Soon, an inflatable tower that can climb to the edge of space

June 9th, 2009 - 2:02 pm ICT by ANI  

London, June 9 (ANI): Some scientists have envisaged the building of a giant inflatable tower that could carry people to the edge of space without the need for a rocket, and could be completed much sooner than a cable-based space elevator.

According to a report in New Scientist, if built from a suitable mountain top, the tower could reach an altitude of around 20 kilometres, where it could be used for atmospheric research, tourism, telecoms or launching spacecraft.

Inflatable pneumatic modules already used in some spacecraft could be assembled into a 15-kilometre-high tower, according to Brendan Quine, Raj Seth and George Zhu at York University in Toronto, Canada.

The team envisages assembling the structure from a series of modules constructed from Kevlar-polyethylene composite tubes made rigid by inflating them with a lightweight gas such as helium.

To test the idea, they built a 7-metre scale model made up of six modules.

Each module was built out of three laminated polyethylene tubes 8 centimetres in diameter, mounted around circular spacers and inflated with air.

To stay upright and withstand winds, full-scale structures would require gyroscopes and active stabilisation systems in each module.

The team modelled a 15-kilometre tower made up of 100 modules, each one 150 metres tall and 230 metres in diameter, built from inflatable tubes 2 metres across.

Quine estimates it would weigh about 800,000 tonnes when pressurized, around twice the weight of the world’s largest supertanker.

“Twenty kilometres up is about as dark as outer space. You can see about 600 kilometres in any direction,” Quine said.

He calculates the tower could be extended up to low Earth orbit at 200 kilometres.

The tower does a similar job to the much-vaunted space elevator.

But while the elevator envisages using ribbons woven from superstrong nanotubes - a material that is as yet non-existent - the tower would use materials that are already available.

Should something go wrong with the tower, failure of a few modules would not cause the whole structure to collapse. (ANI)

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