It’s a lofty idea.

Yeah, I went there.

Thoth Technology,Inc., an Eastern Ontario-based aerospace company, recently announced it has been granted a U.S. patent for its ambitious design for a space elevator. The elevator column will reach 20 kilometres into the sky, topped with a launch pad for shuttle jets to take cargo and astronauts into low orbit.

The idea is to create an easier and more affordable way to get to space than the current, very expensive, ground-based rockets. “I’m always looking for ways to try and make space more accessible,” says Brendan Quine, Chief Technical Officer with Thoth and the man behind the idea.

So how do they think they can build a free-standing tower that would be 24 times the height of Earth’s current tallest man-made structure?

They’re going to make it out of thin air.

Or, more likely, a lighter-than-air gas like helium or hydrogen.

The idea is to inflate sections of Kevlar to a pressure about 100 times that of Earth’s atmosphere. That, figures Quine, will give it strength and durability without being prohibitively heavy.

To keep it from tipping over, the tower will have an active guidance system, not unlike a plane’s auto-pilot, to constantly “fly” it against the buffeting upper-atmospheric winds, thereby maintaining its centre of gravity.

It will also be grounded against lightning damage, just like today's tall buildings.

It all might sound far-fetched, but Quine is convinced it will work. “The idea has been available for scientific critique for about 5 years,” he says. “So far we've yet to hear from anybody who has any serious problem with the design or has identified a serious design flaw."

If it does work it would certainly be good news not only for astronauts but for the Earth-bound as well. A 20 kilometre tower has plenty of spin-off applications.

Take communications, for example. “From 20 kilometres you can see a thousand kilometres in any direction. So you can have an internet service with low latency and high bandwidth like the world has never seen," points out Quine.

“And of course there's tourism. From the top of the tower you're going to be able to see the bright blue limb of the Earth beneath you,” adds his wife and Thoth CEO Caroline Roberts.

They’ve even thought of putting wind turbines at about the 12 kilometre mark to harness the power of the jet stream.

Quine also points out that high-altitude flight has its own benefits. "If you built a tower in Canberra and another one in New York it would take approximately one hour to climb the tower in Canberra, four hours to fly hypersonically to the New York tower, and one hour to come down the other side, thus cutting the trip to Australia to 6 hours, currently from 24."

They're hoping the economic benefits are enough to attract some attention. With the patent secured, the company is now looking for partners and investors.The next step is to build a 1.5 kilometre prototype tower at an estimated cost of about $1.5 billion.

And because all the required technology already exists, they say there’s no need to wait. “We could probably achieve that, I'd say, within a 5 year period and then move to the 20 kilometre tower within 8 to 10 years," says Roberts.

That’s a tall order.

Yeah, I went there.