This construction firm plans to build an elevator to space. Why it’s not just science fiction

Updated Sep 24, 2014

While companies like Space X and Virgin Galactic rush to pioneer the privatized the space travel industry, one of Japan’s largest construction companies has plans to bypass rockets and other aircraft altogether by building an elevator for people to ride straight into space.

Construction firm Obayashi recently announced that they plan to build such an elevator by the year 2050, according to a report by ABC News Australia.

The elevator would reach a staggering 60,000 miles, transporting up to 30 passengers at a time to a new space station via robotic cars powered by magnets.

And while that sounds like something sci-fi author H.G. Wells came up with came up with 100 years ago, Obayashi researchers and other experts say that such an elevator actually could exist by 2050 due to how quickly the development of carbon nanotechnology is advancing.

Obayashi research and development manager Yoji Ishikawa told ABC that carbon nanotube cables are nearly 100 times stronger than steel cables and would be able to support the cars over such a huge distance.

“Right now we can’t make the cable long enough,” he told ABC. “We can only make 3-centimeter-long nanotubes but we need much more … we think by 2030 we’ll be able to do it.”

While it’s hard to imagine any kind of structure that tall, most of the elevator would consist of that carbon nanotube cable. Video provided to ABC by Obayashi shows two anchor points—one on Earth and one at the space station—with only the cable stretching between them as UFO-like cars ascend and descend along it.

Meanwhile, the project has ignited competition and participation at universities across Japan as students study the obstacles preventing the elevator’s construction and research how to solve them.

Obayashi has also said they hope other companies and experts around the world join in as well as the company believes it will take a worldwide effort to get such a project off the ground.