Deep in the heart of Ontario's Algonquin Park, there's a big radio telescope staring into space. It's an odd place to also find the office for a space services company, Thoth Technology. But that's where Chief Technology Officer Dr. Brendan Quine is hanging out right now, refurbishing the scope. He also has been pushing a patent application for a giant space elevator since 2008, which has finally been issued. It's described in the abstract:
A freestanding space elevator tower for launching payloads, tourism, observation, scientific research and communications. The space elevator tower has a segmented elevator core structure, each segment being formed of at least one pneumatically pressurized cell. The pressure cells may be filled with air or another gas. Elevator cars may ascend or descend on the outer surface of the elevator core structure or in a shaft on the interior of the elevator core structure. A payload may be launched from a pod or deck at the upper end of the space elevator tower. The space elevator tower is stabilized by gyroscopic and active control machinery. The space elevator tower maintains a desired pressure level through gas compressor machinery.
In other words, it's a giant inflatable Kevlar tube filled with high pressure gas. It's only 12 miles high, but that's where most of the hard work of traditional rockets is done, getting through the lower, denser part of the atmosphere. In a news release, Quine explains that launching from the platform would save a third of the fuel required for a normal launch.
Astronauts would ascend to 20km by electrical elevator. From the top of the tower, space planes will launch in a single stage to orbit, returning to the top of the tower for refueling and reflight.
It would also make a great tourist attraction. Caroline Roberts, CEO of Thoth, says "From the top of the tower looking out, you would be able to see the bright blue rim of the Earth and a view stretching 1,000 kilometres. [621 miles]"
The elevators would be mounted on the exterior of the tube, which would make for an exciting ride, but it's too high for traditional cables. According to the CBC,
One possibility is a "self-climbing" elevator attached to claws that reach three-quarters of the way around the tower and wheels underneath the claws to allow the elevator to spiral around the outside.
Perhaps they should also talk to ThyssenKrupp about its linear induction motor powered cable-free elevators, which will be running up towers soon.
Many are quibbling that it's not a true space elevator as has been proposed before, which is held up by a sort of tetherball in space at the end of a long cable. Others are skeptical that it will get built. Drew on TechCrunch concludes "Having a patent is one thing; actually building it is another. Give me a buzz when I can buy my ticket to space."
I hope that when they do build it, the site is at their offices in Algonquin Park. There are a few old fire towers in the area of the park that tourists now climb to get a great view. If nothing else, this would be the greatest fire-spotting tower tourist attraction ever built, and it would make a great canoe trip.