Clarke Orbit

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The Clarke Orbit is another name for the geosynchronous orbit, a place in space where an artificial satellite can be fixed to match the rotation of a planet.

In 1929, Slovene rocket engineer Herman Potočnik, a pioneer of astronautics, described geosynchronous orbits and postulated the geostationary Earth orbit as useful for space stations. George O. Smith was first to use the concept in science fiction, beginning with his first Venus Equilateral story, “QRM—Interplanetary” (Astounding, October 1942).

Three years later, Arthur C. Clarke ran with the idea, but not in fiction: In a February 1945 letter, Peacetime Uses for V2,” and an October article, “Extra-Terrestrial Relays: Can Rocket Stations Give Worldwide Radio Coverage?” in Wireless World magazine, a British electronics journal, as well as a privately circulated paper, “The Space-Station: Its Radio Applications” in May, Clarke described the orbit and suggested its utility for broadcast and relay communications satellites.

While Clarke credited Smith in his introduction to The Complete Venus Equilateral (Ballantine, 1976), the orbit nevertheless came to be called the “Clarke Orbit,” a term first employed and championed by Keith Laumer. Laumer began using it with his novel And Now They Wake (Galaxy, March 1969), and he wrote in the December 1976 Analog:

I just read and like the July issue, incidentally noticing that both Arthur Clarke and Norman Spinrad made use of a term which I have long considered unnecessarily clumsy, to wit ‘synchronous’, as ‘geo-synchronous orbit.’ For some time in my work I have employed the term ‘Clarke orbit,’ which is simple and gives Arthur the credit due to him. I hereby propose that you throw the weight of Analog behind this usage, and pretty soon everybody will say ‘Clarke orbit.’

And so it went.

Similarly, the ring of artificial satellites in this orbit came to be known as the Clarke Belt.

Both terms are used widely in science and technology circles in the macrocosm, as well as in hard sf.



Fanspeak Reasonator 1969
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