Launching space vehicles is still very costly because booster rockets are not reusable. A space elevator could make it dramatically cheaper but we still do not have the material for the space cable that could lift such an elevator to a height that would eliminate the need for a booster rocket.
Canadian company Thoth Technologies won a U.S. patent for a different solution – an elevator encased within a 20-kilometer space tower that could bring people and vehicles much closer to outer space.
According to Thoth Technologies the elevator would run inside an inflatable tower. Launching space vehicles from its top would be much cheaper.
“We think it's realistic. We're looking to license the patent to Google or Alphabet, SpaceX, Elon Musk, maybe the European Space Agency, and we think that in three to five years a 1.5-kilometer prototype model - full-scale model - could be accomplished," said Ian Tomaszewski.
The company estimates that its elevator could carry 10 tons of cargo at approximately 11 kilometers per hour, reaching the top in about 60 minutes. From there passengers and cargo could easily reach the orbit and beyond.
There would be other opportunities too.
“Tourism is one. You'd have a great sight of the earth at 20 kilometers up, you'd see about 1,000 kilometers in any direction," said Tomaszewski.
Another idea being developed is a space elevator. A laser-powered car traveling along a ribbon made of strong and light nanotubes, stretched between Earth and a satellite in the geostationary orbit.
A number of experiments have been conducted but the biggest obstacle remains: how to manufacture a 36,000-kilometer-long ribbon.