Two tiny satellites are on their way to the International Space Station. What makes them different is that they will be tied together by a 32-foot long steel cable. And it’s the first step towards what could eventually become a colossal space elevator.
Researchers from Japan’s Shizuoka University will later this month attempt to test how the concept works in orbit.
According to a report in Japan’s Mainichi news service, two small four-inch square satellites will be released from the International Space Station after being delivered on September 11.
Once in free orbit, the satellites will uncoil a 32-foot length of cable. A small motorized container will then slide between the two ends. Cameras attached to each satellite will record its movements.
Researchers will be looking for any unanticipated oscillations or changes in orientation as the weight of the moving container shifts. If successful, it could become the first step towards proving the concept of a cargo-carrying space elevator.
Japanese firm Obayashi Corp, which is participating in the study, wants to plant a space station some 22,000 miles in orbit, with a long line tethered to a platform in the Pacific Ocean, by 2050.
It has plans to build six elevators, each measuring 60 feet in length by 23 feet in diameter. It says they will have the capacity to hold 30 people, and move at 125 miles per hour. It would take one more than a week to travel between the ground and the orbital outpost.
Obayashi Corp ambitiously places the cost of the project at about 10 trillion yen ($90 billion). But several key technical hurdles remain.