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10 Best Ideas for Interplanetary Communication

Create an Interplanetary Network of Communications Satellites
Science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke in 2003. Luis Enrique Ascui/Getty Images
Science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke in 2003. Luis Enrique Ascui/Getty Images

The idea of building a satellite network that stretches almost the entire 3.7 billion-mile (6 billion-kilometer) length of the solar system from Mercury to Pluto sounds a bit mind-boggling. But, back in 1945, when British scientist and science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke wrote a magazine article envisioning a global communications network of orbital satellites, that probably seemed pretty outlandish, too. Nevertheless, today, we've got satellites all over the place, which make it possible to make a phone call or send a text or e-mail practically anywhere in the planet [source: USAF Air University]. And actually, visionaries were dreaming of an interplanetary version of Clarke's global communications network even before the first Earth telecom satellites were shot into orbit.

Back in 1959, space scientists George E. Mueller and John E. Taber gave a presentation at an electronics convention in San Francisco, entitled "An Interplanetary Communication System," that described how to set up long-distance digital transmissions in space, via radio waves [source: Mueller and Taber]. Forty years later, two scientists, Stevan Davidovich and Joel Whittington, sketched out an elaborate system, in which three satellites would be put in polar orbit around the sun, and others in either geosynchronous or polar orbits around the various planets.

The satellites would then be linked into a network that could pick up radio messages from manned spaceships or robotic probes, and then relay them up or down the line from one planet or another until they reached Earth [source: Davidovich and Whittington]. So far, though, there hasn't been any move to build such a system, perhaps because of the cost of putting multiple satellites in orbit around distant heavenly bodies is likely to be enormous.