The first space elevator to fly in space is set to take flight next month, according to the British space agency.
The X Prize space elevator is being built by the US-based Space Exploration Technologies Corp (SpaceX) in a £300 million ($400 million) joint venture with Boeing and SpaceX.
The company is also working with the French space agency CNES to develop a commercial version of the machine.
The project is being led by Space Exploration and Development Corp (Space), and the first flight of the Space Elevator will take place in December 2020.
The space elevator’s design is based on a 3D printer that can produce parts from thin sheets of plastic and metal.
The device, which is being developed by the firm Aeropress, is being made by using a laser to generate a magnetic field inside the object.
The magnetic field causes the part to spin and turn, creating a shape that is similar to the shape of a ship’s hull.
“We can create the same kind of shape in three dimensions using the 3D printing process, and then extrude it into the desired shape,” explained Space Exploration’s Chris Urmson.
“The structure itself can then be shaped using a combination of machining and laser printing.”
“This is one of the coolest technologies we’ve ever been able to demonstrate,” said Mr Urmson, a co-founder of Aeropresses.
The design also allows the company to control the shape using software.
The main feature of the 3-D printer is its ability to generate high-temperature, super-strong material.
The material can then extrue and weld on a variety of shapes and other surfaces to create the lift, said Mr Astra.
The shape is made of aluminium alloy, which has been specially coated with a thin layer of titanium dioxide, a metal oxide that protects the surface of the object from thermal damage.
The lift itself is made up of four different types of parts.
The most important are a central frame and four “wings”, each containing four segments, with the centre and wing sections separated by a thin film of resin.
These are then welded together and attached to a steel base.
The other two parts, each containing six segments and four parts, are then joined together using screws and fasteners.
The final two parts are then bolted together using hinges and springs, and the base is then bolted down.
This final part is made out of carbon fibre, with an overall weight of only 6.5kg.
The two main components of the design are a large pressurized cabin and a space elevator.
The pressurized area will be able to hold up to 80 passengers, while the space elevator will be built to lift up to 40 tonnes.
The cabin, with two rows of seats, will be the same as a small cabin in a Boeing 737, with a number of compartments that can hold items such as laptop computers.
A single hatchway will be located inside the cabin, where passengers can access a variety on-board amenities.
The uppermost section of the capsule will be designed to be used as a spacewalk simulator, where astronauts can practice their spacewalks.
The second part of the system will be to provide an on-orbit docking system, allowing the capsule to be brought into orbit.
Once on board, the capsule is designed to operate autonomously, and be able be refueled on-site by astronauts at the spaceport.
“This new design is unique and opens the door to the next generation of spaceships, and for us, this is a major milestone in the evolution of space travel,” said Michael Hopkins, chief executive of Space Exploration.
“Space elevators are a great way to explore space, but it’s the people who fly them that will have the greatest impact.”
The space elevators’ launch will take them from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, to a location called the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, and they will then be loaded onto an Orbital ATK Cygnus capsule.
After taking off, the capsules will be lifted onto a rocket, and a robotic arm will detach the capsule from the rocket.
The capsule will then head back to Cape Canaveral, where the astronauts will launch it again.
The vehicle is expected to take a few hours to reach its target destination of the International Space Station, with landing in the Atlantic Ocean being a priority.
“There are lots of reasons to think we’ll see more space elevator launches over the coming years,” said Rob Schmitt, CEO of Space Explorers, which operates the Space Explorer program.
“One of them is the new technology, which will allow us to go from zero to 100% in less than one hour, or two minutes.”
The Space Elevators are being built in collaboration with a group of UK universities.
It is hoped the project will help develop and test new technologies for spaceflight.
“With the new technologies and technologies coming out, you’ll be able take this space exploration a whole lot further,” said Space Exploration CEO Rob Ast