A Japanese company has announced that it will have a space elevator up and running by the year 2050.
The Japanese construction giant Obayashi says it will build a space elevator that will reach 96,000km into space, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) has reported.
Robotic cars powered by magnetic linear motors will carry people and cargo to a new space station much more cheaply than rockets can – but the journey time will be seven days.
Obayashi says the science-fiction fantasy can become reality thanks to the development of carbon nanotechnology.
"The tensile strength is almost a hundred times stronger than steel cable so it’s possible," Yoji Ishikawa, a research and development manager at Obayashi, told ABC.
"Right now we can’t make the cable long enough," he added. "We can only make 3-centimetre-long nanotubes but we need much more… we think by 2030 we’ll be able to do it."
According to ABC, universities all over Japan have been working on the problems and every year they hold competitions about their discoveries. A team at Kanagawa University has been working on robotic cars or climbers.
Professor Tadashi Egami said tension on the cable will vary depending on height and gravity. "We’re studying what mechanisms are needed in order to ascend at differing altitudes and the best brake system," Mr. Egami said.
An international study in 2012 concluded that the space elevator concept was feasible but required international cooperation.
Mr Ishikawa from Obayashi agreed: "I don’t think one company can make it, we’ll need an international organisation to make this big project," he said.
Obayashi is working on cars that will carry 30 people up the elevator, so it may not be too long before the Moon is the next must-see tourist destination.
Japan has a record for thinking big when it comes to space engineering. Its space agency JAXA is working on beaming solar power directly from space, and Shimizu Corporation has set out plans for developing a solar power station on the moon.
Photograph: Carbon nanotechnology will be the secret behind the 96,000km-high elevator (Obayashi)