There has been quite a bit of hype in the media in the past weeks about ThothX Tower, Canadian company Thoth Technology’s so called ‘Space elevator’.
They took out a patent on this inflatable, reinforced structure reaching an altitude of 20km, which would be a platform from which to launch rockets into space. However we spoke to Jasper Bouwmeester from TU Delft's Space Systems Engineering department about this innovation, and he was not convinced.
Bouwmeester is most keen to emphasise that this structure has been mislabelled; "It‘s not an elevator. They call it a 'space elevator', but it isn't. It's just a very large tower." The 'space elevator' is an entirely different concept, and not to be confused with Thoth’s recent patent. This very large tower with its rocket-launching platform is intended to reduce the amount of fuel needed, and as such the size of the rocket. The idea is that this in turn will make space travel more affordable and hopefully prevalent.
While the tower may reduce the cost of space travel by around 30% in terms of rocket fuel and size, this estimation does not take into account the price of the tower itself, which would be enormous. Not only would construction be expensive, but to loft this tower would take an inordinate amount of helium. With a very rough calculation, Bouwmeester told Delta keeping the tower straight would need "about all the Helium we have in the world, which is going to cost billions." There would also be a number of technical difficulties with the tower, not least the fact that due to helium atom's small size they will not stay in the tower, which would have to be frequently refilled costing an estimated few million more each month.
While the media hype the past few weeks would have us believe this tower is just around the corner, it seems that currently this design is impractical. Speaking to Delta about his scepticism Bouwmeester adds that a lofted, not rigid tower is ‘nice', one reaching 20km altitude is unlikely. However, it could be possible to use this technology to construct a 1km tower instead, which would be the highest tower in the world, but this would be more of an architectural marvel, and nothing to do with space travel. His final comment is that we should not be taking this idea too seriously, so we are not looking forward to 'space elevator hotels’ anytime soon. (AC)