The Orbital Mechanic in STEM Magazine

Screen Shot 2018-01-19 at 8.15.26 PMDear Engineering Stories readers, I am pleased that one of my engineering stories, “The Orbital Mechanic” is published in STEM Magazine and will be available to a large STEM and educator audience. Check it out and please encourage your friends and colleagues to follow Engineering Stories. Here is the link to STEM Magazine. See, “The Orbital Mechanic” on page 32. Best Regards, Ken Hardman

Please share the Jan. issue of STEM Magazine
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Special “Football” STEM edition for Superbowl Sunday
Wayne Carley

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Engineering Family History Stories


Dear Engineering Stories friends, Thank you so very much for your interest in these Engineering Stories. I have enjoyed writing them both because I enjoy engineering, and I enjoy writing in general. In fact, at my regular job, I see myself in part as a technical writer because I’m always writing specifications, requirements, plans, presentations, proposals, and procedures. I enjoy writing whether technical, creative, or, yes about my genealogy. I have taken on the task of trying to make my ancestors accessible to their busy posterity by writing very very short succinct summaries of a key time in their lives. May I encourage this exercise? Those who lived on this earth before us, gave us so much, and there is so much we can learn from them. Take a look! Each story can be read in 90 seconds or less. And from one engineer to another, try writing some of these yourself, about your ancestors; it’s good writing practice for any anyone in any vocation, including engineering, it takes skill to write in so few a words. And each story is uplifting. Besides, you might find and engineer in your family tree; I did! Click here and FOLLOW my #AncestorClips blog. To help you write a short short meaningful story about your ancestor, engineer or not, I prepared a worksheet for you. Click here and start writing. #familyhistory #genealogy

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Polaris Station – Novelette Conclusion

(Continued from Part 10)

“I, I’ll try, but Kendall.” Katya said.

Kendall could hear the fear in her voice.

“Dmitry,” Kendall said. “Do the best you can from the Quad, son.” He and A4 had a terrifying view of the incoming rogue. “Do it now. Program the peak of the lateral wave to be right at the time of rogue passing. Becca knows the dynamics. Team up. We need a miracle.”

“Houston concurs. We are notifying all emergency channels of your situation. Good luck, Polaris.”

“Dad,” Dmitry said. “Becca and I are refining the polar equations for the satellite matrix.

“Dmitry,” Becca said. “You’ll have to sacrifice some gain margin.”

“But, what about stability?”

“It’s margin,” she said. “It’s there for safety. It will all be for naught if we don’t push it, use a global edit to modify gain margin on all parameters for the string of M-Sat values.

“Dmitry? This is Flight. We are receiving your parameters. Connecting you through to station control system. Ready to execute control on your commands.”

“Executing lateral wave maneuver now,” Dmitry said.

Kendall and A4 discontinued their cable descent, wrapped arms and legs around the nanotube firmly as the constellation and wing moved almost undetectably in a lateral direction.

“Captain Parker,” Houston said. “34 seconds before rogue collision.”

“We see it. Oh my… Houston, lateral offset is increasing, but very slowly. We are holding on. Here it comes…here it comes…”

“We are entering the Quad now,” Katya said. “Enabling Quad controls.”

Kendall held tight to his life’s work, looked straight down toward the Earth, toward the space elevator base where his family would either save the station, it’s purpose, and their lives, or lose everything.

“It’s just not fast enough,” Dmitry’s voice was heard over the radio again. “The frequency response is too low. I need real-time…”

The radio from the Quad went dead.

“Good-bye.” Kendall looked down again, imagined Katya, Becca, and Dmitry looking intently through the Quad upper windows at the station straining to see the last of their husband and father. He reaffirmed his grip when the station lateral movement unexpectedly increased.

Kendall’s space suit environmental pack hummed it’s moderate tone. The nanotube emitted its gentle fifteen Hertz vibration. The radio emitted static. His breath was silent. His heart stopped.

“It cleared,” Kendall yelled, his heart beating again. “It cleared. It passed so quick we couldn’t turn our heads fast enough. No debris, no impact, no shock, no sound.”

