Space Programs

Communications Satellites

What were the first communications satellites?

Sputnik 1, the first artificial satellite ever launched, had communications capabilities. It was able to transmit radio signals at two frequencies. It lasted for about three months in orbit.

The first long-lived communications satellite was called Echo, and was launched in 1960. Developed by John R. Pierce (1910–2002) of Bell Telephone Laboratories, Echo was an aluminum-coated, gas-filled plastic balloon one hundred feet (thirty-one meters) across. It was placed in a low orbit and passively reflected communications signals, bouncing them back to Earth without any active transmission. Its successor, Echo II, was in service from 1964 to 1969.

The first active-transmitting communications satellites were Telstar, developed by AT&T Corporation, and Relay, developed by NASA. Telstar was launched in 1962 and transmitted telephone calls and television broadcasts between locations in Maine, England, and France. Together, Telstar and Relay demonstrated the potential of multi-satellite communications systems for long-distance global transmissions.


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