Fifty years ago today, the first privately funded spacecraft was launched into space. Manufactured by Bell Telephone Laboratories for AT&T, the Telstar satellite was the world’s first actively used communications satellite. Two days after the launch, the first transatlantic television signal was sent from Andover, Maine to Brittany, France. The 170 pound Telstar was powered by a state-of-the-art solar array, and was kept stabilized via “spin stabilization” (spun like a top around its vertical axis in order to keep it pointing in a certain direction). Telstar made the feasibility of communications satellites immediately evident, leading to an exponential growth in the industry. Newer satellites would orbit at higher altitudes (22,300 miles), achieving what is known as a geostationary orbit; the orbital speed of these satellites matches up exactly with the rotational velocity of earth, meaning that they remain fixed over a portion of the Earth. In just 50 years humans have managed to put several thousand man-made satellites into orbit, although only about one thousand of them are operational. As collisions between satellites become more prominent, an effort to remove “space junk” could soon become a necessity.
Feel free to make all the Death Star comparisons you want..
“That’s no moon…that’s a…communications satellite.”