Kendall finally turned enough to see the departing M-Sats. “There! Look A4, 479’s reflection moving above the satellite stream and out into space.”

The radio suddenly saturated with cheering from Houston and the Quad.

When the applause died down, Flight broke in. “That was amazing, Dmitry, Becca, Katya. And you too, Kendall and A4.”

“Thank you, Houston,” Katya said, “Dmitry, give me that tissue box. NASA, you picked the right team for this mission.”

“Katya,” Flight said. “There must be a problem with your beacons. Telemetry shows the Quad still docked with the elevator.”

“Katya, Katya,” Kendall’s heart trying to get back to normal. “You came back to the elevator didn’t you?”

“We never left, Dad.” Kendall heard his daughter’s voice. “It was Dmitry. At the last moment, Dmitry went back into the elevator and connected with the station bus. It was just fast enough to…”

“Becca, Dmitry,” Kendall shouted. “You did it. You did it!”

Kendall then lowered his voice. “My Katya, you are the best. I love you. Now quickly, get up here so I can show you just how I feel, and show you what it’s like up here. It’s more phenomenal than we ever imagined. See you in three hours. Enjoy the ride up.”

“Sir,” A4 said.

“Yes, A4,” Kendall responded.

“We have a problem.

“You mean we had a problem,” Kendall said.

“On its current path,” A4 said, “by Newton’s laws, M-479 will reach Octans Station in 43 minutes.”

Kendall stopped. “I know A4, but one emergency at a time.”

“The Callahan’s are in danger,” A4 continued. “If it clears Octans Station, we will then be ‘running the gauntlet’ again forty-six minutes after that.”

“The gauntlet?” Kendall asked. “Where did you get that ‘idiom’?”

A4 promptly replied. “I found it in my latest download. A gauntlet is a…”

“No, wait, what was that message this morning… the gauntlet is thrown? SEPA? Grappler Sub?” Kendall resumed a more rapid dissension to the station. “Let’s go, A4. I don’t think 479 was not an isolated anomaly.”

“Dad.” Kendall heard Dmitry on his private family channel.


“I’m getting an automated status log from the wing suspension system, specifically the maglev field intensity controls.”

“What are you talking about, and why are you on our private channel?” Kendall said. “Why would the maglev send you a message?”

“In all of my software systems, I code a back door input and reporting routine.”

“Of course you do.”

“It’s A4,” Dmitry said.

“What?” Kendall said.

“It’s A4. That station vibration you had this morning?”

“Yes. What about it.”

“The suspension software log indicates that A4 transmitted a half Hertz field calibration wave into the maintenance buffers several days ago. It has a 24 hour period. This would explain the periodic station oscillations you’ve been getting. And it looks like his protocols have been changed too. Possibly to hide the transmission.”

Kendall paused his descent and looked at A4 without speaking.

“Dad,” Dmitry continued. “Did someone modify A4’s protocols?”

“No,” Kendall replied. “At least not that I know of. Wait a minute. A4 asked me about that this morning. But, if you put a back door in the code, could someone else use that back door to insert commands?”

“Only if.” Dmitry said. “Only if they got my password.”

“Dmitry? Does your password have something to do with knights, and the middle ages?


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Polaris Station – Novelette Part 10

WorldOrbitStationImage.001(Continued from Part 9)

“Then what difference does it make. We’re out of time.”

Houston reported progress live. “Calculating tether launch vectors and timing for M-478 and M-480 to connect to M-479. “Vectors determined and locked in. Executing now.”

Radio silence for fifteen seconds.

“NASA, please report,” Captain Parker said.

“Confirmed!” Katya’s was heard by all. “My telescope confirms grapple by both tethers.”

“Confirmed!” Dmitry said. “Holograph from constellation telemetry confirms M-479 in tension by 78 and 80 and in relative motion outward.”

“On my mark,” Flight said. “Initiate grapple release and tether retraction by 478 and 479. Three, two, one, mark.”

