Japan’s space agency Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency or JAXA recently launched its cargo spacecraft, Kounotori-7, to the International Space Station (ISS), that carried the world’s first mini space elevator. The experiment was conducted under the auspices of researchers of Shizuoka University in Japan. As per sources, the experiment would be the first movement trial conducted in space as a part of Space Tethered Autonomous Robotic Satellite-Miniature Elevator (STARS-ME) project.
Developed by Shizuoka University engineers, the project consists of two 10cm STARS-ME cubic satellites connected via a 10-meter cable, while a robotic device representing the elevator car will travel between the satellites using a motor as the experiment floats in space, claim reports from The Daily Star.
Masahiro Nohmi, a fellow member of the project was quoted saying that space elevators could significantly cut the costs of transporting payloads and passengers to and from space. However, there still are a number of steps needed along the way, such as the development of cables resistant to high-energy cosmic rays, to make the elevators an ultimate success.
For the record, the launch follows earlier satellite launches including STARS in 2009, STARS-II in 2014 and STARS-C in 2016, of which only STARS is reported to be currently operational in space.
Sources on the matter suggest that transporting payloads and passengers via the space elevator would face series of challenges, including shielding passengers from the Van Allen radiation belts and avoiding the hazard posed by floating spaceships and aircraft. In addition, impact by space objects such as orbiting man-made debris and meteoroids could pose further problems for the cable.
Commenting on the project status, Nohmi said that the space elevator is now in space and efforts are being made to prepare the experiment for operation after releasing it from the ISS. The project currently focuses on demonstrating an efficient space elevator trail to the world, furthering the mission of making space transportation easy and cost-efficient, Nohmi added.