It had been a long time coming, but they were almost ready.
The launch had happened a few months before; a Paludis III rocket had blasted away from Guinea base, carrying a comms satellite and the HT probe. The probe had unfurled right on schedule, and started on its push to the Lagrange point that would be its destination. It was now reporting that it was approaching L5, and that it was ready to spool up the experiment.
James Kent was quite excited. Even though it was 4am local time, he hadn't been able to sleep knowing that HT was getting close to starting its job; he'd driven in to the lab to watch the data as it came in. As he arrived at the lab, it was obvious that no-one else involved on the project had been able to get any rest, either.
"Morning", called a voice over his shoulder as James sat down. It was Mike Rampton, the flight director; Mike would be overseeing operations in the command centre, while James was in charge of crunching the numbers to make sure the project ran smoothly.
"It's not morning yet, Mike. Status?" asked James.
"Looking good. HT's braking in towards L5 right now; obviously, our telemetry's about a minute delayed, so I'd say it's holding in place right now. We've secured the lunar scopes you wanted, so we should be able to see things as they happen."
James had asked for a day's worth of time on the new lunar telescopes sent up by Europe, mostly because it was difficult to see the Terran L5 point from Earth itself. It had set the project back a fair bit of money, but the telescopes had been contracted out to them for today, and both James and Mike intended to make good use of them.
"Good thing about the 'scopes is, we can see HT clear as day. With no atmosphere to cover up the view, our results will show up pretty well", Mike concluded.
"Sounds good, Mike. If we've arrived at L5, I'll start calibrating", James said. He sipped at a mug of coffee, and started inputting models into the computer on his desk.
While James crunched the coordinates, Mike confirmed that the probe had reached the Lagrange point. It had been quite easy for HT to slingshot across to the fifth point, where the Earth had been two months ago; little fuel had been expended on the journey, and the majority was going to be used in braking towards the gravitational stability point.
Theory held that at L5 (and conversely, at L4), one could plant a probe or satellite and have it stay there, rather than floating in towards the Earth or Sun. It would, of course, be moving at a speed equal to the Earth, since the Lagrange points moved with the Earth as it orbited; however, this would be the only speed required for calculations. That was why James had originally asked for one of these points to be used as the basis of the experiment.
Before too long, James indicated that he had calibrated things, and they were ready. Mike had adjusted one of the lunar 'scope feeds to show HT, in close-up, as it was parked at L5; the other 'scope was pointed at L4, on the other side of Earth's orbit, where it would be in two months' time. Mike sent out the signal for the probe to begin spinning up.
"We'll be able to see the spin-up in ahout two minutes' time, given signal delays. Should be another minute before things are at full speed", Mike stated. "Let's hope you've got all the gravities right, James."
"We're lucky that Jupiter is on the other side of the Sun right now, otherwise things would've got quite complicated with the coordinate calculation. As it is, we should end up more or less as expected", James replied.
As James continued with his coffee, HT returned that it was fully spun up.
"Drive?" Mike asked over the comm.
"Reporting 100%, caps are full. Settings programmed in; we're ready down here."
"Alright; fire it up."
Nothing happened; not immediately, at least. The telescopes still showed HT hanging in place at L5, for a minute or so. The tension mounted in the command room; James had a niggling sense that something might be off on his calculation, and HT would be destroyed or vanish never to be seen again. As quickly as the thought surfaced, it was discounted: a bright point flashed on the screen, and HT was gone. It had taken a minute for light to come from the L5 point to the lunar telescopes, and another few seconds for the images to relay to the command centre. HT was away.
A bright flash on the other monitor, and HT appeared. The stars behind it were different, however: the probe was now at L4, a full twenty million miles away. These images were also coming from the Moon, which meant that the move between Lagrange points had been almost instantaneous.
"What's that, 0.2 AU in half a second? Pretty quick, James", Mike laughed.
"And right where we wanted it, Mike. Let's get HT home and have a look at the insides; I wanna see what hyperspace did to my bacterial samples."
Article dated: 19th Aug 2009