Towards the end of April 2012, there were several headline grabbing space science stories published by British (and other) media outlets. Two stories which drew my attention discussed asteroid mining with backing from Google bosses, and the legacy of the HOTOL (Horizontal Take-Off and Landing) project, Skylon. A third notable story in the new space race focused on a new robot satellite with an accompanying ‘boat’ to explore Saturn’s moon Titan.
At face value, many of these ideas may seem like science fiction. Arthur C. Clarke’s satellite in geostationary orbit paper was originally published in Wireless World during 1945. Many believed this notion to be closer to science fiction than a possible realisation. A decade later John R. Pierce of Bell Labs gave a talk about geostationary communication satellites, a paper was subsequently published in 1956; Pierce has stated that he was not aware of Clarke’s paper at the time.
Although Clarke is generally credited with this idea, it was an innovation to both great thinkers, as the idea of geostationary satellites in orbit was first described in Hermann Oberth’s book, “The Rocket into Interplanetary Space” (Die Rakete zu den Planetenräumen) published in 1923. However in 1928 Herman Potočnik’s published under the pseudonym Hermann Noordung “The Problem of Space Travel — The Rocket Motor” (Das Problem der Befahrung des Weltraums — der Raketen-Motor) which describes using radio communication using Oberth’s geostationary satellites. For further information, please see Wikipedia entry “Concept of the geostationary communications satellite“. Continue reading