Express elevator to the stars

In 1895 a Russian scientist named Konstantin Tsiolkovsky looked at the Eiffel Tower in Paris and thought about putting a ‘celestial castle’ at the end of a spindle shaped cable, with the ‘castle’ orbiting the earth in a geosynchronous orbit.

Now over 100 years later Otis Elevator has declared it has ‘the right stuff’ to help NASA achieve its dream of building a space elevator based on Tsiolkovsky’s vision.

In an August 2000 report, NASA first detailed the concept of building a space elevator that would hum along a thin diamond fibre and extend 22,000 miles above the earth’s equator to a point in geosynchronous orbit.

John Thackrah, vice president of engineering for the elevator company, said that based on Otis’ current capabilities for creating transportation systems for skyscrapers several miles high, a space elevator may be more fact than fantasy.

‘Today we have the technology to create elevator systems for a five-mile-high tower,’ said Thackrah. ‘At the rate of our development efforts we could apply technology we are working on for today’s existing market to the NASA concept within the next 10 years.’

Otis already has in its active product-development program a range of technological applications to address the structural, dispatching, control and maintenance issues associated with such an undertaking.

Because repairs to such a system would be very expensive, routine maintenance would have to be minimised, said Thackrah.

The system would require on-board diagnostics that could not only warn maintenance personnel on earth of potential problems, but also enable repairs from a remote location.

Otis currently features its remote elevator monitoring system, which detects software as well as electro-mechanical degradation on microprocessor-based systems and automatically alerts a service dispatcher. In addition, the company is developing diagnostics for ‘maintenance-free’ earthbound elevators.

‘When our company’s founder, Elisha Graves Otis, invented the first safety elevator, the word ‘skyscraper’ entered our language,’ said Thackrah.

‘The NASA concept doesn’t just scrape the sky, it breaks through it. But who knows – There was a time when people couldn’t even imagine a mile-high building or a man on the moon.’