A Canadian space firm is one step closer to revolutionizing space travel with a simple idea – instead of taking a rocket ship, why not take a giant elevator into space?
Thoth Technology Inc has been granted both US and UK patents for a space elevator designed to take astronauts up into the stratosphere, so they can then be propelled into space.
The company said the tower, named the ThothX Tower, will be an inflatable, freestanding structure complete with an electrical elevator and will reach 20km (12.5 miles) above the Earth.
“Astronauts would ascend to 20km 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,” Brendan Quine, the tower’s inventor, said in a statement.
Traditionally, regions above 50km (31 miles) in altitude can only be reached by rocket ships, where mass is expelled at a high velocity to achieve thrust in the opposite direction.
Quine said in the patent that rocketry is “extremely inefficient” and that a space elevator would take less energy.
In the patent, Quine explained that rocket ships expend more energy because they “must counter the gravitational force during the flight by carrying mass in the form of propellant and must overcome atmospheric drag”.
In contrast, by using an elevator system, “the work done is significantly less as no expulsion mass must be carried to do work against gravity, and lower ascent speeds in the lower atmosphere can virtually eliminate atmospheric drag”.
The elevator cars can also be powered electrically or inductively, eliminating the need to carry fuel, Quine wrote.
The technology offers a way to access space through reusable hardware, and will save more than 30% of the fuel of a conventional rocket, Thoth Technology said in a July statement.
Quine said when a traditional rocket ship launches from Earth, it flies vertically about 15-25km (9-15 miles) before hitting drop-off stages, when sections of the rocket drop back to Earth, usually falling into the ocean.
During the final stage when it enters space it is flying horizontally.
An elevator to space has been a longstanding idea as an alternative to rocket ships, but has always been believed as unfeasible because no known material can support itself at such a height.
Thoth’s design sidesteps this problem by building the elevator to 20km so it sits within the stratosphere rather than all the way in the geostationary orbit, where satellites fly.
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