Asteroids, planets and (of course!) Ceres

My new novel is set around a hundred years into the future, with human colonies established in space within the solar system. I want to make the space travel plausible ,so I’ve been researching interplanetary travel times, planetary and asteroid orbits. It’s taken quite a lot of work as I haven’t been able to find any good resources that allow me to easily see how things “fit together”. It’s a bit like writing a thriller set in New York and not being able to find a decent street map.

What makes it worse is that everything in space moves in three dimensions and not only that the relative positions change with time. Imagine writing about New York in ten years time and Grand Central Station isn’t next door to the Hyatt Hotel any more, or that Brooklyn is now in Florida!

NASA’s Jet propulsion laboratory provides a huge amount of this type of information through its databases, but the interface is a little slow and cumbersome (you can only see one orbital track at a time) making it a bit of a trudge to find everything; so much so that I’ve actually been contemplating creating my own 3D visualization tool. But after several days poring through numerous orbital tracks I’ve found what I need.

Much of what I’ve researched won’t make it into the novel. It;s just to ensure that it’s (reasonably) realistic. I’m assuming certain extrapolations on propulsion technologies but other than that it will reflect reality.

It would be a lot easier to write fantasy (anything goes), and even much of today’s science fiction seems to be more “fiction” than “science” (let’s just assume pigs can fly). It would also be a lot more straightforward to write present day thrillers where you know where everything is and it doesn’t really change much.

Although this research is for my next novel, I’ve realized that it’s also relevant to the first one in the series that I’m currently editing. Book one is Earth-based but there are a couple of details that the newer research impacts on albeit only slightly so I ‘ll correct these in my revisions.

My research week has happened in the shadow of the NASA Dawn probe reaching orbit around Ceres, the largest object in the asteroid belt. This is a historic achievement (the probe, not my research!) being the first time anything has been placed in orbit around a dwarf planet and also the first time a space probe has orbited two extraterrestrial objects – first asteroid Vesta and now Ceres itself. Although not central to my writing, it’s still thrilling to know that as I’m working these real life events things are unfolding, providing me with even more inspiration to “get things right”.

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