March 1960 Popular Electronics
People old and young enjoy waxing nostalgic about and learning some of the history of early electronics. Popular
Electronics was published from October 1954 through April 1985. All copyrights are hereby acknowledged. See all articles from
1960, futurists were predicting that within 10 years it would
be possible to beam television signals between continents and
directly into homes. It was the eve of
, which boosted a 100-foot-diameter inflatable
metallized plastic ball into low Earth orbit to reflect signals
efficiently back through the atmosphere. Engineers and scientists
were already planning the next best thing - a satellite that
not only reflected, but also amplified, possibly frequency converted,
and would even steer signals that impinge upon it. Envisioned
in this article is hundreds of satellites being available for
relaying signals between all regions of the Earth on then-standard
VHF channels. We now have successful satellite television systems,
but they operate at Ku-band due to bandwidth requirements and
need special converters to interface with a television.
- Key to World-Wide TV
By Ken Gilmore
Early this spring, a powerful rocket will roar into space
and eject a strange payload: a rumpled bundle of plastic that
will within minutes puff itself into a shining sphere one hundred
feet in diameter. As this weird space balloon soars through
its orbit 1000 miles above the earth, thousands of radio signals
will shoot skyward from ground stations, ricochet from the satellite's
polished surface, and dive back to earth to be received thousands
of miles from where they started. The experiment, run by the
U. S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA),
will be known as Project Echo.
A short time later - probably before summer - the U. S. Advanced
Research Projects Agency (ARPA), which directs our military
space program, will hurl a different kind of "talking satellite"
into orbit. It will be much smaller than NASA's hundred-foot
sphere, and packed with complex electronic equipment. As it
glides over one continent, signals will flash from the earth
to be received by the satellite and recorded on tiny magnetic
tape recorders. A few minutes later and half a world away, it
will play back the message to a ground listening station. This
operation will be known as Project Courier.
Sooner than you think -- probably within
ten years -- satellites will make it possible for you to watch
live TV programs from foreign countries.
While Echo and Courier are the most comprehensive space communications
projects planned to date, they are not alone. At least one talking
moon is already in orbit; scores of others will soon be filling
the air with electronic signals. Almost overnight, sooner than
anyone believes possible, the age of satellite communications
Balloon satellites to be used in Project
Echo are made of tough plastic film coated with a thin layer
of aluminum. Entire satellite, including the firing container,
weighs only 190 pounds. Balloon is inflated when sun's rays
cause water inside it to turn into steam.
Space Timetable. Communications satellites will bring about
profound changes in our everyday lives. These pioneering accomplishments
are coming soon:
- Before another year goes by, television signals will
probably have been transmitted back and forth across the
- By 1961, the Signal Corps will have enough Project Courier
satellites in orbit to form a regular communications system
between our far-flung military outposts around the globe.
This system will be operational in 1961, not experimental.
- By early 1962, ARPA will have an electronic repeater
satellite in orbit at an altitude of slightly over 22,000
miles. Termed a "24-hour" repeater, it will rotate at the
same speed as the earth and will appear to hang over one
spot on the earth's surface - probably the mid-Atlantic.
The thrust rocket designed to hurl this five-ton moon into
orbit is under construction.
- By 1962 or 1963, we will be watching live television
- By 1970 - a short decade away - we will spin the dial
and bring in hundreds of stations from all over the world.
Bullfights from Spain, exotic dances from the South Seas,
floor shows from Paris night spots - all will flood into
our living rooms through the magic of satellite video.
These are not just dreams. We have all the know-how and resources
needed to accomplish everyone of these projects right now. A
crash program to get the hardware into the sky has already started.
Operation of a "passive" satellite relay
system - such as Project Echo - is diagrammed below. While signals
are being bounced off satellite 1, the second antenna begins
to track satellite 2, preparatory to switching from 1 to 2.
Scientists calculate that 25 such "sky-mirrors" in orbit would
give world-wide coverage.
