An inflatable space tower tall enough to launch spacecraft has been proposed by Brendan Quine, Raj Seth and George Zhu at York University in Toronto, Canada, according to a New Scientist report. If the tower is built on a suitable mountain peak it could reach an altitude of about 20 kilometers.

"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," New Scientist reported in a June 9 story. "To test the idea, they built a 7-meter scale model made up of six modules. Each module was built out of three laminated polyethylene tubes 8 centimeters in diameter, mounted around circular spacers and inflated with air."

A full-scale structure would require gyroscopes and active stabilization systems in each module to withstand the vagaries of wind at different altitudes. The team created a computer model of a 15-kilometer tower made up of 100 modules. Each of the modules were approximately 150 meters tall and 230 meters in diameter; they were built from inflatable tubes 2 meters across. Quine estimates it would weigh about 800,000 tons when pressurized.

Although the team has a very striking idea, science fiction fans may find it familiar.

Fans of science fiction writer David Brin may recall the towering "Needles" from his 1980 novel Sundiver.

"...the few times he had left Earth before, rising and returning by balloon, there have been the other ships to watch, bright and busy as they floated up to Power Station or back down the pressurized interior of one of the Needles.

"Neither of the great Needles had ever been boring. The thin ceramic walls that held the twenty-mile towers at sea-level pressures had been painted with gigantic murals -- huge swooping birds and pseudo science-fiction space battles copied from twenty-century magazines. It had never been claustrophobic."
(Read more about Brin's Needle Space Towers)

Readers should note that the idea submitted by Quine, Seth and Zhu is different from the idea of a space elevator, with a terminus on Earth at one end and in geostationary orbit. Although the space elevator concept was first suggested in 1895 by Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, many of us remember the minutely detailed description in Arthur C. Clarke's 1978 novel The Fountains of Paradise.

Via New Scientist.

(This Science Fiction in the News story used with permission of

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