Unless you're an astronaut or extremely wealthy, travelling into space is practically impossible. But that could soon change, thanks to a Canadian company that hopes to build the world's first space elevator.
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Thoth Technology has just won a patent to create the huge construction, which would extend 20km into space – that's 20 times higher than the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, the world's current tallest building.
The inflatable construction would remove the need to use huge amounts of energy to take off from the earth's surface, thereby massively reducing the cost of space flight. Fuelling a rocket is extremely expensive because of the inertia and atmospheric drag the vehicle must fight against at the start of its journey.
“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 refuelling and reflight,” said Dr. Brendan Quine, the inventor.
Called the Thoth X Tower, the elevator would be inflatable and made out of reinforced segments. At the top would be a runway from which space ships could be launched. A huge lift in the centre would take rockets up to the runway, with a carrying capacity of up to 10 tonnes.
It's not the first time the idea has been thought up – for years scientists have recognised the benefits of cutting out the costs of the first part of take-off, but never has a space elevator come so close to being built. The company estimates the elevator could lead to a 30 per cent overall reduction in energy costs.
As well as making scientific endeavours easier to carry out, such as delivering cargo and people to the international space station, it also benefits non-astronauts here on the earth's surface, some of whom might at last might have a chance of going into space thanks to an overall reduction in cost.
"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," explained Caroline Roberts, president and chief executive of Thoth.