“Based on the perturbation on the two pulling satellites before release,” Dmitry said, “M-479 must be in motion radially outward.”

“Katya,” Flight said. “Can you confirm on your scope monitor the motion of M-479? It appears that…”

“Yes.” Katya said. “The rogue is moving back in line, and…stand by.” Katya adjusted the angle of her monitor to avoid sun glare.

“How much time till station intercept?” Kendall asked.

“Three minutes, 10 seconds,” Flight reported.

“Is it moving outward fast enough?” Kendall was sweating in his suit. “And have M-478 and 480 corrected themselves from the grapple impulse and retract?”

“The rogue is now in line and continuing to drift outward,” Dmitry examined his holographic data. “78 and 80 have nearly recovered.”

Kendall and A4 paused their descent and glared out toward the incoming stream of satellites, looking for an anomalous reflection in the strand of beads reflecting in the sunlight.

“There she is,” Kendall raised his right arm and pointed with his space glove. “A4, see that little break in the stream of reflections?”

“Yes, sir,” A4 responded. “M-479 is approaching about a satellite diameter above the stream.”

“Is she still moving outward?” Kendall said. “Will she clear the wing?”

A4 used his visual and electromagnetic sensors to triangulate the position, velocity and direction of the rogue, extrapolating forward to determine if it would impact or clear the wing.

“A4?” Dmitry asked over the radio. “What are your calculations?”

“M-479, at current trajectory will clear the wing, but only by 2.94 meters. That is insufficient to clear the first array of solar panels.”

“Drat! Flight, did you get that,” Kendall said. “We may still have an impact.”

“Captain Parker, this is Houston. You need immediate shelter. If the rogue takes out a few solar panels, you and the platform will be showered by debris. Some of that debris, even at 0.8 ‘g’ will rain down on you like . . .”

“Will the station survive?” Katya called out. “What if debris gets on the maglevs.”

“Not good, Katya,” Kendall and Flight replied, “Not good at all.”

“Kendall, descend as fast as you can,” Flight said. “Get to the escape pods. Katya, get you and your kids out of there.”

Kendall and A4 descended the nanotube as fast as they could, but with less than three minutes to impact, there was no way, especially with all the condensation in his helmet.

“We can’t make it,” Kendall said.

“Let’s go Becca and Dmitry.” Katya’s command was heard over the radio.

“But mom,” Dmitry said. “I’m still running simulations on satellite movements. The wire-less isn’t fast enough. I need the hard port connection.”

“Now,” Katya insisted.

Kendall knew exactly what his son was doing. He could imagine Dmitry waving his fingers over the holographic sensors on his portable, moving the satellites up and down.

“Option four!” Dmitry called out.

“I heard that,” Kendall felt a glimmer of hope. “Everyone, give your attention to Dmitry. Okay son, do we lower the stream of satellites, to lower the station, to clear the solar panels?”

“No, neither; lowering the constellation that far in two minutes will shear the station and maglevs too much. We need a lateral, out of plane wave.”

“But without the station thrusters?” Flight said.

“All we need,” Dmitry continued, “is to move the solar panels one or two meters to the left or right to clear the rogue. Right A4?”

“Of course,” Becca called out before A4 responded. “Use the M-Sat lateral transfer-functions to perform a coordinated out-of-plane wave.”

“Yes, It’ll cause the station to sway a bit,” Dmitry said, “but still within allowable’s. The maglevs can handle it.”

“I agree,” Becca said. “The dynamics are reasonable.”

Kendall looked at A4.

“Insufficient data for probability calculations within acceptable confidence levels.”

“Guess A4, guess,” Kendall demanded.

“To avoid maglev failure and maintain…” A4 said.

“Fuzzy logic, A4, what is your estimate?”

“Twenty-five percent. Zero-point-two-five probability of success.”

Kendall thought for a moment then said, “That’s not good enough. Katya, get everyone into the Quad and clear the area, now.”

