Why a space elevator is now slightly less implausible

Canadian space company has been awarded a patent for an inflatable 12-mile elevator with a runway for space planes.

Thoth Technology. Inc.
An artist's concept of an inflatable space elevator design patented by the Canadian company Thoth Technology, Inc. The elevator would lift passengers to an altitude of 12 miles (20 kilometers) where they could catch a commercial spacecraft launch into orbit.
Thoth Technology, Inc.
A commercial spacecraft launch pad and runway would sit atop the 12-mile-high inflatable space elevator concept patented by the Canadian company Thoth Technology Inc. The concept would allow cheaper access to space, the company says.

Space enthusiasts and sci-fi fans, rejoice: The space elevator may be one step closer to reality.

A Canadian space company was recently awarded a patent for a space elevator that would reach about 12 miles (20 kilometers) above the Earth's surface.

Although space elevators have been considered a theoretical technology, they have been billed as a cheaper alternative to rocket launches, especially when it comes to sending heavy objects or people into space. [Video: Is a Space Elevator to the Moon Possible?]

According to Thoth Technology Inc., the company that was awarded the patent, the U.S. patent allows for an elevator that would be 30 percent cheaper than the fuel required by a conventional rocket. Also, the system would be fully reusable, further reducing costs, the company said.

"Astronauts would ascend to 20 km by electrical elevator," inventor Brendan Quine said in a statement. "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."

Space transportation options will increase if other companies contribute to the effort of developing alternatives to traditional rockets, noted Thoth CEO Caroline Roberts. For instance, SpaceX is testing self-landing rockets, and the company has made several attempts at landing a version of its Falcon 9 rocket on a sea barge drone, in a move that SpaceX says will eventually decrease launch costs.

"Landing on a barge at sea level is a great demonstration," Roberts said, "but landing at 12 miles above sea level will make spaceflight more like taking a passenger jet."

On the product page, Thoth said it is an original equipment manufacturer of "miniaturized payloads for space and UAV platforms." The company flew a greenhouse-gas sensor called Argus IR aboard the CanX-2 microsatellite in 2008.

Thoth Technology is also working on several missions still in the development phase, such as the Northern Light lander concept for Mars and an Extrasolar Spectroscopy of Planets mission that would probe for elements in the atmospheres of alien planets.

Follow Elizabeth Howell @howellspace, or Space.com @Spacedotcom. We're also on Facebook andGoogle+. Original article on Space.com.

Copyright 2015 SPACE.com, a Purch company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Follow CSMonitor's board Astronomy on Pinterest.
You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.