Japanese firm to build a space elevator by 2050

Company says it will be nearly 60,000 miles high and take a week to travel in

A Japanese company has said that it plans to build and open a space elevator by 2050.

Space elevators have long been a dream of both national space programmes and private companies alike.

Now Japanese construction company Obayashi has committed itself to building the world's first fully-functioning space elevator by the middle of the century.

In an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Obayashi said that its space elevator will reach an altitude of 96,000 kilometres (around 60,000 miles).

To put that in perspective, that's equivalent to just under three round trips between London and Sydney. According to the company, a one-way trip on the elevator would take seven days (let's hope there's windows).

The idea behind building a space elevator is that it would reduce the cost of getting heavy materials into orbit significantly.

While engineers believe many parts of a space elevator are possible today, such as the geosynchronous satellite at one end of it, some materials aren't available today.

One such material is that which the cable that will link earth and the satellite will be made out of. Many scientists believe the key lies in carbon nanotubes; Obayashi agrees.

The Japanese company has said that it is investing in the development of carbon nanotechnology to make the project a reality.

Speaking to the channel, Obayashi's Research and Development Manager, Yoji Ishikawa said: "The tensile strength is almost a hundred times stronger than steel cable so it's possible.

“Right now we can't make the cable long enough. We can only make 3-centimetre-long nanotubes but we need much more… we think by 2030 we'll be able to do it.”

Image credit: NASA/Wikimedia Commons