“But dad,” Dmitry said. “I need full bandwidth, full data rate by plugging directly into the Station Bus at the elevator terminal so that the station can re-transmit rapidly along the M-Sat network. From the Quad, I can’t close the feedback control loop tight enough to manage perturbations. The low frequency vibrations may become unstable.”

Kendall looked at A4.

“Ten percent. Zero-point-one probability of success from the Quad.”

“I’m sorry everyone,” Kendall said. “It was a great ride, but if we’re going to save anyone, it’s going to be my family. Katya, get them out of there.”

(Click here for Conclusion)

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Polaris Station – Novelette Part 9

(Continued from Part 8)

“That’s not gonna’ happen,” Kendall insisted. “I haven’t had an asymmetrical collapse in all my years of para-gliding, and I’m sure not going to have one now.”


Kendall heard a sniffle. “Yes, Katya.”

“I can see you,” Katya said slowly and quietly, “I can see the station, through the top window of the elevator. The station is so small. I’m worried.

“Captain Parker,” Flight said. “Twelve minutes until impact. How much time will it take you and A4 to get to the reserves; to the emergency escape pods?”

“Look,” Kendall continued. “We’ve got the satellites re-distributing, now we just have to do something with M-479. Flight, what are all our options? Let’s get the smart people talking.”

“Okay Kendall,” Flight said. “We’ve been working on it. Houston has the following options so far.”

“Option One. Re-align M-479 back inline with the M-Sats.”

“Option Two. Re-align the stream of satellites downward in line with 479.”

“Is that realistic?” Kendall said.

“Option Three. Move M-479 laterally out of orbital plane so it passes harmlessly by the station.”

“Option Four. Move the satellite stream and the station out of plane so M-479 still passes harmlessly by the station.”

Five seconds passed.

“Is that all you’ve got?” Kendall said.

“Okay, Option Five. Destroy M-479.”

“How do we do that?”

“We can use the Station’s shape-able parabolic reflector to track and concentrate the sun’s energy on 479. The intense heating will cause the pressure vessel to explode.”

Silence for ten seconds.

“Well,” Kendall said. “There’s no way to move M-479 so options one and three are out and I’m not going to be a sitting duck for option five’s shotgun approach; one rogue bullet is better than a million pieces of shrapnel. The odd numbers are out and with station thrusters off line, option four is out. So it’s up to option two? How much time is needed to move the constellation and the station downward enough to align with 479?”

“We can’t move the station,” Dmitry called out. “At least not very fast. The axial and station keeping thrusters are still in calibration. If we lower too fast, the station might oscillate and cause a satellite maglev crash.”

“But what if we move slowly?” Kendall said. “Lower the station by lowering the constellation slowly.”

“Dad, do you think it will be in time?”

“We’re out of options, son. Make your calculations.”

“Okay,” Dmitry said. “But, it will require closed-loop control of the entire M-Sat constellation with feedback from all station and wing rail sensors. The bandwidth will be critical.“

“Okay, everyone,” Captain Parker commanded. “Option two it is. Flight, do you concur? How much time do we have left?”

“8 minutes, 30 seconds to collision.”

“Katya, are you getting telescope images yet? Can you lock on to the rogue trajectory?”

“Affirmative, M-479 clearly coming in low, but still within the orbital plane.”

“How could it still be in the orbital plane?” Kendall said.

“I don’t think this was caused by debris,” Katya said. “It would require an exact vertical impact.”

“If we can’t bump the sat, what about the M-Sat tethers?” Becca said. “Can M-478 and M-480, now that they are closer to M-479, launch their auxiliary tethers, lock onto M-479 from both sides and reel her in line?”

“Keep talking, Becca,” Becca’s father insisted.

“Affirmative,” Flight broke in. “Great idea Becca, but all we need is a nudge. We grapple M-479 with 478 and 480, then using M-Sat thrusters we play tug-a-war, to get M-479 moving outward till she’s in line with the others…”

“Negative,” Dmitry interrupted while preparing his M-Sat maneuver calculations. “Once you get M-479 moving outward, release the grapples and let her continue to move outward, moving higher than the M-Sat constellation and fly right by Polaris Station above, not below the wing.”

