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Early Thoughts on Modern Rocketry

By jd in Technology
Tue Jan 06, 2004 at 07:00:04 AM EST
Tags: Technology (all tags)

With the successful landing of the NASA Mars probe, the use of rockets for research is back in the news in a good way.

We all know that modern rocketry started with the German V1 and V2 systems, and that it has been largely driven by the military ever since. (Interestingly enough, it seems that the Germans got the idea from the Americans! Needless to say, the American concerned - Dr Robert Goddard - sued.)

But what about scientific and civilian rocketry? That can be traced back about as far. There, the credit (and the blame) rests with a novelist who also wrote technical articles for a popular radio electronics magazine called "Wireless World" under the pen-name of "Cathode Ray".

This is a letter he sent to the same magazine, under his own name, which was printed in the February 1945 issue, predicting the advent of the communications satellite.

V2 for Ionosphere Research?
ONE of the most important branches of radio physics is ionospheric research and until now all our knowledge of conditions in the ionosphere has been deduced from transmission and echo experiments. One of the more modest claims of the British Interplanetary Society was that rockets could be used for very high altitude investigations and it will not have escaped your readers' notice that the German long-range rocket projectile known as V2 passes through the E layer on its way from the Continent. If it were fired vertically without westward deviation it could reach the F1 and probably the F2 layer.

The implications of this are obvious: we can now send instruments of all kinds into the ionosphere and by transmitting their readings back to ground stations obtain information which could not possibly be learned in any other way. Since the weight of instruments would only be a few pounds - as compared with V2's payload of 2,000 pounds - the rocket required would be quite a small one. Its probable take-off weight would be one or two tons, most of this being relatively cheap alcohol and liquid oxygen. A parachute device (besides being appreciated by the public!) would enable the rocket to be re-used.

This is an immediate post-war research project, but an even more interesting one lies a little further ahead. A rocket which can reach a speed of 8 km/sec parallel to the earth's surface would continue to circle it for ever in a closed orbit; it would become an "artificial satellite." V2 can only reach a third of this speed under the most favourable conditions, but if its payload consisted of a one-ton rocket, this upper component could reach the required velocity with a payload of about 100 pounds. It would thus be possible to have a hundred-weight of instruments circling the earth perpetually outside the limits of the atmosphere and broadcasting information as long as the batteries lasted. Since the rocket would be in brilliant sunshine for half the time, the operating period might be indefinitely prolonged by the use of thermocouples and photo-electric elements.

Both of these developments demand nothing new in the way of technical resources; the first and probably the second should come within the next five or ten years. However, I would like to close by mentioning a possibility of the more remote future - perhaps half a century ahead.

An "artificial satellite" at the correct distance from the earth would make one revolution every 24 hours; i.e., it would remain stationary above the same spot and would be within optical range of nearly half the earth's surface. Three repeater stations, 120 degrees apart in the correct orbit, could give television and microwave coverage to the entire planet. I'm afraid this isn't going to be of the slightest use to our post-war planners, but I think it is the ultimate solution to the problem.

British Interplanetary Society.

There was a follow-up article, written at about the same time as the letter, but not published until October of the same year. Someone has scanned in the article and placed it at: Extra-Terrestrial Relays, subtitled: Can Rocket Stations Give World-wide Radio Coverage?


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The real inventor of the communications satellite was:
o Dr Goddard 1%
o Sir Arthur C. Clarke 30%
o Sir Isaac Newton 7%
o William Gates III 1%
o The Earth is flat, so we don't need them 31%
o Al Gore 14%
o H. G. Wells 2%
o Bruce Lee 10%

Votes: 69
Results | Other Polls

Related Links
o from the Americans
o British Interplanetary Society
o Extra-Terr estrial Relays
o Also by jd

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Early Thoughts on Modern Rocketry | 32 comments (16 topical, 16 editorial, 0 hidden)
ARthur C. Clark (1.04 / 24) (#4)
by paprika on Sun Jan 04, 2004 at 02:18:02 PM EST

I met him once at a scientific raffle in Georgia. I got a teleporter from Steven Hawking and proceeded to fly to the moon. Upon arrival there I happened upon a large quantity of opium. I arrived back in egypt and put some moonopium in the communal bong. People gathered around and got high out of this world. Yep.

I'm the President of the drduck Fan Club.

You might want to check your diary (2.66 / 6) (#11)
by jd on Sun Jan 04, 2004 at 10:31:28 PM EST

Are you sure that shouldn't say that you mooned Arthur C Clarke, tried to sell Opium to Professor Hawking, who then used his wheelchair to ram you into the duck pond?

[ Parent ]
Wow (none / 1) (#27)
by randyk on Tue Jan 06, 2004 at 01:59:09 PM EST

Robert Heinlein meets Hunter Thompson.

