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Inflatable Space Tower Proposed

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

"The team envisages assembling the structure from aseries of modules constructed from Kevlar-polyethylene composite tubes maderigid by inflating them with a lightweight gas such as helium," NewScientist reported in a June 9 story. "To test the idea, they built a 7-meterscale model made up of six modules. Each module was built out of threelaminated polyethylene tubes 8 centimeters in diameter, mounted around circularspacers and inflated with air."

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

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

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

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

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

Readers should note that the idea submitted by Quine, Sethand Zhu is different from the idea of a space elevator,with a terminus on Earth at one end and in geostationary orbit. Although thespace elevator concept was first suggested in 1895 by Konstantin Tsiolkovsky,many of us remember the minutely detailed description in Arthur C. Clarke's1978 novel The Fountains of Paradise.

Via New Scientist.

(This Science Fiction in the News story used withpermission of Technovelgy.com)

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