Scientists have outlined a madcap plan to build an “elevator” between Earth and the Moon, claiming it could drastically reduce the cost of space travel.
Known as Spaceline, the elevator would consist of a giant lift shaft tethered to the surface of the Moon, which would dangle down into geostationary orbit around the Earth like a plumb bob.
Astronauts lifting off in rockets from Earth would only need enough fuel to reach the end of the Spaceline, where they would be free from Earth’s gravity and atmospheric pressure.
After that they would latch onto a solar-powered shuttle, which would transport them the rest of the way to the Moon.
The idea has been outlined by researchers from Columbia University and Cambridge University in a paper published to the preprint server ArXiv .
“The line becomes a piece of infrastructure, much like an early railroad,” Zephyr Penoyre, one of the Columbia astronomy graduate students behind the Spaceline, told Futurism .
“The movement of people and supplies along it are much simpler and easier than the same journey in deep space.”
In the paper, the researchers claim that the elevator shaft could not be built from any existing material, because it would snap before it could be completed.
The best material to use would be carbon nanotubes, the researchers claim, but these cannot yet be built to scale.
It would need to be extremely narrow at either end, so it didn’t collapse under gravitational pressure, but thickened at the middle to prevent snapping.
The researchers have not yet addressed the risk of space debris in near-Earth orbit colliding with the lift shaft, but claim that there may be ways to protect it.
If the space elevator ever becomes a reality, the researchers envision it being used to transport people to orbital telescopes and other man-made structures located between the Earth and the Moon.
These structures would hover around Earth at the Lagrange point – the altitude at which the Moon and Earth exert equal-but-opposite gravitational forces.
“The Lagrange point is the perfect place to build,” Penoyre told Futurism.
“We could (indulging in a little imagination) picture prefabricated panels being sent up the line, and assembled into an ever-growing colony.
“I was amazed to find that there are now thousands of people living a significant part of the year in Antarctica – eventually the same could be true of the Lagrange point.”