Will Japan be first?

That’s the implication of this article, published today in the TimesOnline (and linked to from the DrudgeReport – guaranteeing a HUGE audience).  I was excited when I read the headlines (“Japan hopes to turn sci-fi into reality with elevator to the stars“), but the article mentioned no new breakthroughs in this effort.

Having said that, the likelihood of the Japanese building the world’s first Space Elevator certainly cannot be discounted.  They are a technologically sophisticated and financially able people.  It is not at all beyond the realm of possibility that the Japanese could decide to wean themselves from the oil economy by launching a number of Solar Power Satellites (SPS) for their own use and the only way that they (or anyone) is going to be able to launch a significant amount of payload (i.e. SPS) into orbit is with a Space Elevator.

We’re all waiting for the breakthrough in carbon nanotubes and the accelerating pace of research into this field means, IMHO, that this is not far away at all; I think we will see ‘the breakthrough’ before this decade is out.  And, when that happens, the idea of a Space Elevator could move very quickly from an academic exercise to a new ‘space race’…

The article mentions the upcoming Space Elevator conference being held in Japan on November 15th and 16th.  I’m told that the English language progam for this conference will be available soon.  I’m going to be attending this conference and very much look forward to going.

The Japanese also had a large presence at the recent Space Elevator conference held at the Microsoft Conference center (I blogged about it here).  The picture, above, is of the attendees from Japan at this conference (click on it for a larger version).

The Japanese Space Elevator Association also has an extensive website (all in Japanese) which can be found here.

7 thoughts on “Will Japan be first?

  1. Eugene Keech

    Lightning degradation of cable, impossibility of inspecting length for dangerous cracks that could eventually break, possible accidental strikes by straying airliner, any storm on earth near anchorage that could break cable loose, could fatally destroy the space elevator cable system, releasing the counterweight to pull the cable and everything on it out into space.

    There is no way to defend cable from terrorist threat and ransom demands in millions or billions of dollars. Any military attack would destroy it. If people were in elevator at the time, they would be “lost in space” and could not be rescued alive.

    It’s not a feasible scheme, for these reasons.

  2. Eugene Keech

    No cable 22,000 miles or more long could withstand the beating of weather, bird attachments, etc. Lightning would melt it or crystalize it [soon to crack and sever it], and a stray airliner could accidentally sever it. Hostile agencies, governments or terrorists, could threaten to attack it and cut it loose.

    If the cable were to be severed by any means, with people in the elevator out thousands of miles, the counterweight would pull them out to space. Rescuing them alive would be impossible. Therefore, it’s a bad idea.

  3. Ted Semon Post author

    Eugene, each of the issues you mention has solutions. You place the cable where lightning is virtually non-existent, you create a closed airspace, (with a military presence to defend it), there are several ways to inspect/repair the cable (use the cargo climbers or replace sections periodically or have cable-repair climbers, etc.)

    You build a second elevator as the failsafe for the first. If something breaks, you do have time to react – it doesn’t “snap apart”. Read either of Dr. Brad Edwards books to see these solutions in more detail.

  4. Eugene Keech


    You think you can send people up to inspect/repair a cable that is 22,000 miles long to the geostationary point? You’ve got to be kidding! How long can any worker stay in the radiation belt to inspect the cable?

    Furthermore, the entire length of cable would be full of random motions, perturbed by all weather in the atmospheric region plus side forces of the elevator being accelerated faster in its eastward path around the earth as altitude increases. Ripples on the cable would intercept those laser beams and cut off power to the elevator. Worse yet, the cable would be damaged wherever the lasers struck it, and that would eventually cause failure of the cable itself. They use lasers to cut through metal, you know.

    The project is unworkable, Ted. [PERIOD] No matter how many lasers you have beaming up from the ground, you can’t track an elevator through 22,000 miles of travel, and you can’t avoid striking the cable often and repeatedly with the lasers. Every time a ripple in the cable gets in the way of the lasers, power is cut off from the elevator motor, and the elevator itself is subject to much erratic random motion that would get out of the laser beam.

  5. Brian Dunbar


    You think you can send people up to inspect/repair a cable that is 22,000 miles long to the geostationary point? You’ve got to be kidding! How long can any worker stay in the radiation belt to inspect the cable?

    It is possible you do not grasp the nature of the nanotech material proposed for the ribbon – except for gross defects visual inspection is simply impractical.

    This is not a new problem, but it does not get a lot of attention compared to the larger issues. We (at LiftPort) speculated that an automated system would be needed. Each lifter could carry tools that survey the ribbon as it ascends, sending the data back to the ground station for analysis.

    When a section is detected that needs patching the same lifter equipment that ‘bulked up’ the ribbon during the construction phase would ascend and do it’s job.

    It is interesting that of your other objections .. well they’re just engineering challenges, not a firm ‘nature won’t let you do that’ items.

  6. Eugene Keech


    I’m glad you mentioned engineering challenges. I decided to do a design study on a 10-ton space elevator to see how values fell out. Here’s what happened:

    If you drive a 10-ton space elevator at 65 MPH, you are only using 1/4 of the power needed by the usual blog version of a 20-ton elevator traveling up to orbit in one week at 130 MPH.

    So, at that reduced size, the 10-ton elevator needs about 3 1/4 MegaWatts of electrical power to drive electric motors having a total of 3,467 hp. It takes a square array of photovoltaic cells with each side more than the length of a football field [328 ft x 328 ft] to transform laser energy into that much electrical energy at an efficiency of 30% [high efficiency level for solar cells].

    Major engineering challenge: 3,467 hp worth of electric motors plus an array that is 328 ft x 328 ft in size plus supporting frames and the rest of the elevator apparatus will very likely weigh more than 10 tons, making flight impossible. Getting that weight down to only 9.9 tons, for a 200-lb. payload, may be an exceedingly difficult major work in itself.

    Earth bound lasers must beam from 11 MW to 22 MW of energy at the monstrous photovoltaic cell array to consistently energize the array on the elevator to maintain 65 MPH speed upward. In its 22,000 mile trip, keeping the laser beams fastened on the array will be virtually impossible, with reduced power on the motors with every intermittent drift off contact. Critical timing delays over thousands of miles will slow down radar tracking and aiming of lasers, preventing continuous contact with the array.

    With that much high-power laser energy aimed upward, random strikes on the tether cable are unavoidable. Lasers burn through steel, brian, and that’s a lot of laser power.

    Every cloud around the tether will cut off the laser energy and bring the elevator to a standstill. Short burst of clouds will cause erratic motions in the elevator. Weather over two weeks cannot be accurately predicted [my web page stops at 5 days].

    Is that enough engineering challenges for you, Brian? Remember, I am an electronic engineer–that’s been my job for about 23 years. I know what I’m talking about here.

  7. Pingback: The first Japan Space Elevator Conference set to get underway this weekend - The Space Elevator Blog

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