Again there was silence for a few seconds.

“Let’s do it, Houston,” Kendall ordered. “Execute the Becca/Dmitry maneuver now.”

“Sir,” A4 spoke up as he and Kendall continued descending down cord sixteen to the station’s main platform.

“Yes, A4?”

“There is a problem with this plan?”

“Do you have a better way to keep this thing from killing us?”

“No sir, but…”

(Continued at Part 10)

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Polaris Station – Novelette Part 8

(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)

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Polaris Station – Novelette Part 7

(Continued from Part 6)

Kendall and A4 discontinued their inspections and looked up at the momentum stream. “Go ahead, Flight.”

“It occurs at approximately 12 hour intervals over the equator. The last several events were initiated roughly along 120 degrees west longitude.”

“That’s odd, why does that number sound familiar? That’s Santa Barbara isn’t it? Not a bad place to surf!”

“You say it’s always at perigee, at the closest approach to Earth?”

“Ah,…that’s correct, Captain Parker.”

“And why are we feeling it here at the pole?”

“Not sure yet. Either the perturbation propagates through the string from M-Sat to M-Sat…”

“Like whipping a taught rope,” Kendall inserted, “creating a wave moving along the rope that gets smaller as it moves along.”

“Right,” Flight continued, “If the whip were to happen close to one of the stations…“

There was silence for a few seconds.

“Flight, when was the last occurrence?”

“Eleven and a half hours ago. If the next one occurs at the next multiple of 12, ‘Old Faithful’ will erupt in 30 minutes, zero point five hours, when the momentum stream passes over 120 degrees west again.”

Captain Parker thought for a moment, then a memory took his breath away, 120 degrees west, perigee, the equator, the ocean, the Pacific Ocean? SEPA? He then voiced, Flight, what do we know about Space Grapple? Any truth to the classified rumor that the space clean-up tractor beam submarine was commandeered? What about those SEPA extremists that NSA has been tracking? Could they be at the center of this?

“Kendall, you focus on your inspections, and we’ll work on the speculation. Check that. We’ll continue the analysis.”

“Okay, but keep on it. You guys are making me nervous. And this morning I got a strange message on my private comm station. We all know that some of those Space Environmental Protection Agency fanatics had ideas beyond the removal of space debris.”

Flight interrupted. “If it weren’t for DARPA’s Space Grapple program, we wouldn’t have had any chance of selling the M-Sats; too much space debris to operate in.”

“You haven’t answered my question.”

“We’ll include your theory in our investigation,” Flight said.

“Well, anyway, what’s the ETA of my team? When do you expect elevator dock? There’s only one thing that could make this experience more phenomenal. Sharing it with my…”

“Copy that. The rest of the Parker family left the Plesetsk Cosmodrome at 1700 hours and will dock with the elevator at approximately 1830 hours. Unless…”

Kendall looked at his space watch and whispered, “Fifteen minutes. Then it will take them three hours to ascend the elevator.”

“Flight, what did you mean, Unless? Unless what?”

“Unless this anomaly continues. Then…”

“Then what?” he insisted agitatedly.

“If we can’t get an explanation for the anomaly, we may have to delay deployment of the rest of the crew. We can’t afford unnecessary…”

“Negative Flight. This two-year mission was designed for four, not one. A4’s good company, but… Anyway, Let’s get the crew up here. I suggest you pull rank, brush up on your Russian, get all those twenty-second century surveillance satellites, pointed at the Pacific, get the best analytics teams working the problem, and get it solved in the next few hours.”

“Captain Parker, out.” He tried to wipe the sweat from his forehead but his glove hit the helmet glass. “A4, resume briefing playback.”

“I am the correspondent for the Global Times. Can you give us a summary of the stations basic data, such as size, shape, and weight?”

“Tricky A4,” Kendall said. “You didn’t pause during Houston’s interruption.”

“Sorry sir. I was analyzing our situation.”

“Very smooth.”

