A revolutionary plan to build a 20 kilometre high inflatable structure to propel spacecraft into the atmosphere has been announced by Canadian company Thoth Technology. Jim Drury reports.
Though a tried and tested way to launch space missions, firing rockets isn't fuel efficient. Thoth Technology of Canada says its planned 20 kilometre high space elevator tower could solve that. SOUNDBITE (English) IAN TOMASZEWSKI, SPACE SYSTEMS SPECIALIST AT THOTH TECHNOLOGY, SAYING: "If you have a 20 kilometre tall tower and you launch from the tower then you can get to space in a single stage to orbit. Normally on a rocket launcher you would launch vertically for a while and then you expel those stages of the propellant and those will fall back down to the ocean, and then you continue on. By this you will eliminate that part of the journey." The ThothX Tower could cut mission fuel costs by 30 percent. The tower will be built of reinforced inflatable sections, while a hollow middle would allow an elevator car to bring the rocket to the top. Thoth says it could also be used for communications, to generate wind energy, and even tourism. SOUNDBITE (English) IAN TOMASZEWSKI, SPACE SYSTEMS SPECIALIST AT THOTH TECHNOLOGY, SAYING: "There's a lot of opportunities for the structure. Tourism is one. You'd have a great sight of the earth at 20 kilometres up, you'd see about 1,000 kilometres in any direction." Thoth has a US patent for the tower, which will be more than 20 times higher than any other man-made structure. It plans to build a working prototype within five years. The company is also part of NASA's mission to land on the asteroid Bennu. They're testing this Lidar remote sensing equipment, developed in Canada, to go on board, exposing it to space-like conditions in their thermal vacuum chamber. SOUNDBITE (English) CATHERINE TSOUVALTSIDIS, HEAD OF RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT AT THOTH TECHNOLOGY, SAYING: "We're really interested in looking to see what was life like at the beginning of our time frame. We're also very interested in looking at asteroids which follow a very earth-like orbit, which means they travel around the sun at almost the same time frame as we do on the planet but also travel very close to earth. Bennu, for example, every six years comes within oh, such a terribly close distance, that we're very interested in finding out more about its composition, its size, and everything else to know about it because it will have a direct link to us as humans." The Bennu mission will launch in September 2016.