Canadian company proposes ‘space elevator’

Thoth Technology granted a US patent to construct a 20km elevator designed to propel astronauts into space 

A Canadian space firm has proposed a 20km tall ‘space elevator’ to cut the costs of space exploration.

Last month, Thoth Technology was granted the US patent for a space elevator designed to take astronauts up into the stratosphere, where they will then be propelled into space.

The company said that the tower, the ‘ThothX Tower’, will be an inflatable, freestanding structure complete with an electrical elevator and will reach 20km. above the earth. This will make the tower more than 20 times taller than the 829-metre high Burj Khalifa in Dubai, the world’s tallest building.

“Astronauts would ascend to 20km by electrical elevator. From the top of the tower, space planes will launch in a single stage to orbit, returning to the top of the tower for refueling and reflight,” Brendan Quine, the tower’s inventor, said in a statement.

Traditionally, regions above 50km in altitude can only be reached by rocket ships, where mass is expelled at a high velocity to achieve thrust in the opposite direction. In his patent, Quine said that rocketry is “extremely inefficient” and that a space elevator would take less energy.

Quine explained that rocket ships expend more energy because they “must counter the gravitational force during the flight by carrying mass in the form of propellant and must overcome atmospheric drag”.

In contrast, by using an elevator system, “the work done is significantly less as no expulsion mass must be carried to do work against gravity, and lower ascent speeds in the lower atmosphere can virtually eliminate atmospheric drag”.

An elevator to space has always been believed to be an unfeasible idea because no known material can support itself at such a height. However, Thoth’s design sidesteps this problem by only building the elevator to 20km so it sits within the stratosphere rather than all the way in the geostationary orbit, where satellites fly.

Thoth president Caroline Roberts said that space travel, coupled with self-landing rocket technologies currently being developed by other companies, will signal a new era of space transportation.

“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,” she said in a statement.