The famed command “beam me up” could become more than just a geeky reference to Star Trek. Canadian space and defense company Thoth Technology is attempting to make reaching the stratosphere as simple as riding an elevator up a tower about 23 times taller than the world’s tallest building.
The Thoth space elevator patent, approved by the US patent office on July 21, specifies that the tower could be built on any “planetary surface,” (i.e. not just Earth), a sign that Thoth is thinking pretty far ahead. Thoth says in the patent that the top of the tower will serve as a rocket launch site. The patent also notes that the tower could be used for tourism, observation, and research, though exactly how researchers and tourists would get up it isn’t clear.
The patent focuses heavily on figuring out how to support such a tall, slender structure. Dr. Brendan Quine, the patent’s co-author, told the Globe and Mail that the tower would use “pneumatic pressure,” allowing Thoth to control the lean of the tower. Quine said this would make it possible to “actively guide the center of gravity toward things like hurricanes, so that the tower won’t fall down.”
The project may sound like a money pit, but conservation is one of the driving forces behind the idea, according to the company. Among other things, fuel costs and disposable hardware make space travel incredibly expensive. When rockets take off, they fly vertically for 15 to 25 km (9 to 15 miles), before dropping off portions of the rocket that fall back to earth.
The document states that altitudes above 50 km (31 miles) can only be reached by rockets that expel mass “at high velocity in order to achieve thrust in the opposite direction.” Thoth calls this mode of transportation “extremely inefficient,” because rockets must counter gravitational force during flight by carrying a propellant, and rockets have to overcome atmospheric drag.
According to the Guardian, Thoth’s elevator could be powered electrically or inductively, eliminating the need to equip already heavy rockets with additional bulky fuel. The sky-high platform would allow rockets to be launched from 19.3 km (12 miles) above ground level, which the company says would require less work against gravity and atmospheric drag.
Thoth did not respond to our request for comment about how likely it is to build the tower, but if it did, Thoth claims the technology could help rockets be 30% more fuel efficient.