Space elevators will become feasible by 2030: study

The material to create space elevators will be developed by 2030, enabling a new golden age of space travel, according to a study published in the journal New Space.

“The material needed to have a 100,000 km rope will become real before 2030 and enable the creation of this low-cost access to space,” wrote Cathy W Swan, of SouthWest Analytic Network, Peter A Swan and John M Knapman, of the International Space Elevator Consortium, and David I Raitt, retired from the European Space Agency.

A space elevator would make launching people, satellites and craft into geostationary orbit dramatically cheaper than at present, with the researchers estimating it would drop from the current prices of $25,000 per kg for commercial launches and $40,000 per kg for governmental launches to $100 per kg for materials.

As a result, the researchers believe the development of space elevators would make space travel considerably more accessible, with ‘launches’ becoming far more frequent. This would make missions for both commercial and governmental purposes more achievable, and perhaps even hasten the development of space colonies.

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There is also the matter of the failure rate. It’s widely known that when things go wrong on a rocket launch, the results can be immensely tragic, and the researchers estimate they have between a 1 and 3% rate of failure. By contrast, space elevators are expected to have a failure rate that is “close to 0%”.

Add to this the fact that space elevators are expected to have a near-perfect launch-on-time rate, unlike rockets, which almost always have to be delayed in response to conditions such as weather, and the case for space becomes immensely appealing to commercial companies.

Plans for commercial space stations, space hotels and even Playboy’s conceptual orbiting club could become viable, and an array of different industries would no doubt seek to be involved.

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Image courtesy of Thomas Tenery / Playboy Enterprises

This case for space elevators has led to predictions of “a gold rush into space”, with the researchers comparing the development to the construction of the US’ transcontinental railroad, and the resulting migration and economic boom.

A trip from New York to San Francisco dropped from around $1,000 to $70 with the railroad’s construction, and cut travel times from 6 months to just 7 days.

With the construction a space elevator – of which there could be many located around the world – seven carriers could function at one time on each elevator, each with a 14t payload. The trip into space is estimated to take 7 days.

The research is published in the journal New Space.

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