If we told you about a plan to build an elevator to space, you'd probably assume it was either an idea from science fiction, or else just something Elon Musk dreamed up on the loo.
Nope. Totally possible, according to a new report.
Just... not yet.
The concept of an elevator to space is not new. It has long been supposed that by creating a very, very long tether from Earth to above geostationary orbit, secured to a counterweight, it could be possible to both drop and lift cargo to Earth for relatively little energy cost, compared to traditional rocket.
So obvious is the idea, in its basic form that it was first proposed back in 1895 by Konstantin Tsiolkovsky. The idea of 'tensile' elevators has been around since the 1950s, and scientists have tried to explore the practical reality ever since. And with the prospect of missions to other worlds, or mine asteroids, the need to lift more material to orbit, for less money, has never been greater.
Needless to say, it's not as easy as it sounds. It has long been noted that producing a material strong and light enough to work, and in enough quantity for the monumental structure required, is not possible today.
How monumental? Most theories suggest a height of about 100,000 kilometres is required, along with the "climber" vehicles needed to actually make it up and down the cable.
About: space elevators to the Moon and Mars might be 'easier' to build than those to the Earth
But now a new study suggests that while difficult, it's not totally infeasible.
The report - "Space Elevators: An Assessment of the Technological Feasibility and the Way Forward" - consulted experts from around the work to answer whether the idea has legs, and if it could be built in reality.
Their conclusions? Yes - if we invent new ways to mitigate the risk - and yes, if we all pitch in.
Specifically, the report said:
- A space elevator is legal.
- The technology exists "with today's projection of where materials science and solar array efficiencies are headed".
- Materials to build the "tether" will exist in the next 20 years.
- It would be a financial success within 10 years.
- "The project will drive a renaissance on the surface of the Earth with its solutions to key problems, stimulation of travel throughout the solar system… and beyond"
Sounds great right?
Well… Yes. But it's not quite that easy. As Space.com writes, any inventions, discoveries and breakthroughs will have to arrive, dead on time, in order to make this a possibility.
The good news, though, is that if this thing is doable, it's going to be done. The potential benefits are so huge it's almost impossible to turn down.
The only question that remains, then, is whether you'd actually take a ride in one...