Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

The only material that fitted the profile – the immensely strong graphene derivative known as carbon nanotubes – has yet to be manufactured in lengths exceeding a metre

They may have mastered self-driving cars and walking robots, but one problem has proved beyond the wits of Google’s engineers – building an elevator into space.

It has emerged that the company’s secretive research and development lab, Google X, seriously explored ways to suspend a tether between Earth and a satellite in space – but were stumped by the limitations of available materials.

The team worked out that they would need something “at least a hundred times stronger than the strongest steel”, according to Dan Piponi, a British mathematician working for Google X.

The only material that fitted the profile – the immensely strong graphene derivative known as carbon nanotubes – has yet to be manufactured in lengths exceeding a metre.

To build a space elevator, Google would have needed a single tether some 62,000 miles long, strung between a base station on the equator and a satellite in geostationary orbit.

Once this structure has been constructed, payloads could be transported into space with virtually zero cost through the use of simple counterweights.

“It would be a massive capital investment,” Rich DeVaul, head of Google X’s Rapid Evaluation team, told the business magazine Fast Company. “It could take you from ground to orbit with a net of basically zero energy. It drives down the space-access costs, operationally, to being incredibly low.”

A report on the topic from the International Academy of Astronautics (IAA) in February declared that a space elevator was technologically feasible and could usher in a “renaissance” for space exploration that would transform the Earth. Like Google, though, the IAA was stumped by the lack of available materials. 

Google X is home to the internet giant’s “moonshots”: ambitious experiments that must fix a widespread problem in society while also having the potential to affect millions of lives. Employees within Google X have frequently said that the team of 250 proudly embraces ideas that might be considered “science fiction”.

The concept was popularised in the work of science fiction author Arthur C Clarke, but the original idea actually dates back to 1895, when visionary Russian rocket scientist Konstantin Tsiolkovsky published a series of “thought experiments” under the title Dreams of Earth and Sky.

Arthur C Clarke popularised the idea of a space lift (AP) Arthur C Clarke popularised the idea of a space lift (AP)
All of Tsiolkovsky’s essays were concerned with possible ways of escaping the Earth’s gravity, and the Russian was inspired by the recently completed Eiffel Tower to suggest the idea of an impossibly tall building that would stretch out into geostationary orbit.

Unlike modern conceptions of the space elevator, Tsiolkovsky’s idea worked on the principle of “compression” to build his creation (Google X’s space elevator would have used “suspension” instead) but the idea was still essentially the same.

Although Google scientists were defeated before their project even got off the ground (hoverboards too were reportedly discarded due to material limitations,this  time with magnets), the company says that the idea was only “put in a deep freeze”.

Science fiction fans will hope they are only awaiting the day when material science catches up with their imagination.

ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Life and Style
A nurse tends to a recovering patient on a general ward at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham
health
News
science
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
News
Chuck Norris pictured in 1996
people
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Lucas, I SCREAM DADDIO, Installation View, British Pavilion 2015
artWhy Sarah Lucas is the perfect choice to represent British art at the Venice Biennale
News
A voter placing a ballot paper in the box at a polling station
i100
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
Sport
football
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Gadgets & Tech

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin

    £13676.46 - £16411.61 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment Cons...

    Ashdown Group: Database Analyst - Birmingham - £22,000 plus benefits

    £20000 - £22000 per annum + excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

    SThree: Recruitment Resourcer

    £20000 - £25000 per annum + Uncapped Commission: SThree: Do you want to get in...

    SThree: Recruitment Consultant - IT

    £25000 - £30000 per annum + Uncapped Commission: SThree: Sthree are looking fo...

    Day In a Page

    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
    Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

    Flesh in Venice

    Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
    Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

    Juventus vs Real Madrid

    Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
    Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

    Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

    Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power