The idea of creating an elevator to transport people and vehicles to space was proposed by Konstantin Tsiolkovsky in 1895. Rockets are difficult to launch off the surface of the Earth due to gravity and air resistance. The space elevator idea would attach a vehicle to a tether so it could climb into space. It would be a slower means of travel that would not require explosions and would theoretically be less expensive.
The original space elevator concept called for taking a long wire into space with a counterweight on the end and attaching the other end to a point on the Earth at the equator. The Earth’s spin would keep it taut. More recent proposals call for creating a rigid structure from carbon nanotubes. Current technology can only create carbon nanotubes that are 3 centimeters long. A Japanese company claims that it will be able to create a nanotube structure that will travel a quarter of the distance to the moon by 2050.
Another idea is to create a large building that would extend into space. Thoth Technology has proposed using modular Kevlar-polyethylene composites filled with helium to hold up a structure. It has been granted a patent for the idea. Thoth would, for the most part, use technology that already exists.
The elevator would extend 12 miles into the air. It would still be inside the Earth’s atmosphere, but high enough that it would be easier for spacecraft to enter space. The company believes rockets could land on a barge at the top to service the International Space Station and other missions. Since gravity would be lower at that height, rockets could take off with a single-stage motor, which would require less fuel and make missions safer.
The modular tubes that Thoth proposes using are already employed in space and have proven to be reliable. If one failed, the modular design would allow others to support the structure until repairs could be made. It would be much lighter than traditional building materials. It is estimated that the structure would weigh 880,000 tons.
Thoth still has to solve the problem of transporting equipment up the structure in an elevator. Even going at the speed of the fastest elevators in the world, it would take over an hour to transport pieces to the top, where they would then have to be assembled.