Otis Says Space Elevator Feasible
Otis Elevator says it "the right stuff" to help NASA achieve its dream of building a space elevator. In an August report, NASA first detailed the concept of building a space elevator that would hum along a thin diamond fiber and extend 22,000 miles above the earth's equator to a point in space known as "geosynchronous orbit."
John Thackrah, vice president of engineering for the world's leading elevator company, said that based on Otis' current capabilities for creating transportation systems for skyscrapers several miles high, a space elevator may be more fact than fantasy.
"Today we have the technology to create elevator systems for a five-mile-high tower," Thackrah said. "At the rate of our development efforts we could apply technology we are working on for today's existing market to the NASA concept within the next 10 years."
Otis already has in its active product-development program a range of technological applications to address the structural, dispatching, control and maintenance issues associated with such an undertaking.
Otis projects under development for release to earthbound markets are self-propelled and lightweight vehicles; stackable -- or multi-deck -- car frames; and ride-quality components including aerodynamic cabs, door and cab seals; electromagnetic-field guideshoes; and intelligent door systems that maintain the same open and close profiles under standard pressure or zero g's.
In addition, control systems that enable vehicles to "see" each other and avoid collision are used today on Otis' horizontal people mover systems, which typically share horizontal hoistways -- or "guideways" -- at airports. Installations are in operation at Narita International Airport in Tokyo and the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport in the United States, and people movers are under construction at Northwest Airlines Midfield Air Terminal in Detroit, Michigan, and the Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport in Minnesota in the United States. Also, an installation is under construction at the airport in Zurich.
Otis also designs equipment for the most efficient use of hoistway space, using multi-deck car frames, Thackrah said. Multi-deck elevators would be important for food preparation areas, sleeping quarters, sanitary facilities and cargo storage on the 24-hour journey from the earth's surface to orbit.
Skyscrapers such as Toronto's First Canadian Place and Kuala Lumpur's Petronas Twin Towers already employ double-deck elevator configuration. And Hong Kong's Central Station, a 420-meter tower currently under development, will have 18 of Otis' SKYWAY System high-speed (8 meters/sec.) double-deck cars.
Because repairs to such a system would be very expensive, routine maintenance would have to be minimized, Thackrah said. The system would require on-board diagnostics that could not only warn maintenance personnel on earth of potential problems, but also enable repairs from a remote -- in this case very remote -- location.
Otis currently features its REM monitoring system, which detects software as well as electro-mechanical degradation on microprocessor- based systems and automatically alerts a service dispatcher. In addition, the company is developing diagnostics for "maintenance-free" earthbound elevators.
This all means that an elevator to space may not be so far-fetched, after all, according to Otis.
"When our company's founder, Elisha Graves Otis, invented the first safety elevator, the word 'skyscraper' entered our language," Thackrah said. "The NASA concept doesn't just scrape the sky, it breaks through it. But who knows -- There was a time when people couldn't even imagine a mile-high building or a man on the moon."
Otis Elevator Company, a wholly owned subsidiary of United Technologies Corporation, is the world's largest company in the manufacture, sale and service of people moving products, including elevators, escalators, shuttle systems and moving walkways.
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