[ Parent ]
You didn't mention Goddard. (none / 0) (#8)
by lukme on Sun Jan 04, 2004 at 03:39:36 PM EST

I seem to remember hearing that during some interrogation, the interrogator asked the scientist where he got the idea, and the reply was from a US patent by goddard.

It's awfully hard to fly with eagles when you're a turkey.
He now gets an honorable mention (none / 0) (#9)
by jd on Sun Jan 04, 2004 at 10:13:22 PM EST

I've also linked to an article which discusses the patent dispute after the war.

[ Parent ]
I'm surprised at you. (none / 0) (#12)
by Kasreyn on Sun Jan 04, 2004 at 11:02:44 PM EST

You revealed the not-suprising fact that it was A.C. Clarke's idea, but you failed to mention that when this was done, he was credited with the invention of the communications satellite.

In general, your article is nice but is severely lacking in an ending or conclusion to tie up its threads. Needs work, abstaining for now.


"Extenuating circumstance to be mentioned on Judgement Day:
We never asked to be born in the first place."

R.I.P. Kurt. You will be missed.
That was covered in my final edit (none / 1) (#13)
by jd on Sun Jan 04, 2004 at 11:23:15 PM EST

At the time, he referred to them as Rocket Stations. The October 1945 article covers them in some considerable depth. There's a link to a scanned copy of the original text.

He has long disputed the claim, however, saying that the idea was obvious from the time of Sir Isaac Newton or even Kepler. However, I have to disagree with the distinguished gentleman there.

It is one thing for a phenominon to be obvious. Gravity was obvious. It was there to be discovered and discovery was inevitable.

However, to apply such knowledge of gravity to rocket science, whilst applying other knowledge on radios and the atmosphere to geostationary receivers, and then yet applying a third subject - that of the photoelectric effect - to produce a combined system encompassing many areas of science for a purpose that is not "obviously" related to any of them... That takes more than a few smarts.

There's an interview with AArthur C. Clarke on Amazon.com, which briefly touches on the subject.

[ Parent ]

Clarke wrote about this (none / 0) (#31)
by BobCat on Wed Jan 07, 2004 at 03:03:21 AM EST

I don't have the book handy, but he did the math on the possible patent $$ vs when the first was launched, and he concludes he's just happy that the geostationary orbit is now the "Clarke orbit".

Asimov first heard the orbit described thus and said, "Huh?". When it was explained to him, he said, "Of course, sorry, I didn't hear the silent 'e'.".

Top 10 Ways to Amuse a Geek

[ Parent ]

Not Possible (3.00 / 5) (#24)
by bobbuck on Tue Jan 06, 2004 at 10:12:11 AM EST

Interesting, but the New York Times has already dimissed Robert Goddard's paper, "A Method of Reaching Extreme Altitudes." If you haven't read the Times' editorial they point out that rocket flight becomes impossible outside of the atmosphere where there is no air for the rocket to push against. So you all can forget about your fancy ideas of "artificial moons" and "space flight."

(Alright, I'm kidding, but the Times wasn't.)

Ha Ha! (none / 0) (#26)
by wji on Tue Jan 06, 2004 at 11:47:54 AM EST

I can't believe I haven't heard that before somewhere!

In conclusion, the Powerpuff Girls are a reactionary, pseudo-feminist enterprise.
[ Parent ]
NY Times (none / 0) (#29)
by bobbuck on Tue Jan 06, 2004 at 07:10:30 PM EST

The paper of record also admonished the Wright brothers for trying to fly with something heavier than air. They didn't like Thomas Edison wasting time on light bulbs, either.

[ Parent ]
Umm (none / 0) (#32)
by wji on Wed Jan 07, 2004 at 01:19:34 PM EST

I was being sarcastic. Everyone knows the NYT story... don't they?

In conclusion, the Powerpuff Girls are a reactionary, pseudo-feminist enterprise.
[ Parent ]
What nonsense. (none / 0) (#33)
by lens flare on Thu Jan 08, 2004 at 04:46:52 PM EST

Lightbulbs - what a waste. Aircraft - what are they useful for?

[ Parent ]
NYT correction (none / 0) (#30)
by BobCat on Wed Jan 07, 2004 at 02:40:45 AM EST

The Times printed a correction on page 3 the day Apollo 11 landed.

They regretted the error, of course.

Top 10 Ways to Amuse a Geek

[ Parent ]

Should also mention Tsiolkovsky.. (none / 2) (#28)
by nobody00 on Tue Jan 06, 2004 at 04:54:15 PM EST

..a Russian scientist who is credited with the idea of using multi-stage rockets to go into space. He also developed the Rocket equation in 1903.

v1 was not a rocket (none / 0) (#37)
by JamesThiele on Mon Jan 12, 2004 at 08:34:14 PM EST

We all know that modern rocketry started with the German V1 and V2 systems

The V1 had a pulsejet engine, not a rocket engine.

Early Thoughts on Modern Rocketry | 32 comments (16 topical, 16 editorial, 0 hidden)
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