On this day July 10, 1962

Telstar, the world’s first communications satellite, is launched into orbit by NASA aboard a Delta rocket from Cape Canaveral.

Telstar

Telstar

Telstar 1 was the first privately sponsored space launch. A medium-altitude satellite, Telstar was placed in an elliptical orbit (completed once every 2 hours and 37 minutes), inclined at an angle of approximately 45 degrees to the equator, with perigee about 1000 km from Earth and apogee about 6000 km from Earth.

Because of this, its availability for transatlantic signals was limited to 20 minutes in each orbit that passed over the Atlantic Ocean.

Telstar 1, which had ushered in a new age of the benevolent use of technology, became a victim of technology during the Cold War. The day before Telstar 1 was launched, the United States had tested a high-altitude nuclear bomb (called Starfish Prime) which energized the Earth’s Van Allen Belt where Telstar 1 went into orbit.

This vast increase in radiation, combined with subsequent high-altitude blasts, including a Soviet test in October, overwhelmed Telstar’s fragile transistors; it went out of service in early December, but was restarted by a workaround in early January 1963. The additional radiation associated with its return to full sunlight once again caused a transistor failure, this time irreparably, and Telstar 1 went out of service on February 21, 1963.

According to the US Space Objects Registry, Telstar 1 and 2 were still in orbit as of June 2009.

Experiments continued, and by 1964, two Telstars, two Relay units (from RCA), and two Syncom units (from the Hughes Aircraft Company) had operated successfully in space. Syncom 2 was the first geosynchronous satellite and its successor, Syncom 3, broadcast pictures from the 1964 Summer Olympics. The first commercial geosynchronous satellite was Intelsat I (“Early Bird”) launched in 1965.

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