Japan is about to test out plans for a real-life space elevator
The idea of a space elevator to lift us into orbit is one of the oldest concepts in sci-fi, but thanks to the efforts of scientists in Japan, we might soon be seeing this fantastic feat of engineering become a reality at last.
A mini satellite called STARS-C (Space Tethered Autonomous Robotic Satellite-Cube) is heading to the International Space Station in the coming months and is a prototype design that could form the basis of a future space elevator.
Once STARS-C has been delivered – on some to-be-determined date after the Northern Hemisphere’s summer – its makers at Shizuoka University will put it to the test: the orbiter will split into two 10-cm (3.94-inch) cubes and spool out a thin 100-metre tether made of Kevlar between them.
If plans for a space elevator are to get off the ground, a super-strong tether like this will one day winch people and supplies up from the Earth, so these tests are going to be crucial in finding if this kind of project can actually work.
The satellite is the invention of engineers Yoshiki Yamagiwa and Masahiro Nomi, who came up with the concept in 2014 and submitted their idea to the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). STARS-C will eventually be launched from the Kibo module on the ISS, owned by JAXA.
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