A potential space elevator could reduce the cost of space travel by 99 per cent – if the technology can be invented
By Adam Smith
China’s plans for the future of space exploration include a Mars base, planetary development, and a ‘sky ladder’ to transport cargo.
The first of a three-step plan involves androids launched to take samples of Mars and look for the location of a Mars base site, said Wang Xiaojun, head of the state-owned China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALT) at the Global Space Exploration Conference, as reported by Global Times.
Following that will be a manned Mars mission to develop the base, while the third stage will be transporting cargo fleets from Earth to Mars to construct a community on the planet; the current timetable schedules these launches approximately every two years from 2033 until 2043.
A potential fourth stage – a “sky ladder” that could reduce the cost and time spent travelling to Mars – is also being developed, but it is unclear how much progress has been made yet. The notion of a “sky ladder” or corresponding space elevator has been considered by humans since 1895, when it leapt from the brain of Russian space pioneer Konstantin Tsiolkovsky.
It is likely the elevator would need to be in geostationary orbit, so it moves concurrently with the planet. Engineers would first assemble an enormous space station, and then drop cables down to the Earth that would be fixed on the equator – as it would be impossible to build in the United States or Europe. Unfortunately, a cable that is both long enough, and strong enough, to maintain its integrity is yet to be invented.
Once that has been overcome, however, it is likely that the cost of travelling into space would fall by over 99 per cent, with equipment and personnel travelling relatively simply between planets.
Setting its sights further than Mars, China has designs to explore other asteroids, as well as sending crafts to Jupiter for further study. A Mars sample mission, and a Jupiter exploration mission, could come as soon as 2030.