Stories We Like: A Guide to the Comma
series of communications satellites whose successful launching, beginning in 1962, inaugurated a new age in electronic communications. The first experimental communications satellite was made in 1960 by John Robinson Pierce of Bell Telephone Laboratories in the United States, who seized the opportunity presented by the planned launching of Echo 1 (q.v.), an aluminum-coated balloon satellite. At Pierce's instigation, Echo was equipped to receive telephone signals and reflect them back to Earth. Telstar, a far more sophisticated conception, was designed to amplify a signal received from the ground and to relay it back to another ground station. Weighing only 77 kg (170 pounds), it was powered by nickel-cadmium batteries, recharged by 3,600 solar cells, and contained more than 1,000 transistors. Its heart was a traveling-wave tube capable on its own of amplifying signals 10,000 times, and far more with the aid of other components. Following Telstar's launch on July 10, 1962, a giant movable horn antenna near Andover, Maine, locked onto the satellite when its shifting orbit (apogee 5,600 km [3,500 miles]) reached an appropriate point. Minutes later the first television pictures were transmitted across the Atlantic Ocean and received, via relay stations in England and France, on European television screens. Telephone, telegraph, data, telephoto, and facsimile transmissions were also successfully made.