|Editorial of july
In our Orbit
By A. Autino
Though with delay, the new asset of Techynologies of the Frontier will probably see the light during this month of july 1998. The new domain is now registered and ready, the new graphics should be ready in few days (thanks to the work of Sergio Ferrari). We can't of course to speak of an editorial staff completely functioning, and we are far from the capability to develop at least a good percent of the editorial ideas in reasonable times. But we begin to have (thanks to the work of Luisa Spairani) some decent translations (not the present one, made by myself!), we succeed to develop some articles, among the tenths of titles in the waiting list. Of course nobody make us rush, though I'm personally persuaded of a certain urgency of the philosophical-political themes that we are soliciting. The message I'd like to give you is the following: Technologies of the Frontier doesn't stop, we have a precise program, if you will have enough patience to follow us (perhaps to help us) you will see it realized. Considere, please, that our editorial staff only works via e.mail: the Scientific Director M. Bernasconi lives in Switzerland, M. Martin-Smith (this month he sent us an excellent article on the Life in the Universe) lives in England.
We'd like of course to comment more deeply the numerous news of july (I'm not speaking of the Football WorldCup!). The japanese Mars mission, for instance, and even more the very interesting article, appeared on "Le Scienze" (italian edition of Scientific American) on the laser propulsion, a technology that, if it will mantain the promises, could drastically cut down the costs of the terrextris gravitational attraction overcoming and orbit reaching. As Aldo Conti writes, in his article "In orbit riding the light", the most serious problem of the traditional rockets, is the cost of taking one Kg in orbit: more than 10 millions lire, mostly due to the weight of the needed fuel, that overcomes many times the useful load. With the laser propulsion, instead, the rocket doesn't carry fuel onboard, and gets the propulsion energy by a laser beam sent from the earth. Actually many alternative propulsion systems are under study but, paradoxically, the most of them is useful for gravityless environments, not to transfer materials from the earth surface up to the orbit: actually the mosty difficult, dangerous and expensive phase. Among the exceptions, the laser propulsion, recently was experimented in a New Mexico NASA Laboratory,where some alluminium objects -- few tenths of grams heavy -- were lifted up to 20 meters without traditional fuel. Also the International Space Station, foreseen to be soon launched, among thousand problems and delays, could take advantage from a similar facility, which will make very easier to send up supplies, instruments and spare parts, in a quick and diffused. The space shuttle could be used, then, only to transport the screws.
Another surprising news is the one of the lost telecommuncations satellite, that was recovered thanks to a lunar "assist". The article "The satellite saved by the Moon", is by Americo Bonanni, on TuttoScienze, scientific supplement of La Stampa. The fourth stage of a Proton rocket had a malfunction, writes Bonanni, sending a telecommunications satellite in a wrong orbit, initiating a new chapter of the space adventure: for the first time a commercial satellite was to perform a lunar mission. No scientific goal, but a daring rescue operation, concluded the 17th of june, after two passages behind the Moon. Asiasat-3 was built by Hughes to supply TV emissions and telecommunications to most of Asia. It was foreseen to reach a geo-stationary orbit, at 36.000 kms from earth. Asiasat-3, due to the Proton malfunction, was sent on a strongly elliptical, useless, orbit. The small onboard engine, designed to perform small asset corrections, had not enough fuel to correct the course to the right orbit. The insurance companies declared the satellite unusable, but the Hughes engineers didn't give up, and conceived a rescue plan never tryied before: though the rockets of the satellite weren't enough to taking on a good orbit, were anyway enough, paradoxically, to send it behind the Moon, 400.000 kms faraway! In a cosmic billiards game, the Moon gravitaty had to attract the satellite and then re-send it to the Earth, but this time in a differenty orbit, useful for commercial use. This technic, called "gravity assist", was several times used for the interplanetary NASA's probes. Apollo 13 itself was saved by the lunar gravity.
The implications are numerous, and all important. First of all, we are speaking of a commercial satellite, that make a round behind the Moon and comes back in a terrextris orbit, ready to work. We were used to considere the space missions as strictly deterministic projects, where even the minimum deviation can lead to the maximum loss. We were also used to think the commercial (telecommunications) space as a kind of low cost "minor" space, not comparable, as importance, to the scientific or exploration missions. But the adventure of this small satellite subverts, in my opinion, all the impressions, true or false, that we could had before. The space between Earth and Moon appears now more a "home-space", in which Man can also make an error and correct it.
Secondly it should not escape to us the fact, extremely important, that a low cost satellite performed a lunar mission, and it was absolutely not designed to do it. It performed such a mission without damages and its small engine, conceived to perform small movements, targeted to keep the asset in orbit, could cover the Earth-Moon distance and return. Of course, it took some months (from december 1997 to june 1998), but it is anyway a wounderful event, that gives us the measure of how, in the space, in a gravityless environment, very big distances could be covered, with very low expense: it is enough, infact, to give an initial push to an object, and it keeps on moving! And this fact, for us Earthliers, used to expensively pay each single km covered with our cars, trains, ships and aircrafts, should be a stimolous for a deep reflection. Undeniably, today, that sphere with about 3 millions km diameter, that we called Greater Earth, and that extends over the Moon orbit, up to the so-called "Lagrange liberation point", appears very much near, inhabitable and convenient.
The above is enough, I dare say, to reflect upon during our deserved holidays.
To close, I will remind that we are engaged, at the end of september, with the 49th Congress of the International Astronautical Federation, this year in Melbourne, where yours truly presents the document "Concepts for a World Sapce Program based in the Society"; while Dr. M. Bernasconi is the chairman of the Space and Society Committee. Dr. Michael Martin-Smith presents, instead, with his collaborators, his "Humble" project, orbiting low cost telescope.
We kindly invite you to visit the Greater Earth Charter and, in case of agreement, to sign it.