When was the last time you gave much thought to the topic of global telecommunications? Unless you’re in that business, you likely haven’t given it much thought at all. However, chances are pretty good that you benefit from it each day. Maybe you view television, listen to radio, or use a phone now and then. Just about any day in many ways, we’ve come to depend upon global telecommunications in some form. We consider it a given, much like the electricity in our homes and businesses.
This casual awareness of this scientific part of our lives is actually a fairly recent development. Perhaps you recall when television news segments that originated overseas were accompanied by the caption, “Live Via Satellite”? There was still quite a “gee whiz” factor involved. The beginnings of this important feature in our lives was put in place on this date in 1965.
Intelsat 1 or “Early Bird” was placed into geosynchronous orbit after its launch by an enhanced Delta D rocket by NASA. Aside from the advanced electronics, for its day, the most important aspect of Intelsat 1 was that geosynchronous orbit. Intelsat 1 was the first commercial satellite with an orbital speed coordinated with the rotational speed of our planet. In effect, that means the satellite would appear to be motionless when viewed from earth. Previous satellite experiments were in lower orbits, so their availability was limited to only the time that they were over ground stations.
To be useful in telecommunications, the satellite must be placed in orbit directly above the equator. It must remain steady in its position permanently. The “Early Bird” Intelsat 1 features a revolutionary “spin stabilized” gyroscopic mechanism that eliminates the need for complicated, unwieldy attitude control systems. Once in place, it takes some time to tweak the satellite to eliminate any drift. This was accomplished on April 14th.
Another important feature is the outer skin of solar cells to provide electricity for constant operation. This feature enabled the scheduled service span of Intelsat 1 to be projected at 18 months. Instead, the satellite was in active service for four years. It was purposely deactivated in January, 1969. It was reactivated for the Apollo 11 mission then deactivated in August of that year. There was a short reactivation of Intelsat 1 in April of 1990 to commemorate the 25th anniversary of its original launch. It is still in orbit.
Intelsat 1 was the first commercial orbital craft to provide direct, nearly instant communications between Europe and North America. The small satellite was only 76 pounds (34.5 kg). Still, it handled television, telephone, and fax transmissions.
Intelsat 1 was constructed by Hughes Aircraft Company’s Space And Communications group for COMSAT Communications Satellite Corporation. It was taken into outer space by NASA Delivery Services.
Thanks to NASA for the technical information in this post.
The Blue Jay of Happiness notes that the nickname, “Early Bird” is from the common saying, “The early bird gets the worm.”