Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Laser communications and a space station idea

Arthur C. Clarke envisioned the communication satellite.

Not only did he imagine this concept, he thought that information could be transmitted via beams of light.  Now, many years later, that notion is becoming a physical reality.

Two satellites are about to be launched that will carry lasers, allowing for the fastest transmission of data through space to date.  One is NASA's Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE.  I swear, they come up with technology just to go with the cute acronyms.) and the other is ESA's Alphasat, the latter being the first optical satellite able to collect mass data from other satellites and transmit it back to Earth. Currently, scientific probes must rely on radio waves to communicate, thus limiting the amount of data that can be sent.  Should the laser system prove workable, upcoming probes and satellites will be able to carry out more complicated functions since the results can finally be beamed back.

Another key aspect of the Alphasat satellite is that it will be in a geostationary orbit, allowing for it to provide a constant flow of data to one location.  Yet communication is not the first area in which laser beams have been considered as a tool for space exploration.  Imagine robots riding them up to space stations.

That's what I recall reading a few years back.  An outfit called LiftPort had the idea to build a space elevator where "robo-cars powered by laser light will roll on a carbon-nanotube ribbon stretching up tens of thousands of miles from Earth's surface, carrying cargo and passengers on a monorail to the sky." Such a combination of technologies, both the elevator concept and the laser-traveling robots, would in time be many many times cheaper than getting things into orbit the old fashioned way, namely chemical fuel rockets...which are soooo 20th Century.

As is often the case with me, all of these prospective space technologies have me considering a book based on a space station.  I really don't have a story at this point, it's all basically musings on what such a structure would look like and how it would operate.  That's not a bad thing.  After all, Bruce Sterling has pointed out how design fiction could help teach design.  But an actual story?  Sorry, not there yet.

For that, I suppose I could sidle alongside Hardcore Station by the venerable Jim Starlin.  It's really one of the better science fiction comic books, but that should go without saying for the man who created Adam Warlock and Dreadstar.  Hardcore Station is a space station located in neutral space and therefore not subject to any planetary laws.  That makes it an ideal locale for all manner of nefarious doings.  I like that, but today's fiction market has seen that "Casablanca in space" routine done to death.  Maybe I need to focus more on the near term and imagine what will replace the International Space Station.  Because it will soon need replacing.

I know what capitalists are thinking.  Are these space projects worth exploring and pursuing when you consider the cost?  I dunno.  By way of comparison, how much did it cost us to invade and occupy Iraq?

Sorry.  Watched Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11.  Kinda have that on the mind.

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1 comment:

  1. On Facebook, MelissaP said: "LADEE and a hard core space station???"

    I was waiting to see who might make an inference. Melissa, your Turtle Wax and Rice-a-Roni are on the way. :)