Humanity has dreamed of a space elevator for many years. It is a structure capable of transporting cargo and people from a point on Earth to the planet’s orbit in a fast, safe and economical way.
But this technology is, in addition to promising, quite complicated – with projections for the installation of a functional model only in 2050.
Who disagrees is Professor George Zhu, who teaches Mechanical Engineering at York University, Canada. He has a more optimistic theory and, according to a new study published by the scientist, it is possible to start the construction of a space elevator with technologies currently available.
An elevator halfway
Zhu’s project was published in the scientific journal Acta Astronautica and brings a variant of the space elevator that is simpler and more practical in operation, although it is not the same as the original ideas. “Technically speaking, he is kind of ready. He would only need a few minor engineering adjustments, and there are no fundamental difficulties in doing this,” says the researcher.
The main difference is at one end: instead of having a fixed position on the ground, the elevator is “partial” and would remain whole in space, but in different parts of the Earth’s orbit.
Cargo transportation would start from a simple rocket (and more economical than current models in terms of fuel), which would take the object only to the entrance of the elevator. Once attached to the cables, the goods can be sent to the other end, in a more advanced position of the orbit.
With the elevator, the rockets could still carry much larger loads than the current missions, since it would not be necessary to do the complete transport.
To make the mechanism possible, it is necessary to use two cables instead of just one, as the current projects foresee. This is because the system needs stability in relation to the Earth’s rotation force, or Coriolis inertial force. Thus, the elevator works based on a counterweight that makes the opposite path: while the load goes up, another object needs to make the reverse path, canceling the forces.
The project still exists only in theory and there is no prediction to be taken out of the paper: only one test with an experimental satellite was carried out. Even so, the possibility of saving on fuel must be welcomed by space agencies, as this is the big bet of using space elevators to send cargo into orbit.
In addition, there are some recognized obstacles for the invention to become reality: objects that are already in circulation in the planet’s orbit, from satellites to space debris, could collide with the structure and damage the elevator, for example. As the structure is long, any maneuver would be difficult to carry out.