First International Communications Satellite

Telstar IJuly 10, 1962

The world’s first experimental international communications satellite, Telstar I, is launched into orbit. Built by Bell Labs and launched by NASA, Telstar 1 was a collaboration between the US, Britain, and France. Telstar I introduced the world to trans-Atlantic video feeds and ushered in a new era of communication. For example, in August of that year, Telstar I became the first satellite to synchronize time between the UK and the US, bringing them to within 1 microsecond of each other, where 2000 microseconds had been the previously most accurate effort. Telstar 1 was also the first satellite to send data between 2 computers, doing so in October of that year between two IBM 1401s in Endicott, New York and La Gaude, France.

For all its technological achievements, Telstar 1 was damaged by high levels of radiation in the Van Allen radiation belts primarily due to high altitude nuclear bomb testing by both the United States and the Soviet Union in 1962. It went out of service in November of that year, only 4 months after its launch. It was able to be restarted in January of 1963 but in late February it failed again and was not able to be placed back in service. Telstar 2 was launched a few months later in May of 1963, using radiation-resistant transistors and launched at a higher altitude to reduce the amount of time in the Van Allen radiation belts. Telstar 2 stayed in operation for 2 years. The success of the two Telstar satellites, along with other experimental satellites launched in the few years after 1962 helped paved the way for the first commercial geosynchronous communication satellite, Intelsat I in 1965. Both Telstar 1 and 2, although no longer in service, still orbit the Earth to this day.