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Conference to develop proposal for a nanotech space elevator

The Japan Space Elevator Association will hold a conference on Nov.15-16, 2008 at Miraikan (Kotoh ward,Tokyo) to draw up a proposal and timeline for a space elevator to be made possible through nanotechnology. From the TimesOnline (via KurzweilAI.net), written by Leo Lewis, “Japan hopes to turn sci-fi into reality with elevator to the stars“:

…Now the finest scientific minds of Japan are devoting themselves to cracking the greatest sci-fi vision of all: the space elevator. Man has so far conquered space by painfully and inefficiently blasting himself out of the atmosphere but the 21st century should bring a more leisurely ride to the final frontier.

For chemists, physicists, material scientists, astronauts and dreamers across the globe, the space elevator represents the most tantalising of concepts: cables stronger and lighter than any fibre yet woven, tethered to the ground and disappearing beyond the atmosphere to a satellite docking station in geosynchronous orbit above Earth.

Up and down the 22,000 mile-long (36,000km) cables — or flat ribbons — will run the elevator carriages, themselves requiring huge breakthroughs in engineering to which the biggest Japanese companies and universities have turned their collective attention.

…Unlike the warp drives in Star Trek, or H.G. Wells’s The Time Machine, the idea of the space elevator does not mess with the laws of science; it just presents a series of very, very complex engineering problems.

Japan is increasingly confident that its sprawling academic and industrial base can solve those issues, and has even put the astonishingly low price tag of a trillion yen (£5 billion) on building the elevator. Japan is renowned as a global leader in the precision engineering and high-quality material production without which the idea could never be possible.

The biggest obstacle lies in the cables. To extend the elevator to a stationary satellite from the Earth’s surface would require twice that length of cable to reach a counterweight, ensuring that the cable maintains its tension.

The cable must be exceptionally light, staggeringly strong and able to withstand all projectiles thrown at it inside and outside the atmosphere. The answer, according to the groups working on designs, will lie in carbon nanotubes — microscopic particles that can be formed into fibres and whose mass production is now a focus of Japan’s big textile companies.

According to Yoshio Aoki, a professor of precision machinery engineering at Nihon University and a director of the Japan Space Elevator Association, the cable would need to be about four times stronger than what is currently the strongest carbon nanotube fibre, or about 180 times stronger than steel. Pioneering work on carbon nanotubes in Cambridge has produced a strength improvement of about 100 times over the last five years.

See also Nanowerk News.
—Jim

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