It takes a lot of energy to put stuff in space. That’s why one longtime futurist dream is a “space elevator” — a long cable strung between a geostationary satellite and the Earth that astronauts could use like a dumbwaiter to haul stuff up into orbit.
The problem is that such a system would require an extraordinarily light, strong cable. Now, researchers from Beijing’s Tsinghua University say they’ve developed a carbon nanotube fiber so sturdy and lightweight that it could be used to build an actual space elevator.
The researchers published their paper in May, but it’s now garnering the attention of their peers. Some believe the Tsinghua team’s material really could lead to the creation of an elevator that would make it cheaper to move astronauts and materials into space.
“This is a breakthrough,” colleague Wang Changqing, who studies space elevators at Northwestern Polytechnical University, told the South China Morning Post.
There are still countless galling technical problems that need to be overcome before a space elevator would start to look plausible. Wang pointed out that it’d require tens of thousands of kilometers of the new material, for instance, as well as a shield to protect it from space debris.
But the research brings us one step closer to what could be a true game changer: a vastly less expensive way to move people and spacecraft out of Earth’s gravity.
READ MORE: China Has Strongest Fibre That Can Haul 160 Elephants – and a Space Elevator? [South China Morning Post]
More on space elevators: Why Space Elevators Could Be the Future of Space Travel