On Japanese Space Elevators

Several years ago when I was invited to pitch stories for the Star Trek: S.C.E. series, one of the ideas I tossed out was a story in which the crew of the USS da Vinci have to repair a space elevator damaged during the Dominion War. Thus was Ring Around the Sky born.

The concept is simple — rather than use rockets to get into space, you build a solid structure into space, and you run it basically like an elevator, ferrying men and materiel to and from orbit. Building the elevator would be a massive investment of energy and resources, but that expenditure would be earned back by vastly reduced costs in putting payloads into orbit.

I’d long been fascinated by space elevators. I’d first encountered the idea in Carl Sagan’s Cosmos — a Jon Lomberg painting of a planet with a network of space elevators took my breath away when I was seven. Later, I read Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator, Arthur C. Clarke’s The Fountains of Paradise, and Charles Sheffield’s The Web Between the Worlds. (Yes, I’m serious in counting Dahl’s book.)

Inspired by all of this, I pitched Ring Around the Sky.

After the story came out, someone asked me — are space elevators really feasible?

Not only are they feasible, I said, but we’re probably only twenty or twenty-five years away from building one. Or at the very least, of having the manufacturing knowledge to build one.

My reader didn’t believe me.

Apparently, the Japanese are about to put my supposition to the test.

Japan is increasingly confident that its sprawling academic and industrial base can solve those [engineering] 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.

In November, they’re convening an international conference on the topic.

Can the Japanese do it?

I’m just a layman, though I did a lot of reading on the topic when writing Ring Around the Sky. I stand by the thought that it can be done within the next twenty years.

I have no doubt that the Japanese can do it. 🙂

3 thoughts on “On Japanese Space Elevators

  1. Very interesting. I don’t see how it would work, but I understand nothing that it requires to make that kind of evaluation. Very interesting, though.

  2. There’s a science-fiction/science-fact anthology that came out within the past year or two entitled Liftport that presents a survey of fiction based on the concept of space elevators, plus a sampling of scientific surveys on the latest research.

    There are some thorny engineering problems to be solved, particularly with material tensile strength. But the problems aren’t insurmountable. I’m really convinced that within the next two decades, it’s going to happen. It’s definitely doable. 🙂

  3. Konstantin Tsilkovsky came up with the idea of a space elevator around 1900. Arthur C Clark popularized the idea in the Fountains of Paradise in 1979. These versions had elevators resembling long trains racing up and down a vertical pathway at thousands of miles an hour.

    In my novel Passage to Mars, I described a slow moving (100 kms) 24 kms wide belt composed a billions of fiber optic threads meant to carry raw materials and finished goods. It never stops and the goods going up are balanced by the goods going down. The idea was to make it nearly sabatoge proof.

    Lo and behold, my belt concept is nearly a twin of the Japanese space elevator. Oh well. Great minds think alike.

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