In one of the more unusual space exploration stories to pop up in a year choc full of the weird and the wonderful, a Canadian company has been granted a patent to build a 20km high space elevator.
The concept sees a giant tower that basically brings astronauts up a long, long tower and onto a platform. From there they can be rocketed up into space at a reduced cost.
Thoth Technology’s tower will be inflatable, free standing and downright odd. It will be pneumatically pressurised and actively-guided over its base, offering the potential for 30pc in savings on missions.
Reaching 20km above the planet, it would stand more than 20 times the height of current tall structures and be used for wind-energy generation, communications and tourism.
“Astronauts would ascend to 20km by electrical elevator,” said inventor Brendan Quine.
“From the top of the tower, space planes will launch in a single stage to orbit, returning to the top of the tower for refuelling and reflight.”
This might sound nuts, but the drive to reduce costs in space travel has seen some remarkable creations in recent years.
Take SpaceX’s ongoing issues with landing its rockets safely back on Earth so that they can be reused.
Not yet perfected, the logic is sound, even if the execution is somewhat wanting. And it’s concepts like that that Caroline Roberts, president and CEO of Thoth, wants to marry with to make the space elevator a reality.
“Landing on a barge at sea level is a great demonstration, but landing at 12 miles above sea level will make space flight more like taking a passenger jet.”
Still, it’s hard not to picture this scene from the Simpsons: