50 years of satellite communications

Telstar, the first ever active communications satellite

10th July 1962 marked the birth of satellite communications. Exactly 50 years ago today the Telstar satellite commenced its journey into space from Cape Canaveral and became the first ever active communications satellite. It carried the first live trans-Atlantic TV broadcasts. Telstar was built by a team at Bell Telephone Laboratories and incorporated many innovations such as the transistor and the 3,600 solar panels that powered the satellite and which had been invented by Bell Labs. Telestar produced 14 watts and relayed its first, and non-public, television pictures — a flag outside Andover Earth Station – on July 11, 1962. The satellite could carry 600 voice calls and one black-and-white TV channel from an elliptical orbit. The orbit allowed a maximum transmission time between Europe and the United States of 20 minutes per pass.

Today, communication satellites in polar orbits, MEO orbits, Molniya orbits, Tundra orbits and the geostationary orbit are numerous and play a vital role in disaster risk management and relief.