February 24, 2020
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Who needs a rocket when we have frost heaves?

Julia Bayly | BDN
Julia Bayly | BDN

As has probably become obvious to folks who have followed the stories I send out in Crown and Down, I do a lot of traveling in Aroostook County.

In all that traveling, I have recently questioned whether the efforts to promote Northern Maine as an appropriate place to launch satellites into outer space are as stupid as they first seem.

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Folks may not know this, but my training is in mathematics and physics. When I heard about this idea to launch tiny satellites from the former Loring Air Force Base, I remember sitting in my chair with a breadstick hanging out of my mouth, thinking, “Did I read that correctly?”

Here’s the reason. The spin of the Earth is fastest at the equator and slows the further north you move so that there is no circular velocity at the poles.  Rockets are easier and cheaper to launch from locations that are close to the equator, because the spin of the Earth gives the rockets additional speed for free as they take off. This is why we launch rockets from Cape Canaveral in Florida rather than Fairbanks, Alaska. This is also why it seemed just a little foolish to spend money to determine if Maine could be the next launch facility for the growing space industry.

But now I have changed my mind, and I believe that an effective mechanism to launch any sized satellite you wish is already available in Maine.

Here is what I envision: NASA or SpaceX or whatever entity wants to send a satellite into space sends that satellite to me.  I’ll place the satellite on a regular trailer, just like what I use to haul my yard junk to the transfer station, and then I’ll wait for the start of the spring season.

During the typical warming trend in the month of March, we attach the trailer with the multimillion-dollar satellite to the hitch on the back of my Subaru Outback. We’ll borrow one of the biathlon competition timers from Presque Isle or Fort Kent to give us a countdown, because all launches into space should have a countdown. While I wait for the countdown to finish, I will have a sip of beer. At the end of the countdown, I’ll hand my beer to my wife, punch the accelerator to the floor and haul the satellite down the road as fast as I can go.

Careful analysis of the dynamics of this exercise shows that the speed of my Outback traveling down the rural road should be somewhere between 55 and a gazillion miles per hour.

At just the right moment, I’ll zoom into one of the many frost heaves that warp the Caribou Road, and the crazy forces from the frost heave will fling the satellite into the sky like someone had shot the Starship Enterprise from a skeet launcher.

The satellite immediately achieves escape velocity and disappears into the beautiful Maine sky. I drive home and store the trailer in its spot under the oak tree in my backyard.

From what I understand, there are millions of dollars available for contractors who can put satellites into orbit. I figure, with just a few trailers, some sturdy used cars, and several replacements for worn shock absorbers, we could have a new high-tech industry in Maine.

And the really cool part about this idea is that just about anyone with a Maine driver’s license has dealt with our local frost heaves and is naturally qualified to launch a satellite.

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