Before 1980, there will probably be super communications
satellites aloft, operated by crews who commute back and forth
from earth by rocket. The illustration on page 41 pictures one
of these advanced satellites which is already being designed
by Radio Corporation of America.
A "24·hour" active satellite repeater like
the one at left designed by Space Electronics would appear to
hang suspended over one spot on the earth's surface. This satellite
is basically similar to the one to be launched in early 1962
by ARPA, but it is much smaller, measuring only six to eight
feet long, and weighing only 500 pounds. Solar cells would provide
the power for relaying trans-Atlantic television, telephone,
and teletype signals.
Communicating with satellites. themselves is, of course,
not new. (See "Telemetering - Vital Link to the Stars," POPULAR
ELECTRONICS, Nov., 1959.) Every satellite launched by either
the United States or Russia has maintained some kind of radio
contact with earth. But this contact has been used only to control
the satellite or to report on its operation to ground stations.
Now, we are beginning to use satellites as another link in
our regular communications networks. Employed as relay stations
a thousand miles or more above the earth, they will enable us
to transmit radio, television, teletype, and other signals around
the world far better than we could do it any other way.
Early Experiments. The age of space communications was born
- by accident - in October, 1958. The scene was Cape Canaveral.
As Pioneer I streaked skyward, headed for outer space, the ground
station signaled the rocket to fire its next stage. But something
went wrong. Repeated signals to fire somehow got channeled into
the missile's transmitter and were relayed to half the world
before the space vehicle destroyed itself.
A few months later, satellite communications of a more reliable
type went into operation with the launching of Project Score.
The most publicized feat of Score was the broadcasting of President
Eisenhower's 1958 Christmas message to the world. But it performed
a series of more valuable experiments as well.
As Score circled the earth, Signal Corps engineers sent aloft
radio and teletype messages that were received and recorded
by the satellite, then played back on command to other stations
thousands of miles away. When ground stations were within two
or three thousand miles of each other, the satellite relayed
the message instantaneously, without recording it first.
Communications in which the satellite is a passive element
and acts as a mirror, rather than as a relay station, have also
been successful. The spent rocket case that propelled Score
into orbit was used by RCA for successful "bounce" communications
tests. In addition, signals have been bounced off the moon repeatedly
in the last few years.
THE NECESSITY FOR SATELLITE COMMUNICATIONS
signals - the kind used for television - travel only in straight
lines. They do not follow the curvature of the earth and therefore
cannot be picked up more than a few miles from the transmitter.
Even the 1000-foot towers now used by some television stations
increase the maximum range to only a few hundred miles. But
a satellite, since it can "see" a large part of the earth, would
give vast coverage with u.h.f. signals.
Why must we use u.h.f.? Why not transmit TV by "short wave"
- the kind used by some radio communications? The answer: there
simply isn't room. A voice signal uses a very narrow channel,
only a few thousand cycles wide. But television takes at least
five million cycles.
Even if we forget television, we still have a serious problem.
The volume of overseas communications has grown so rapidly that
we are running out of channels. International Telephone and
Telegraph Company estimates that the message load will be seven
times as large in 1970 as it was in 1950. By 1963, all presently
available channels will be jammed to capacity. The only answer
is more channels, and the only ones still available are in the
u.h.f. range. This means that satellite communications systems
must be developed quickly.
Civilian Projects. Although
various systems could be used in world-wide networks, most space
experts feel the so-called "24-hour" active satellite repeater,
(the type scheduled to be launched by ARPA in early 1962) offers
the greatest promise. This advanced type may actually be the
first to go into use for civilian TV. There is even some chance
that a civilian-built active satellite repeater will be in orbit
before ARPA's military version.
Dr. James C. Fletcher, president of Space Electronics, Inc.,
of Glendale, California, says there is no reason why such a
satellite could not be in operation within two years. He estimates
it would cost from $25,000,000 to $40,000,000. Dr. Henri G.
Busignies, president of International Telephone and Telegraph
Laboratories, says it might cost slightly more. But both men
think it would pay its own way.
Forty or fifty million dollars may sound like a lot of money.
But the recently completed Atlantic cable cost $40,000,000,
and can only handle about 50 telephone conversations at one
time. It cannot, under any circumstances, transmit a live television
program. The satellite proposed by Space Electronics would carry
250 telephone conversations simultaneously - five times as many
as the cable - or 125 telephone conversations and one television
Although enthusiasts like Dr. Fletcher are ready to begin,
the project now - efforts to round up financial backing are
under way - other communications industry leaders feel that
since NASA plans to fire a 24-hour satellite repeater in 1962,
it would be better to wait and profit from this experiment.
So the timetable for the launching of a space outpost for civilian
TV is uncertain.
Looking to the Future. Exactly how will satellite communications
affect our everyday lives? Imagine the year as being 1970 -
just ten years away. Hundreds of satellites of every nationality
are now soaring through the skies, pouring down torrents of
information, entertainment, propaganda. You turn on the TV set
and bring in the BBC or Moscow just as clearly as you received
home-town stations back in 1960.
Since there are thousands of channels and since each has
a potential audience of billions of people, it has now become
practical to televise programs of interest to minorities - Greek
drama, chess matches, lectures in differential calculus.
Asia and Africa have been flooded with inexpensive TV receivers,
and Russian and U. S. satellites are engaged in a fierce ideological
battle for uncommitted minds. (Long before the year 2000, the
struggle to determine whether English or Russian becomes the
world's dominant language will have been won or lost on this
Mail is delivered anywhere
on earth in less than a day. We write our letters on a special
form. At the post office, the words are transformed into electronic
signals which are transmitted via the mail satellite relay within
a few millionths of a second. A high-speed printer on the other
end turns the signals back into words, and the letter is delivered.
The only delay is in getting it to and from the post office.
By 1980, the changes will be even more dramatic.
Newspapers will be produced on demand in the home. All you will
have to do is flip a switch on your facsimile printer and out
will roll the sports page, the funnies, the news section, or
any combination you select. You will have your own personal
radio-telephone and you will be able to call any place on earth
at a moment's notice. Most business conducted by personal contact
back in 1960 will be handled over the video and facsimile channels
in 1980. Of course, your telephone will have already been equipped
with a TV screen for many years.
will begin to appear far earlier than most of us think. Everyone
of the devices described above is already in use. Not one new
invention or development will be needed to put any part of this
system into operation.
Businesses all over the
country, for example, now have their own facsimile systems which
transmit letters, pictures, and plans instantaneously from one
plant or office to another. Miniature radios which could be
used in a world-wide paging system have already been built.
Complete engineering plans and specifications have been drawn
up for an intercontinental mail system using equipment which
is already available.
The only new ingredient
we need to make all of these miracles available is long-distance
satellite communications - and we will have it soon.
Profound Significance. The impact of global radio and TV will
be profound. It will mean not merely bigger and better entertainment,
but it will change our civilization. Arthur C. Clarke -- the
internationally recognized space expert - summed it up this
way in an article in the September 1959 issue of Holiday magazine:
"Soon, the great highway of the ether will be
thrown open to the whole world, and all men will become neighbors,
whether they like it or not. Any form of censorship, political
or otherwise, would be impossible; to jam signals coming down
from the heavens is almost as difficult as blocking the light
from the stars. The Russians could do nothing to stop their
people from seeing how Americans live; on the other hand, Madison
Avenue and blue-nose committees might be equally distressed
- though for different reasons - at a nation-wide switch to
uninhibited telecasts from Montmartre.
can ever anticipate the full significance of any major invention;
did Henry Ford dream that the very foundation of commerce, warfare,
entertainment - yes, and morality - would be shaken by the automobile?
And what radio and TV have done to our lives in the last decade
merely hints at the revolution real telecommunications will
bring 20 or 30 years from now.
"How mankind will
cope with the avalanche of information and entertainment about
to descend upon it from the skies, only the future can show."
One thing is sure, the sciences of rocketry and electronics
have launched the human race into the age of space communications,
and there's no turning back!
Posted January 28, 2013