(Continued from Part 7)
“Houston to Captain Parker, Emergency. I repeat, Houston to Polaris Station, we have an emergency.”
Kendall looked up at A4 who stopped the recording. “We copy, Flight. Give us the scoop.”
“M-479 has been compromised. I repeat, M-479 is off course, tumbling, and not responding. Coming in low on a collision course for the tail end of the wing. The anomaly occurred as predicted at perigee. Projected to intercept Polaris in 23 minutes, make that 22 minutes, 35 seconds.”
“What was the cause?” Kendall and A4 discontinued their inspections and headed down the cable toward the station. “Is it Space Grapple, that tractor beam sub? Have we had problems with M-479 before?”
“First time for 479, unknown cause,” flight said. “Could be space debris.”
Kendall and Flight were interrupted by a female voice. “Houston, this is Science Officer Katya, and Polaris crew monitoring transmissions from elevator dock. What assistance can we provide?”
“Officer Parker,” Houston said sternly. “Abort docking. Repeat, abort elevator dock.”
“Ne-yet. It’s too late,” Katya replied. “Crew transfer is complete. What is the full situation?”
“The station is in danger. You must abort and return to Plesetsk, immediately. If the station is compromised, the docking area will be showered by debris.”
“What do you mean showered by debris? My husband is up there. Kendall is not debris.”
“Katya. This is Kendall. You’d better re-board the quad and back off from the station footprint till we get this resolved.”
“Ne-yet. The quad is in autopilot for departure for Plesetsk, and we are ascending the space elevator.”
“Flight,” Katya said. “Has Houston obtained secondary confirmation of M-479 position? What supplemental indications do you have?
“Katya,” Kendall urged. “At least return to the bottom elevator dock, cancel Quad departure and be ready for emergency evac. Please, I don’t want to…“
Kendall was very familiar with the space elevator. He imagined his colleague, his co-captain, his wife, holding tight to an elevator support handle at the control console. Katya stood five foot eight inches tall. Looking down from the station cabling, Kendall knew she would be looking up through the overhead windows along the elevator cable which reached skyward and ended at a faint tiny gray spot directly above. He imagined her brown eyes and long lashes reflected back at herself in the window. She would be able to see a straight line of glowing dots rapidly approaching and departing the spot in the sky, the station.
“Okay,” Katya said, “we’ll return to the docking level and monitor from the Quad. I repeat, what are the supporting M-Sat indications?”
Houston replied. “Position verified by polar ground radar and GPS, substantiated by triangulation from adjacent M-sats.”
Kendall thought of his daughter Becca who would have just gotten strapped into her elevator chair and would be listening intently as they prepared to return to the transport. An accomplished physicist in college, she could speak the language of math and science along with the best. She majored in earth sciences with a minor in engineering dynamics and also hoped to further mankind’s knowledge and appreciation for all forms of life on Earth through advanced space observation. She was also the family pool champion in one ‘g’ and hoped to develop new techniques in point-eight ‘g’.
“Use M-480,” Becca blurted out for all to hear.
“What,” Katya said.
“M-480 can lag and bump M-479,” Becca said.
Katya’s response to Becca was barely audible on the radio. “They won’t compromise a second satellite.”
“Just tell them,” Becca insisted.
“We heard that. Are you kidding?” Flight exclaimed. “M-Sat physical contact at that speed? We’d likely have two M-Sats off course with a…”
“I know, I know,” Katya yelled. “Sorry Becca.”
“Flight, back off,” Kendall said.
Flight continued, “Katya, with two satellites out of position, there is potential loss of sufficient momentum to maintain station lift. If we lost one more adjacent satellite, we’ll plunge the station to Earth and put a hole in the ice cap.”
“Flight, this is Kendall.”
“Go ahead, Kendall.”
“Suggest Houston immediately re-distribute neighboring satellites M-470 through M-490 along orbital trajectory to account for the impulse loss of M-479.”
The radio was silent for 10 seconds.
“Flight, I repeat…”
“Wait, Kendall,” Katya interrupted. “Give them a few more seconds. Is my primary telescope operational? Is it controllable by remote?”
“Yes,” Kendall responded. “It is operational. We performed final optical checks and calibrations yesterday. Why?”
“Houston,” Katya said. “I suggest another view of M-479 status and trajectory using station primary telescope. You can control the scope from there, or we can from the space elevator. If she’s over the horizon, it will give us a better assessment of the rogue condition.”
“Good idea, Mrs. Parker, our astronomy and surveillance teams are on it.” Flight continued. “Captain Parker, M-470 through M-490 are in delta-V correction, adjusting orbital separation slowly to account for momentum loss of M-479. Katya, have Dmitry do a quick telescope transfer calculation for simultaneous three axis pedestal movement and download it to Houston?”
“I’m on it,” Dmitry said over the radio.
“Don’t forget the sun avoidance zone,” Katya said. “Don’t fry my optics.”
Kendall knew this would insult their son.
“Confirming status on my portable holographic lap top,” Dmitry said. “I’m now manipulating the orbiting imagery the fastest way I know how, with hand and finger gestures. Now solving the state vector equations for synchronized movement between the telescope axes and the trajectory of the satellite.”
“Houston,” Dmitry said. “M-479 will be over the horizon in line-of-sight of Polaris Telescope in less than a minute. I’m transferring telescope movement parameters on the station science channel for you to verify then issue second vote authorization to the station.”
“Roger that, Dmitry.”
Kendall paused his cable descent, looked down from the nanotube to the platform and after several seconds saw the telescope turning toward the horizon. He looked out at the horizon where the pearls of mass were lined up on approach like night time plane traffic landing at a major airport.
Flight continued, “Kendall, Katya, re-distribution will not be 100% complete upon arrival at Polaris Station, but should be enough to minimize loss of station lift. Kendall, be advised, M-479 will arrive in 18 minutes, 25 seconds. Still traversing low. By our calculations it looks to impact the final 100 meters of the wing rails.”
“Do you have rogue acquisition,” Katya said. “From the telescope?”
“Stand by; coming on line now,” Flight reported. “We will relay the telescope image to your wrist monitor.”
“Enabling monitor now,” Katya said.
Katya?” Flight said.
“Da, Yes, Flight.”
“Check your elevator console. What is the status of the emergency heat shield and parachute?”
“Dmitry already examined lift indications,” Katya said.
“All nominal, sir,” Dmitry said, “and ready if necessary.”
“Good eye, Dmitry,” came the voice on the radio. “Even so, Houston advises you transfer to the Quad now.”
“And Kendall?” Flight said. “What is your position?”
Kendall looked at A4.
“We are half way back down to the platform.”
“Captain Parker,” Flight continued. “If that satellite takes out the last 100 meters of the wing, the likelihood of maintaining stability is…”
“The probability of total system failure is 99.98 percent,” A4 interrupted.
(Continue at Part 9)