The current favoured material for this mega-cable is carbon nanotubes. Made up of interlinking carbon atoms, rolled up into a cylinder, each carbon nanotube is around a millionth of a millimetre in diameter. By sticking a load together you end up with a structure that’s lightweight, strong and flexible.
“This material, or something similar, is the key to making the space elevator a reality,” says Horn. “Carbon nanotubes can be spun into cables and tethers, just like rope is made…theoretically they would be strong enough. We just need to figure out how to manufacture the ribbon out of these materials in large quantities.”
At each annual conference they try to hold a ‘string tether competition’ to see how things are progressing. “No-one has won the competition yet as the bar is pretty high,” Horn says. “Every year we see improvements and better tethers entered.” "
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