The concept of a “space elevator” has existed since the beginning of the Space Age, some sixty years ago. The idea is rather simple; a vessel is transported to and from space via a cable attached to a satellite stationed outside of the atmosphere. The most important feature of this method of space travel is the absence of rocket engines. Rocket engines – the primary means by which materials are transported into space today – require immense amounts of fuel, time, and money. In theory, a tether that stretches all the way from earth to space would not suffer from these shortcomings. However, applying this theory to a working physical model is rather daunting.
Japanese researchers based out of Shizuoka University's Faculty of Engineering have taken the first step to make this dream a reality. Labeled by its creators, the STARS-C (Space Tethered Autonomous Robotic Satellite-Cube) experimental microsatellite is the first of its kind.
The STARS-C is rather small in size, weighing in at just 2.66 kilograms (5.86 pounds), and consisting of two 10 centimeter (3.9-inch) cubes that are connected by a 100 meter long (328-foot-long) tether made from Kevlar (1). The $98,000 orbiter will be sent into space from the Kibo module aboard the International Space Station. From there the STARS-C will be launched into orbit and the two cubes will separate in order to test the strength and durability of the tether (2).
The purpose of the test is to determine feasible materials and methods by which a tether for a future space elevator could be made from. If successful, this would mean that science is on the right track to making a working model.
Although an actual space elevator is decades away from becoming a reality, the STARS-C represents a significant leap forward in space tether technology, with major implications for the future.
(1) "University Orbiter Set to Lift Space Elevator Technology：The Asahi Shimbun." The Asahi Shimbun. N.p., 06 July 2016. Web. 02 Aug. 2016.
(2) Patel, Neel V. "Japanese Scientists Will Test Out." Inverse. N.p., 06 July 2016. Web. 02 Aug. 2016.
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