The problem with rockets is that they are expensive, usually for single use and occasionally known to explode. That is why scientists and sci-fi writers have dreamed for more than a century to make a space elevator to transport astronauts and loads between the earth and the low orbit. The building of this "heavenly castle", as the Russian scientist Konstantin Tsiolkovsky proposed for the first time in 1895, has so far proved beyond the reach of existing technologies. But that does not stop people from trying it. Now, as Agence France-Presse reports, researchers from Japan's Shizuoka University will be testing lift movements in space next week in a first-of-its-kind experiment in the hope of further developing the concept.
Tsiolkovsky originally came up with the idea of a space elevator after seeing the newly built Eiffel Tower. The space pioneer realized that a similar tower could be built to extend all the way to the stars. But it would take more than half a century before another Russian engineer Yuri Artsutanov began to see the real challenges of building a permalink between the earth and space in the sixties.
Theoretically, a "space elevator" would consist of a cable that is attached to the earth, probably somewhere near the equator where hurricanes and tornadoes are scarce. David Smitherman of the Advanced Projects Office of NASA / Marshall explained that such a system "requires that the center of gravity be in a geostationary orbit", approximately 22,236 miles above the Earth's equator. The cable itself would have to be attached to a stationary mass beyond a geostationary orbit that would keep it taut. But the result would allow electromagnetic vehicles to ride up and down the cable, bringing workers, equipment and tourists into orbit around the earth for a fraction of the cost of a missile ride.
Of course there are obstacles in implementing that idea. At present there is no material that has been strong enough to withstand the stresses placed on the lift cable by the drag of gravity and wind in the upper atmosphere. Even carbon nanotubes, the strongest material we have invented so far, would shred under stress. Then there are problems such as developing electromagnetic vehicles to ride on the cable and finding a suitable counterweight, such as a small asteroid, which can be put in place to secure the cable. Nor is it clear how an elevator would work in zero G & # 39; s.
That is where the Japanese study comes into play. AFP reports that the researchers will launch two small cubic satellites on board an H-2B rocket on their way to the International Space Station next week. The approximately 4-inch cubic satellites will be deployed from Kibo, a Japanese space explorer in possession of a module, with a 30-meter steel cable in between. An even smaller motorized cube will function as its elevator car and move along the cable between the satellites. The researchers follow the action through the camera to study how the systems work in a job. "It will be the world's first experiment to test elevator movements in space," a university spokesperson tells the news agency.
Although the challenges for creating a space elevator are enormous, this has not prevented Japan from continuing to invest in the idea. "In Japan, the space elevator is almost a part of the national psyche, partly because of the deep expertise of Japanese researchers in the field of robotics and carbon nanotube technology, starting with the discovery of carbon nanotubes from 1991 by the Japanese researcher Sumio Iijima," as Michelle Z. Donahue explained Smithsonian.com in 2016.
According to the national newspaper of Japan the Mainichi, the Obayashi Corporation, which built the largest tower in the country, has already proposed a lift in space. In her concept, six oval-shaped elevator cabs would move between a platform in the sea and the space station around the earth. A trip from the sea to the sky would take about eight days. The idea is based on carbon nanotubes or a non-developed material and requires nearly 60,000 miles of cable. The price tag for the concept is estimated at about $ 90 billion (10 trillion yen).
Yoji Inshikawa, leader of the Shizuoka team, tells Mainichi that he does not think the concept is completely pie-in-the-air. "In theory, a space elevator is very plausible," he says. "Space can become something popular in the future."
Apart from the technological problems for a moment, there is still an obstacle that engineers still have to deal with: how are we going to print a "off-the-shelf" sign that is large enough to be able to read from space?
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