Thursday, February 12, 2009

Nationalism and identity in orbital material culture

This morning, while waiting for the bus, I started thinking about satellites again. One satellite on my space heritage list is Indonesia's Palapa 1, a telecommunications satellite launched into GEO in 1976. Indonesia was one the earliest south east Asian nations to take up space technology. Palapa 1 was built by Hughes and was virtually identical in design to Anik 1 and some others. Of course this is often the case: nations without a satellite design capability commission the big manufacturers to build their satellites.

So what is the effect of this? There will be an awful lot of satellites up there which look almost identical. Again, if someone was trying to reconstruct the history of space exploration from the material culture alone, there would be nothing to distinguish an Indonesian satellite from any others of the same series built by Hughes. I don't recall ever seeing national emblems on satellites (although I'll have to go back and look), unlike rockets and other types of spacecraft for that matter. What does this mean?

Many satellites which are identical are also components of telecommunications constellations. But how would you tell, when what links them is intangible?

Obviously I'll have to think a lot more about this and do some more legwork (so to speak). But I'm sure there's something in this.

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