Japan is building an elevator that brings people to space

Reach for the stars: Japan’s plans for ambitious space elevator project unveiled

Planned space elevator in Japan

Ever dreamed of stepping into an elevator and soaring into space? Buckle up, because science fiction is about to get real! Japan has unveiled plans for a groundbreaking project: a real-life space elevator. Imagine a giant cable stretching all the way from Earth’s surface into space, with comfy elevator cars whisking you up for a celestial adventure. It sounds outlandish, but Japanese engineers are serious about making this dream a reality. Let’s dive into the details of this ambitious project and see how it might just change the way we reach for the stars!

Who is behind the space elevator project in Japan?

The space elevator project in Japan is being led by several key entities:

Obayashi Corporation

A renowned Japanese construction company that has designed a new system for the space elevator and aims to build it by 2050. They have described the entire construction process of the space elevator system, which includes a 96,000 km carbon nanotube cable, a 400-meter floating Earth Port, and a 12,500-ton counterweight

Shizuoka University

Researchers at Shizuoka University are working on creating a space elevator through open innovation. They have designed a tiny space elevator system that includes two ultra-small CubeSats connected by a roughly 10-meter-long steel cable, with a motorized cube functioning as its elevator car.

Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA)

JAXA owns the Kibo module, from which the tiny space elevator satellites will be deployed for testing.

These entities are collaborating to advance the concept of a space elevator, which could revolutionize space travel and exploration.

Obayashi Corporation's planned space elevator
Obayashi Corporation’s planned space elevator

How does Japan plan to build the space elevator?

Japan’s plan to build a space elevator involves several key steps and advanced technologies. Here’s a simplified breakdown of how they aim to accomplish this ambitious project headed by the Obayashi Corporation:

Cable

The space elevator will use a 96,000 km-long cable made of carbon nanotubes (CNTs), which are nearly 100 times stronger than steel. Obayashi Corporation is currently testing CNTs and believes they will be able to produce the required cable length by 2030.

In addition to the cable itself, the project also requires materials for the building of space station and an elevator mechanism, which will all be sent into low Earth orbit. Then a spaceship will lower the CNT cable down the Earth, achieving the necessary tension after 96,000 kilometers.

The cable will be built in stages. Over eight months, the cable will extend down to the Earth’s surface.

Space Station

The tether will be anchored to a space station in geostationary orbit, approximately 36,000 kilometers above the Earth. This station will serve as the destination point for the elevator.

Elevator System

The space elevator will have wheeled lifts called “Climbers” that will ascend the cable, attaching reinforcing cables until a 100-tonne capacity is reached. The Climbers will transport materials and engineers to complete a geostationary orbit station.

Earth Port

A gateway to space on Earth will be built in two sections – one on land at the equator and one at sea, connected by an undersea tunnel. The floating sea-based section is called the “Earth Port”.

Counterweight

At the top of the cable, a 12,500-ton counterweight will be placed at an altitude of 96,000 km to keep the cable taut.

Space elevator concept art
Space elevator concept art

When will the space elevator in Japan be operational?

The space elevator in Japan is expected to be operational by 2050. Obayashi Corporation, the Japanese construction company leading the project, plans to begin construction in 2025 and aims to complete the project by 2050.

As mentioned above, the project involves several stages, including delivering materials by rocket to construct a spaceship in low Earth orbit, using the spaceship to lower the carbon nanotube cable down to Earth over eight months, and then sending climbers up the cable to reinforce it and complete the geostationary orbit station.

This is a very long-term project with significant technological hurdles. So, while 2050 is the goal, it’s more likely the actual operational date could be later depending on the progress made.

Why is Japan building a space elevator?

Japan is building a space elevator for several compelling reasons:

Reduce Costs of Space Travel

One of the primary motivations is to significantly lower the cost of transporting people and cargo to space. Traditional rocket launches are expensive and resource-intensive. A space elevator would provide a more cost-effective and sustainable method of reaching orbit.

According to CNET, the space elevator aims to dramatically reduce the cost of sending cargo to space from around $22,000 per kilogram via rocket to just $200 per kilogram.

Environmental Benefits

Space elevators offer an environmentally friendly alternative to rocket launches, which consume large amounts of fuel and generate significant pollution. By using a tether and climbers, the space elevator can reduce the carbon footprint associated with space travel.

Increased Accessibility to Space

Making space travel more accessible is a major goal. With a space elevator, scientists, tourists, and cargo can reach space more easily, potentially leading to a boom in space tourism, research opportunities, and commercial activities.

Continuous Access to Space

Unlike rockets, which require extensive preparation and can only launch during specific windows, a space elevator would provide continuous, on-demand access to space, allowing for more flexible and frequent missions.

Boosting Technological and Economic Development

The development of a space elevator would drive advancements in materials science, robotics, and engineering. This project could stimulate economic growth by creating new industries and job opportunities in space-related fields.

Enhancing Space Exploration

A space elevator could serve as a launch point for further space exploration missions, making it easier to send spacecraft to the Moon, Mars, and beyond. It would facilitate the construction of space habitats and other infrastructure in orbit.

Strategic and National Prestige

By leading such a groundbreaking project, Japan aims to position itself as a global leader in space technology and innovation. This endeavor enhances the country’s strategic capabilities and international standing in the scientific community

Sources: CNET, Business Insider
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