The NASA director continued by describing the stations size, construction, its weight on Earth, and its reduced weight at altitude. He went on to liken the wing to the upper portion of a roller coaster loop where the momentum of the coaster applies an upward force to the rails as they pass top-dead-center. He responded to reporter questions like, “How fast is each M-Sat moving? Will the Parkers at the north station, or Callahan’s at the south station receive any visitors? And then that persistent reporter from the Globe, “Is it true that Becca Parker and Gregory Callahan fell in love during training at NASA?”

Kendall’s mind drifted to his family. Kendall and Katya met their first year in graduate school at the university in Moscow. Although not in the same department, he found his way regularly into her holographic astronomy demonstrations, and was usually the last one to leave. Adventurous and a bit rogue from some of life’s rules, he grew up examining everything he touched. He barely made it into undergraduate work, but once there, he figured out how it all worked, got acceptable grades and went on to graduate school, the top for mechanical engineering.

“Houston to Captain Parker, Emergency. I repeat, Houston to Polaris Station, we have an emergency.”

(Continue at Part 8)

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Polaris Station – Novelette Part 6 with Illustration

(Continued from Part 5)


(Figure – This is a collage of several vantage points in the story. In the background is the Earth at night with lights of North America showing. In the lower right is the Earth with two elliptical orbits overlaid about the Earth showing the path of the momentum satellites, diverted by the two polar space stations so that the satellites never experience the outer portion of their respective orbits. In the center left, Polaris Station hanging from tethers supported by the mag-lev rails uplifted by the momentum satellite stream. There is a space elevator hanging from the bottom of the station.)

Kendall took a few more ascent strokes then paused and stared instinctively back downward from the cable towards the station, now framed by the Earth below. He could see all of Canada, but only part of the United States. Texas was just over the horizon. “I read you, Houston. Go ahead.”

“Kendall, I see A4 beat you out of bed again.”

“Uh, copy that.” Kendall said. “I’ll see if Dmitry can make A4’s daily regenerative cycles more like teen-age sleeping patterns. That ought to slow him down. You would think that getting out of bed at a point-eight (0.8) ‘g’ should be a piece of cake, but for some reason…” Kendall lost his train of thought. “Anyway, what’s the word on these M-Sat anomalies? We had another bump this morning.”

“Yes, we saw it on telemetry,” Flight replied. “Our best analysts are working on the sensor and tracking data. We’ll keep you posted.”

“Ya,” Kendall said below his breath. “Roger that. Don’t forget to keep Becca in the loop.”

“What?” Flight said. “Don’t you trust the ground team? Don’t worry, we’ll keep her informed. Katya, Becca, and Dmitry just passed through the solar blackout zone in the Quad so we lost communication a few minutes ago. We’ll get her caught up shortly.”

“Roger that, Houston.” Kendall looked back up the cable toward A4.

“You did not need to come,” A4 said to Kendall. “As you know I am fully capable of performing the inspection. You could have attended to telescope calibrations. Your son programmed me to…”

“I know A4,” Kendall interrupted. “But I feel the need to make sure everything…” He stopped, then continued.” To make sure I understand the condition of everything about this outpost in case…” He paused again.

“You were saying, sir?” A4 prodded. “In case what?”

Kendall thought about Dmitry as he looked up along the nanotube approaching A4 and the wing rails above. He did a great job on A4. If only he would take his professors more seriously, his grades wouldn’t be an international controversy, like mine were. He spends way too much time playing that video game, Knights of the Middle Ages.

“You were saying, Captain Parker?” A4 repeated.

“Listen A4, we’ve got another 45 minutes on this cable. How about my favorite audio?”

“You mean the sound track from 2001, Space Odyssey?

“No, I’d like to hear the NASA press briefing given before we launched. Please play back from the beginning.”

“But sir, I played that for you three days ago.”

“Just do it.”

Yes, sir.” A4 accessed the file remotely from the station then transferred playback to Kendall’s helmet.

