Space elevators are incredibly tall theoretical structures that stretch far beyond the earth’s atmosphere to transport satellites and shuttles into outer space, without the cost and environmental impact of rocket fueled launches.
The idea has always been more science fiction than science fact, however a team from King’s College London could change that — they claim that advances in carbon nanotubes could make it ‘theoretically’ possible create a tether that would be strong enough to stretch more than 22,000 miles into space.
Mark Miodownik, a materials scientist at King’s College London, announced the new proposal at the Royal Institution’s Christmas lecture which is set to be broadcast on BBC4 at the end of the month. He said, “The idea of an elevator into space has been around for some decades now and was popularized by Arthur C. Clarke, the science fiction writer, in his 1979 book The Fountains of Paradise. However the idea was never practical because there was no material strong enough to support its own weight over the huge distance necessary to reach from Earth to space.”
“What has changed is the discovery of carbon nanotubes, a form of carbon that can be woven into fibers. They are still under development and in theory they are strong enough to reach into space.”
“Carbon nanotubes are still under development but they are the first material we have seen that could be strong enough for this task.”