I’ve been working on space elevators for almost 20 years, and though we still have issues to solve, we are getting closer to making them reality
By Stephen Cohen on November 25, 2022
Space elevators are often dismissed as a science fiction dream, but I believe they will exist soon—perhaps in two or three decades. Throughout my career as an aerospace engineer and physics professor, I keep coming back to the concept of a cable stretching from Earth to space, along which people and cargo can easily travel.
In recent years, I and other researchers have found new ways to tinker with designs and answer questions about how space elevators could work. There are many reasons to build a space elevator. The obvious one is the major energy and cost savings; it’s a much more practical way to get to orbit than rockets.
Another reason that is often overlooked is accessibility. The word “space mission” would be replaced by “transit,” as trips to space become routine and mostly independent of weather conditions. Transits involving humans would be safer than current practices, whereby astronauts must accept a nonnegligible risk to their lives with each launch. A space elevator becomes a bridge to the entire solar system. Release a payload in the lower portion, and you orbit Earth, but do so in the upper portion, and you orbit the sun; all without fuel.