Japan’s Space Elevator Expected to Be Built By 2050
In 1979, famed science fiction author, Arthur C. Clarke, wrote a book titled The Fountains of Paradise, in which a future society builds an elevator to space from a tiny island on the equator. Now, Clarke’s vision may soon come to fruition when a Japanese company begins work on its own space elevator.
What is a Space Elevator?
A space elevator is hypothetical for now, but Japanese construction giant, Obayashi Corporation, believes the necessary technology to build one could be ready in the next 10 to 12 years. The biggest hurdle at this point is developing a material strong enough to build cables 60,000 miles long and capable of transporting 100-ton cargo.
The elevator would essentially consist of a space station tethered between an anchor and a counterweight in Earth’s orbit. Dangling down from the station would be a series of cables made of carbon nanotubes – a real material developed 20 years ago that is stronger than steel by a factor of nearly 10. The only problem is that we haven’t quite figured out how to scale the technology. At the moment, we’ve only been able to create a few-centimeter-long stretch of them.
Once those tubes are scaled, which Obayashi believes will happen by 2030, an anchor would be built on Earth somewhere along the equator that would attach to the space station and a counterweight further up. The station would reside in what’s called Clarke orbit, or geostationary orbit, named after the sci-fi author himself. In this scenario, an object remains in orbit over a single point on the equator, an obvious necessity for a space elevator to be feasible.
The elevator cabin itself would ascend at about 120 miles per hour and carry a maximum capacity of about 30 people. For propulsion, it might be powered by a laser shot up from Earth that would supply it with the energy needed to climb the cables.
The trip would take about a week and function as a platform for scientific research, a launch point for space travel, and a mode of space tourism. The elevator could cut the cost of transporting materials into orbit by a factor of 100, which could propel space programs and colonization efforts at an astounding rate.
One man who has devoted his life to studying the viability of space elevators is Michael Lane, and he’s raised over $100,000 on Kickstarter to work on models and prototypes. Laine wants to first build a space elevator on the moon, because a weaker material could be used for the cables, like Kevlar.
On the moon there’s little gravity and no ice or wind, presenting ideal conditions for an elevator. Also the setup would only require roughly the strength of a strong man to hold the system in place. Laine’s idea proposes that rare earth elements could be harvested and brought back to earth, creating a booming space mining operation.
Is the Space Elevator Possible?
The Obayashi Corporation believes it can have the space elevator functioning by 2050 if carbon nanotubes become scalable by 2030. The company says that it holds competitions among university students to encourage them to study and advance the technology. Although over the past several years, advancements in AI like ARES (Autonomous Research System), allow scientists to let robots conduct, analyze and test hundreds of experiments autonomously, adding to the chance that nanotubes will be scaled within Obayashi’s timeline.
Obayashi is a massive construction and development firm in Tokyo that is responsible for a number of large scale engineering feats across the world. One structure designed by the company, the TOKYO SKYTREE, is the largest free-standing tower in the world, at just over 2,000 feet.
According to the company’s plan, there will be a series of anchors to counterbalance the elevator. The space station that would serve as the final destination would be situated at about 22,000 miles above Earth. Further out would be the anchor at an altitude of about 60,000 miles. Before the primary station there would be additional hubs at altitudes where one could experience the level of gravity on the moon and on Mars, which would be ideal for conducting experiments for future missions.
Not everyone believes that a space elevator will be built as easily as Obayashi does. Elon Musk has scoffed at the idea, saying that until someone builds a structure made of carbon nanotubes longer than a footbridge, he won’t consider the possibility of a space elevator. Musk also says he believes that until we have a carbon nanotube trans-oceanic bridge, say between LA and Tokyo, we shouldn’t be talking about building space elevators.
A trans-oceanic bridge seems rather silly though, considering we have the ability to fly across oceans in a much more efficient manner. Why would anyone want to spend days driving from LA to Tokyo when they could fly? Even bullet trains aren’t fast enough for a transoceanic bridge to be meaningful.
