Canadian couple shoots for stars with space elevator
CTV.ca News Staff
Published Saturday, July 25, 2009 2:49PM EDT
When Arthur C. Clarke envisioned a space elevator in his novel series, Space Odyssey, the futuristic machines were made of solid diamonds.
While a space elevator made entirely out of precious stones may be the stuff of science fiction, don't blow the idea off completely.
A Canadian technology company, Thoth Technology Inc., is looking to create a space elevator from hundreds of inflatable Kevlar tubes - a lightweight polyethylene material with a thickness of only a few centimeters.
The elevator would carry passengers to the very edge of space.
The concept of a space elevator is nothing new, and in fact, has a nickname among scientists as a "beanstalk", referring to the Jack and the Beanstalk fairy tale where a beanstalk grows high into the sky.
The husband and wife owners of the company, Brendan Quine and Caroline Roberts, believe their elevator project may come to fruition in just five to 10 years.
That prediction is inline with what LiftPort Group -- an umbrella organization comprised of companies interested in researching and developing a space elevator - has predicted is a reasonable estimate for the completion of one.
Thus far, the couple has created a seven-metre demonstration model of the elevator weighing about 15 kilograms. The real version would weigh as much as two super oil tankers.
"We are using a model to work out the physics and mathematics, to make sure the structure is built properly," Quine told CTV's Canada AM .
The creation of a space elevator would mean that for an estimated $1,000, tourists from around the world could be transported to the height of approximately 20 kilometres above the earth.
"You'll be able to see the electric blue of the earth on the horizon and the dark blackness of space," said Quine, also an associate professor of space engineering at York University.
He said the view would be similar to what astronauts see, with a vision range of about 600 kilometres in any direction.
The elevator is designed to withstand the force of a Category 5 hurricane, wife and co-founder Caroline Roberts told Canada AM on Monday.
"With this technology, we can actively control the elevator to lean into the force of a hurricane and withstand the pressure."
The couple estimates the elevator could take 1,000 people into space a day with the added advantage of avoiding space sickness. There would be a bit of gravity in the elevator, as opposed to a space rocket, which has zero gravity.
Another bonus, as Quine sees it, is that there is no risk of explosion, as there is with space rockets.
And a space elevator would also be a more fuel efficient method of launching satellites into space, Roberts says.
Currently, satellites are launched from space rockets as part of a normal launch sequence, but rockets are significantly more expensive and worse polluters.
The couple is hoping a multinational buyer will throw down the $1-billion needed to resource the project. They have also filled an international patent on the idea so it can be purchased.
"We're still in the beginning stages of negotiations, but there is definitely a lot of interest," said Quine.
The husband and wife co-founded the company in 2001 to commercialize Canadian scientific contributions to the International Space Program. They have specialists working for them in the areas of space robotics, deep-space tracking and communications.