A Steampunk History of a World at War

Space communication

nimda's picture
Wednesday, 4 June 1890
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The use of radio for communication purposes between ocean-going vessels and the shore did not start until 1890. At first the range was pitiful, a few miles but even 20 years later (in the real world) it could only just about manage to reach across the Atlantic.

Space is only 20 miles away, straight up. But the British Spaceport hanging in geo-synchronous orbit above Sri-Lanka is 22,236 miles above the surface even boosted with Tesla coils and using a massive land-based transmitter it's impossible to reach that distance.


The first solution by the Royal Navy was the use of heliographs and space vehicles with large reflectors could easily use the sun's light to communicate with the surface, even in daylight. (See [Bad Link: Plugin Not Found] and [Bad Link: Plugin Not Found].)

Heliographs have the additional problem that they can be read by anyone in the line of vision.


When within a few miles of another vessel, however, radio was a perfectly reasonable option, so going out of range was always seen as a risky business.

For the big stations another option was put into place, a squadron of relatively small ships in highly eccentric orbits in constant motion. They would orbit down to low altitude to receive and transmit messages with the ground-based station and then move back up to the high point of their orbit where they rendezvous with the orbiting station. A critical job but for enemy forces these orbits are very specific and predictable meaning that intercepting one of the vessels of the Signalling Squadrons was very easy.