December 1958 Radio-Electronics
[Table of Contents]
Wax nostalgic about and learn from the history of early electronics.
See articles from Radio-Electronics,
published 1930-1988. All copyrights hereby acknowledged.
According to the
United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA),
11,444 objects have been launched into space from Sputnik up until the date of
this writing (June 11, 2021). That includes satellites, space exploration
probes, sounding rockets, manned missions, etc. With the advent of
StarLink, and other
kilosatellite constellations being launched, the number will increase by
thousands more in the next few years. Most are in low earth orbit (LEO) with
limited lifetimes before particle drag eventually degrades their orbit to where
they burn up in the atmosphere. Those in high orbits - up to
geostationary altitudes† - will physically last well beyond their
operational lifetimes. When Hugo Gernsback wrote this article for
Radio-Electronics magazine at the end of 1958, he says there were 34
satellites in orbit. Further, "By the end of this century there will certainly
be more than 10,000 earth, lunar and other planetary satellites of every
description of dozens of nations." As with so many things, Mr. Gernsback's
predictions were very accurate.
†At the geostationary altitude of 22,236 miles, an orbiting entity is
traveling at about 8,677.7 mph, which is about a third of Earth's escape
velocity of 25,020 mph.
Future Space Traffic
Hugo Gernsback. Editor
... Tens of Thousands of Spacecraft will Soon be Aloft ...
As this is written (at the end of August), 34 space vehicles are in orbit.
The United States accounts for 26, the Soviet Union 8. Still transmitting data to
earth are 10 - US 9, Soviet Union 1. The rest - i.e., 24 space vehicles - either
through mechanical malfunction or for electronic reasons, are still gravitating
in space, voiceless and signal-less, silent.
This is the short and epic 3-year record of man's first excursion into space,
above the earth's atmosphere, since the advent of Sputnik 1 - the true start of
the Space Age, on Oct. 4, 1957. What of the future, immediate and distant?
Columbus and the intelligentsia of 1492 certainly never dreamt what the opening
of the New World could mean to mankind - riches beyond imagination, steamships that
transport 3,000 people across the Atlantic in a little over 4 days (it took Columbus
70), speaking under and above the ocean, flying over it in 6 hours and less, seeing
across the ocean by television (Baird on Feb. 8, 1928). Certainly no one alive in
1492 would have had the temerity to predict such "arrant nonsense"!
Likewise, we of 1960 are often prone to look at the conquest of space now in
the making as an enigma, wrapped in doubt and disbelief, that appears of little
consequence to humanity at large.
Let us then push aside the thick veils of the future and examine some of the
possible scientific predictions of the Space Age. Remember always that space is
a new and completely alien and harsh world, never visited by living man before.
Extreme heat and cold, dozens of harmful radiations - many deadly, weightlessness,
a variety of gravitational effects, meteorites and other matter flying at the rate
of over 10 miles a second, a total vacuum - these are only a few conditions in this
new world never experienced by man.
Let us stay for a few moments with only one branch of space vehicles, the satellite
type that circles the earth in orbit from 250 to thousands of miles above. We mentioned
that at this moment there are 34. In time there will be many thousands of every
imaginable type. By the end of this century there will certainly be more than 10,000
earth, lunar and other planetary satellites of every description of dozens of nations.
Many will be for research, many for communication purposes. They will be of all
sizes, from a few feet to thousands of feet in diameter. Most will be automatic,
highly sophisticated unmanned ones; others will be manned.
Hovering observatories will be "stationed" 22,238 miles above the equator. Seen
from the earth, they will appear stationary as they travel at about 6,882 miles
per hour, which compares to the surface speed of 1,000 miles an hour at which the
earth revolves.* Equipped with light amplifiers, three such observatories, spaced
equidistant over the equator, can directly view and photograph any part of any country
(except the polar regions) and spot any activity such as troop movements, intercontinental
missiles when launched, weather conditions such as cloud formation and cyclones,
ice patrolling and hundreds of other activities.
All space observatories will also be equipped with the most modern and sensitive
infrared receiving equipment. Even with present-day equipment, it would be possible
to detect a multitude of heat effects at a distance of 22,238 miles overhead, even
through overcasts. In the future the stationary space observatories will do vastly
more refined observing and detecting of many activities on the earth - particularly
for military purposes.
Also connected by cable to every floating observatory will be a huge aluminized
plastic ball or sphere from 750 to 1,000 feet in diameter. The three observatories,
stationed equidistant around the earth 22,238 miles over the equator, will reflect
from their spheres all electronic long-distance, national and international communication
traffic, be it radio, TV, telegraph or telephone, or other signaling. Signals can
be directly bounced from earth against the reflecting balls, then returned to earth.
Others, to reach the antipodes, will be relayed between the observatories, then
transmitted to their destination.
By the time the observatories are in space by the end of this century, it is
almost certain that all spacecraft will be propelled by atomic power. This will
be true of satellites as well as interplanetary spaceships.
Won't there be many collisions in space between these tens of thousands of spaceships,
satellites, observatories and dozens of other types of spacecraft? Not at all - certainly many fewer than between the thousands of propeller and jet airplanes now
crowding the air lanes. All present air traffic moves in a thin space less than
50,000 feet thick. Future space traffic will be dispersed into millions of miles.
There could be tens of millions of spacecraft maneuvering in space without fear
of collision. The only possible danger will come when thousands of space vehicles
descend en masse toward the earth to land.
Inasmuch as all landing craft must have permission to alight, exactly as aircraft
today, collisions will be a rarity. This will even be more true than now, because
future spacecraft will not require long landing strips. All space vehicles of the
future will descend vertically into rather small numbered spaces, many flights terminating
on top of city skyscrapers, just as helicopters do now.
Will not our communications spectrum be severely overloaded with all this tremendous
traffic between earth and tens of thousands of satellites, observatories, spaceships
to and from the planets?
Fortunately not. There is sufficient room in the radio-frequency spectrum to
accommodate 300,000 simultaneous separate communications at a minimum.
Incidentally, once thousands of interlunar and interplanetary spaceships are
in transit, they probably will not communicate directly with the earth at all. There
will be an interplanetary communication center on the airless moon, its sole purpose
being to clear all distant message traffic, which then will be relayed to earth
on special frequencies. Even communications between the various spaceships will
be via the moon center, unless the spacecraft are near each other, which probably
won't be too often. - H.G.
* At an altitude of 22,238 miles, the observatories must travel nearly 7 times
as fast (6,877.7 mph) as the earth's speed at the equator.
Posted June 11, 2021