Arthur C. Clarke Predicted GPS and Satellite TV in 1956

Illustration for article titled Arthur C. Clarke Predicted GPS and Satellite TV in 1956

In August of 1956, science-fiction author Arthur C. Clarke wrote a letter to his friend Andrew G. Haley. In this letter, he predicted—with uncanny accuracy—the GPS and satellite TV systems of today.


Here's the letter as transcribed by the folks of Letters of Note:

Aug 56

Dear Andy,

Odd that we should have crossed in the post!

I am afraid that I am too much out of touch with current communication theory and technique to provide much of value for you. (In any event, all my war-time experience was in radar, not radio.)

As you may know, my main interest in this subject is in the use of satellite relays, which I think may revolutionise the pattern of world communications. To the best of my knowledge, I was the first to suggest this possibility (see "Extraterrestrial Relays", Wireless World, October 45). By another odd coincidence I've just sent my agent an article on these lines, entitled "The Billion Dollar Moon", giving my latest view on this subject. My general conclusions are that perhaps in 30 years the orbital relay system may take over all the functions of existing surface networks and provide others quite impossible today. For example, the three stations in the 24-hour orbit could provide not only an interference and censorship-free global TV service for the same power as a single modern transmitter, but could also make possible a position-finding grid whereby anyone on earth could locate himself by means of a couple of dials on an instrument about the size of a watch. (A development of Decca and transistorisation.) It might even make possible world-wide person-to-person radio with automatic dialling. Thus no-one on the planet need ever get lost or become out of touch with the community, unless he wanted to be. I'm still thinking about the social consequences of this!

But as for details of frequencies and powers, I'll have to leave that to the experts to work out; I'll get on with my science fiction and wait to say "I told you so!"


(Signed, 'Arthur')

Arthur C Clarke

P.S. Any chance of seeing you in London? I leave for N.Y. on 28 August.

I think he earned that "I told you so" by now, no? [Letters of Note via Dvice via Boing Boing]


Isn't it great when scientists become sci-fi writers? I love it!

Clarke actually wrote a very serious technical paper predicting the geostationary communications satellite - he cites it in this text. ("Extra-terrestrial Relays: Can Rocket Stations Give World-wide Radio Coverage?" in the Oct 1945 issue of Wireless World.) He predicted those with equally uncanny accuracy, even down to estimating the number of geostationary satellites necessary for global coverage (three) and realizing that solar panels would be the best source of power for the satellites. He went so far as to calculate how much energy storage capacity the satellites' batteries would need to operate the satellite while it passes through the Earth's shadow.

His biggest error in that paper: predicting that such communications satellites would have a human switchboard operator on board!