In 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
Project Echo, 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.
March 1960 Popular Electronics
Wax nostalgic about and learn from the history of early electronics. See articles
published October 1954 - April 1985. All copyrights are hereby acknowledged.
- 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.
Sooner than you think -- probably within ten years -- satellites will
make it possible for you to watch live TV programs from foreign countries.
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.
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.
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 will begin.
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 Atlantic.
• 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
• By 1962 or 1963, we will be watching live television from Europe.
• 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.
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.
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
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
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
Ultra-high-frequency 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
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
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 electronic battlefield.)
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.
These wonders 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.
"No one 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 November 20, 2018