• Allistair Mitchell

Tales from the Edict 36 - Orbital Trouble Resolved

Updated: Apr 30, 2021

On 14th May 2031 Starship Silver Bare (a sliver bear as its emblem) with a crew of five lifted off from Cape Canaveral, Florida on a mission to deliver an upgrade module to the Lunar Gateway and rotate three of the crew members. The mission was a routine one: launch, rendezvous with the orbital tanker to take on additional fuel for the journey (instead of depleting the moon’s fuel supplies which were required for all the development work going on at the surface), dock with Lunar Gateway, deploy the new module, rotate the crews, and return home.

The rendezvous with the automated tanker went smoothly and fourteen hours into the mission Silver Bare cast off to make the short hop to the moon. Three hours into the journey Silver Bare made an emergency call. They had been hit by a dark object.

Dark objects are the name given to space debris caused because of asteroid collisions and meteorites skipping off the earth’s atmosphere. They are defined as anything in the region of 5cm up to 30cm that cannot be detected by onboard space radar nor automated cameras, coming out of the darkness of space from almost any direction. The term was first coined in 2028 when a Russian cargo resupply vessel was in collision with one. The spacecraft was unmanned but attached to orbital platform ROS Budushcheye when a 6cm rock punched a hole through the skin before becoming embedded in the heat shield. The capsule semi exploded as it was at 1 atm, ready to receive the returning crew. This incident highlighted a risk factor previously thought remote in the extreme. Silver Bare was the unhappy target this time.

Unusually there was no American assets in orbit around Earth or the moon that could come to the assistance of Silver Bare. It transpired the only suitable vehicle was a 2-person cargo vessel Shōuchéng. More problematic was the embargo America had placed on technological partnership with China. The latter was disinclined to assist her bitter rival without reciprocity. The US was firm in their position, and the Silver Bare continued drifting, powerless and in need of help.

At that time Canadian astronaut Jen Sidney was in residence on the ISS as the symbolic representative of the UN Solar Assembly (it would be another 2 years and six new modules before the ISS was formally sworn in as headquarters to UNSA). Although Sidney did not formally speak Mandarin, she was sufficiently conversant with the language. Canada approached Beijing with a proposition – if the Chinese would let Jen fly their spacecraft, the two pilots could visit ISS for the duration. The US balked at this, but their people were in a bind and recanted their commitment to refuse Chinese access to ISS, despite the venerable space station’s outdated technology offering being of no interest to anyone other than the occupants (who frequently groused about a 24-year- old sewage system).

Sidney transferred to the cargo vessel and took control. Despite never having trained on this type of space vehicle (except the 2-hour simulation she ran on the ISS as they waited for the rendezvous with Shōuchéng) she managed to pilot the vessel to within observational distance of Silver Bare where she conducted an external examination of the Starship. Extensive damage to one of the rear flaps and engine section had knocked the ship’s propulsion out and was deemed beyond repair without EVA which was impossible under the circumstances. NASA gave the go ahead for evacuation of the Starship and one by one the crew made the unassisted journey between the two ships, hand over hand along the impulse bolt-cable Sidney had fired into the sidewall of the Starship from the open hatch of the Shōuchéng’s. With everyone crowded into the small, depressurised cockpit and cargo bay, Sidney ordered the cable cut and headed back to ISS. The rescued crew were picked up by another Starship four days later. This became the first official UN Solar Assembly space mission for which Sidney received multiple honours and was feted for her achievement.

The Silver Bare was last seen drifting inward from Venus toward the Sun. At that time no space salvage services were in operation, and the ship became the first and only loss to date of the Starship fleet.

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