Scientists in Canada have designed a cheaper, easier way to build mankind's millennium-old dream of a stairway to the heavens: use balloons.
York University scientists Brendan Quine, Raj Seth and George Zhu have designed a tower system that could, theoretically, carry scientists, tourists and whomever else wanted to go up to near space, if not outside the earths atmosphere made of little more than inflatable modules already used on the space shuttle. Says New Scientist:
The team envisages assembling the structure from a series of modules constructed from Kevlar-polyethylene composite tubes made rigid by inflating them with a lightweight gas such as helium. To test the idea, they built a 7-metre scale model made up of six modules (see image). Each module was built out of three laminated polyethylene tubes 8 centimetres in diameter, mounted around circular spacers and inflated with air.
To stay upright and withstand winds, full-scale structures would require gyroscopes and active stabilisation systems in each module.
They modeled a 15-kilometer high tower, which would only weigh twice the amount of a modern-day supertanker, despite being filled with helium. Quine estimates that a 20-kilometer high tower would give tourists a 600 km view of the Earth, and believes the tower could be scaled up to reach a low Earth orbit at 200 kilometers.
The best part? If one of the balloons pops, the whole thing doesn't fall back to Earth.
Inflatable tower could climb to the edge of space [New Scientist]