Remembering Telstar – World’s First Communication Satellite


Fifty five years ago, the Space Age gave birth to the age of satellite communication as we know it — though it wasn’t clear at the time just how world-changing that outer-space angle would turn out to be.

In retrospect, you could argue that the launch of AT&T’s Telstar 1 satellite on July 10, 1962, made as much of a mark on the space frontier as Sputnik. At the time, Americans worried that outer space was turning into a Cold War battleground, thanks to the Soviet Union’s launch of the first-ever satellite (Sputnik in 1957) and the first human in space (Yuri Gagarin in 1961).

“Only if the United States occupies a position of pre-eminence can we help decide whether this new ocean will be a sea of peace or a new, terrifying theater of war,” President John F. Kennedy declared in 1962.

Telstar, the world’s first commercial satellite, marked the shift from outer space’s potential military applications to its peaceful uses — which is the way most people think of space ventures today. Within hours of Telstar’s launch on a Thor-Delta rocket from Cape Canaveral, Fla., the satellite beamed a non-public test transmission from Andover Earth Station in Maine to the Pleumeur-Bodou ground station in France. Two weeks later, on July 23, it relayed the first-ever public, live trans-Atlantic TV signal, linking Europe and North America. That was the start of something big.

Technicians join the Telstar satellite to the third stage of the Delta Rocket

Technicians join the Telstar satellite to the third stage of the Delta Rocket

Bell Labs, said in a statement marking the anniversary. “The phrase ‘live via satellite’ became part of the common vernacular. At the time, few people would have believed that 50 years later you could actually talk to your house or car, or predicted that children would play video games with other children 10,000 miles away.”

Telstar 1 was capable of carrying just one black-and-white TV channel, plus 600 simultaneous voice calls. It was in operation for less than a year, but it blazed a trail for generations of satellites, including Telstar 18 in 2004.

“Today, as we celebrate the enormous achievement that Telstar represented, Bell Labs researchers are laying the foundation for communications and collaboration for the next 50 years,” Kim said.

That vision includes satellite-connected digital personal assistants … devices that can bring 21st-century medicine to anyplace on Earth or in orbit … and avatars that can let Earthlings explore Mars from millions of miles away, through virtual reality.

Perhaps the biggest legacy of Telstar 1 lies in how it brought nations together 50 years ago, reassuring us that outer space really could be the “sea of peace” that Kennedy was aiming for. Will it always be that way? Source; Alan Boyle MSNBC



Gilly Dee says:

Telstar operated in a low-Earth orbit and was tracked by the ground stations in Maine and France. Each ground station had a large microwave antenna mounted on bearings, to permit tracking the satellite during the approximately half-hour period of each orbit when it was overhead. The signals from Telstar were received and amplified by a low-noise “maser” (Microwave Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation), the predecessor of the modern laser. After demonstrating the feasibility of the concept, subsequent communications satellites adopted a much higher orbit, at 22,300 miles above the Earth, at which the satellite’s speed matched the Earth’s rotation and thus appeared fixed in the sky. During the course of its operational lifespan, Telstar 1 facilitated over 400 telephone, telegraph, facsimile and television transmissions. It operated until November 1962, when its on-board electronics failed due to the effects of radiation.

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