel and money to be successful. A Canadian space technology company, Thoth Technology, has just been granted a patent for an inflatable space elevator that promises to reduce the cost of getting to space by 30 percent. The patent is for an elevator more than 12 miles (20 km) high and 755 ft in diameter, supported by pneumatically pressurized cells filled with air or another gas.
If you, like us, are picturing the space tower flopping around like it’s advertising a particularly great sale at your local Chevy dealer, don’t worry. The tower, much too high to be stabilized by guy wires or any other earth-bound method, would incorporate a series of flywheels to act as compressors which could adjust pressure within each cell to compensate for any bending. Elevator cars would ascend or descend inside a hollow central shaft, or could provide a more exciting ride by climbing the outer surface of the tower.
Related: Japanese company announces plans to build 22,000-mile-high space elevator by 2050
“Astronauts would ascend to 20 km by electrical 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 refueling and reflight,” said Dr. Brendan Quine, the inventor.
Though the tower would primarily be used for launching payloads and spacecraft from an upper deck or pods attached to the tower, but it would also allow craft to land on the tower. The elevator could open up new possibilities for space tourism, bringing down the cost of flights and making them easier and more convenient. “Landing on a barge at sea level is a great demonstration, but landing at 12 miles above sea level will make space flight more like taking a passenger jet,” said Thoth President and CEO, Caroline Roberts.
Images via ThothX.com