Human World

Today in science: 1st Telstar launch

Telstar: Faceted spherical satellite with small dark rectangles on facets, against starry sky.
1962 artist’s concept of Telstar satellite orbiting in space. Image via AT&T/ SuperStock/ Corbis/ NASA.

First Telstar launch 60 years ago

Telstar 1 launched on July 10, 1962, the first communications satellite capable of relaying television signals from Europe to North America. It was sent to space using a Delta rocket.

Telstar – a 171-pound, 34.5-inch sphere loaded with transistors and covered with solar panels – relayed its first signal just hours after its launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida.

Rocket rising above pad on tail of flame with billowing steam. Black and white photo.
A Thor/Delta 316 launches with the Telstar 1 satellite from Cape Canaveral on July 10, 1962. Image via NASA.

Finally, two days later, the first transmitted images show an American flag outside a receiving station in Andover, Maine. After that, Telstar sent live television images as well as telephone calls, faxes and other data.

Fuzzy TV image of old-style mission control panel; man watching TV monitors; LIVE FROM ENGLAND across image.
An early transatlantic transmission over Telstar. Image via Daily Mail.

President John F. Kennedy said after Telstar’s launch:

This (is an) outstanding symbol of America’s space achievements.

And so it was. Undoubtedly, Telstar 1 led to the advent of 24-hour, live news programming from anywhere in the world. Eventually this innovation hit its stride during the Vietnam War in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Meanwhile, anyone old enough to listen to radio in 1962 remembers the hit song “Telstar” an instrumental performed by The Tornados. As a matter of fact, it reached No. 1 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 in December 1962. By the way, you can hear a version of Telstar by The Ventures in the video below:

A bit of history

Telstar 1 was the first privately sponsored space mission. Bell Telephone Laboratories developed it for AT&T. Telstar 1 was the first active communications satellite. Furthermore, it showed the feasibility of transmitting information by satellite. Plus it gave spacecraft operators some experience in satellite tracking. And it studied the effect of Van Allen radiation belts on satellite design. Equally important, the power for the onboard equipment came from a solar array, running through a battery back-up system.

Although Telstar 1 was live for only a few months, it captured the imagination of the world and ignited the global communications that we take for granted today.

Bottom line: Telstar 1, the first communications satellite capable of relaying television signals from Europe to North America, launched on this date … and helped change the world.

Read more: Who owns all the satellites?

Read more: SpaceX Starlink satellites explained

July 10, 2022
Human World

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