While the briefing played, Kendall remembered the space environmentalists, the hecklers in the background the day of the briefing. He stopped his ascent, braced himself against the cable and looked up at the long narrow maglev wing above, the edge near the center reflected the brilliance of the sun. The wing curvature was hardly detectable especially from below but he could see the two slightly blurred parallel maglev rails extending across the bottom from end to end, five-hundred meters in length of arc. Over the entire curve, the rails were supported by a bridge structure, longitudinal members connected by triangularly placed beams and tension rods. Streaking across the wing, each five-meter diameter bullet-shaped M-Sat was programmed to approach the wing inline with each neighboring M-Sat within two millimeters minimizing shock to the station during M-Sat arrival.

Each M-Sat levitated about 10 millimeters below the maglev rails traversing across the full 500 meter long wing in 132 milliseconds. Counter magnetic surfaces on each M-Sat interacted repulsively with the maglev rails providing lift to the station. At any given time, 4 of 175,955 satellites chased each other across the wing pushing it upward as the satellites turned slightly downward. They made no sound in the vacuum of space, but from Kendall’s position on the cable, he could feel the low 15 Hertz buzz caused by the M-Sat passing rate. During development and M-Sat launch and deployment, it was determined to include a grappling tether subsystem in each M-Sat to allow for minor corrections, mitigating the risk of drifting satellites in the event of a control system failure.

He then realized that the recording was still playing.

“I’d like to announce the two families that will occupy and operate the observatories for the next twenty-four months,” the NASA director said.

Kendall interrupted, “You should have been there, A4. The eight of us stood there in front of the press, and the world. The event was even broadcast to the outpost on the moon and Mars.”

The recording was interrupted.

“Captain Parker, this is Houston.”

“Come in, Flight,” Kendall said.

“Kendall, we have an update on that M-Sat anomaly.”

(Continue with Part 7)

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Polaris Station – Novelette Part 5

(Continued from Part 4)

Kendall finished his breakfast in the control room while checking status monitors for the 4.3 meter Hubble-7 telescope as well as the primary solar and the Arctic earth scanners. All nominal and ready for Earth and deep space exploration by Katya the astronomer and Becca the astro-dynamicist and Earth scientist. Since his arrival, he logged several needed software bugs to pass on to Dmitry, the station’s computer specialist as well as a number of telescope observations of interest for Katya and Becca. He also performed space elevator checks before donning his space suit for final cable inspections up on the wings with A4.

Kendall and two cubic meters of air exited pressure-lock three on the upper deck. Instinctively taking in the view, he had to remember to breathe. Walking slowly around the Hubble pedestal, leaning over the railing, he looked straight down. From an altitude of 619 km, he attempted to make sense of the Earth’s aurora, its slow cloud-like motions appearing and disappearing over the northern portions of Greenland.

Then, tinting his visor, he raised his head and looked straight out toward the sun, the very impetus of the northern lights, perceiving the almost infinite flow of radiation bombarding and passing mother Earth. He again stretched over the railing and looked directly down, his eyes followed the space elevator cable from the faded Arctic atmosphere below upward until it attached to the station. Like the string of a kite, the space elevator cable looked as though it would restrain the station from floating away. He then arched his back while holding the railing, looked straight upward and checked an even more phenomenal sight, the space wing with its parallel maglev rails, solar panels, and cables attaching it to the main station platform.

The continuous procession of heavy mass satellites, or M-Sats, moving at orbital speeds, passed under the rails similar to the wind passing under a paraglider wing. The station wing was lifted by the stream by re-directing each satellite slightly downward thereby imparting vertical momentum to the station which hung by the sixteen cables, each about 500 meters long fanning upward from the station.

Kendall tried to see the North Star, but it was blocked by the wing’s structure above. He made his way over to one of the cables, buckled into an ascension device and began to climb the carbon fiber nanotube to help A4 in the inspection.

“Captain Parker?”

Kendall heard a familiar voice in his helmet radio. It was the Flight Director for NASA’s Momentum Class Satellites and Stations (M-Sat) program.

They’re a bit early this morning, Kendall thought.

(Continue at Part 6)

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Polaris Station – Reference Figure 1

Earth Night with Sun

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