But no major technological feat has ever occurred without its detractors and naysayers who claim these visions to be impossible or impractical. Maybe Musk is right and rockets or alternative jet propulsion will reign supreme over space elevators, but Obayashi plans on continuing its lofty aspiration, with others following suit. Will Arthur C. Clarke’s vision one day come to be realized?
Arthur C Clarke's Strange Skies
Nemesis Star Theory; Does the Sun Have an Evil Twin?
Many people remain anxious about the threat posed from a hidden nemesis planet, known as Nibiru, that has been prophesied to collide with Earth. Though many of the proposed dates for this collision have come and gone, there is another celestial body that may be more likely to lead to an apocalyptic event: The Nemesis Star.
The Nemesis Star Theory
Binary star systems occur frequently and are actually more common than single stars. At least that’s what we thought, until a recent hypothesis proposed the possibility that every star starts out as a binary pair or multi-pair system. While the theory hasn’t been confirmed, there is significant evidence that our Sun likely has a twin, an evil twin.
The majority of stars in the galaxy are red dwarfs, which are a fifth of the size of the sun and up to 50 times fainter. These types of stars are pretty commonly paired with another star in a binary system, leading astronomers to believe that Nemesis would be the Sun’s red dwarf star companion. But due to the small size and faintness of these stars, they can be hard to find, making Nemesis all the more elusive.
This star is thought to be responsible for 12 cyclical extinction events on Earth, including the one that killed the dinosaurs. The Nemesis Star Theory’s roots can be traced to two paleontologists, David Raup and Jack Sepkoski, who noticed that there was a periodicity to major die-outs throughout Earth’s history, occurring in 26 million year intervals. This led to a number of astrophysicists and astronomers, postulating their own Nemesis Star hypotheses.
So how would the sun’s twin be responsible for mass extinctions? The Nemesis Star Theory proposed the idea that the Earth’s binary twin must be in a large 1.5 light-year orbit, retaining just enough gravitational pull between it and the Sun so as not to drift off. But the issue with the orbit of Nemesis is the possibility that it occasionally passes through a cloud of icy debris on the fringe of our solar system, known as the Oort Cloud.
Don’t Perturb the Oort
The Oort Cloud is a theoretical sphere that is believed to orbit our solar system, consisting of planetesimals, the small icy building blocks of planets, comets, and asteroids. These planetesimals are sticky and collide with each other until they become large enough to have a significant gravitational pull, eventually becoming as large as a moon or a planet. They also create asteroids and comets which can be knocked out of orbit and sent hurtling toward the center of the solar system, crashing into planets.
There is a binary star system that once passed close enough to nearly perturb the Oort, and it was likely visible from Earth. Scholz’s Star made a flyby some 70,000 years ago, at a distance of 50,000 astronomical units (AU), with one AU being the distance from Earth to the Sun. The Oort is thought to extend from anywhere between 5,000 and 100,000 AUs and is believed to contain up to two trillion celestial objects. Astronomers are 95% certain that Shulz’s star passed within half of a light-year of us, possibly perturbing the Oort, though apparently not enough to cause a mass extinction event.
Comets are believed to exist within the Oort and are the product of a thief model, a give-and-take of celestial bodies between stars when they’re formed. In this process, comets get pulled back and forth between the gravitational field of stars. It was for this reason that the Oort was theorized, due to the number of comets coming from it, there had to have been a sibling star that pulled them out to the Oort.
Astronomers also found a dwarf planet in the Kuiper Belt, a region just before the Oort that also contains icy, celestial bodies. This planet, named Sedna, orbits the Sun in a long, drawn-out elliptical path and is one of potentially hundreds. Sedna may help to explain the Nemesis star theory, in that its far-flung orbit was likely caused by our Sun’s twin, pulling it out as it drifted off into the depths of space. Imagine if instead of 9 planets in our solar system, there were a few hundred?
So where is this Nemesis star? Several years ago, the E.U. launched the wonderfully named, Gaia satellite, to map out the stars in the Milky Way and look specifically at stars that have had a close encounter with our solar system or that might come close in the future. But whether or not Nemesis will be found is unknown; it’s possible that it could make a return for the next mass extinction, or it is possible that it drifted off, perturbing the Oort of another star.