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Satellites Get the Top Billing.

Back in 1974 we called the communications satellite "the single most important communications development of the past ten years", pointing out that commercial communications satellite service had developed totally within GN's first "dynamic decade". And now after two dynamic decades, the communications satellite still gets our top billing because no other single scientific development has so revolutionized world communications.

Arthur Clark, a British science fiction writer ("2001: A Space Odyessy") suggested the possibility of a communications satellite back in 1946, pointing out that if a satellite circled the world at 22,300 miles it would take exactly 24 hours to complete an orbit. Said Clarke: "It would remain fixed in the sky of a whole hemisphere and, unlike other heavenly bodies, would neither rise nor set."

It took a while for technology to implement theory, solving the problems of finding a way to keep the satellite stationary in space, developing a reliable power source on the satellite, designing adequate antennas and earth stations, and, most critical, coming up with a power source potent enough to propel a communications satellite payload into orbit 22,300 miles above the earth. But each need was met, proving once again that, in this 20th century, what the mind of man can conceive, man can achieve.

Building on the experience of Germany's Wernher von Braun and other early rocketeers, Russian and United States scientists developed ever more powerful launch vehicles. Spurred by the Soviet Union's successful launch of Sputnik I and Sputnik II in 1957, the United States entered the space age on January 31, 1958 when it launched Explorer I into orbit. Early power sources developed for satellite launch were Thor-Delta 1960), Redstone (1961), Atlas (1962), Titan (1965), and Saturn (1968).

The Bell System's important role in satellite communications experimentation began on August 12, 1960 when a Thor-Delta missile launched Echo I, the world's first passive communications Satellite . . . an inflated ten-story high balloon which was put in circular orbit around the earth about 1,000 miles up . . . and brought millions of people around the world out into the darkened countryside at night to watch this tiny pinpoint of light speed across the sky at 16,000 miles per hour.

Score, the first satellite to be used for voice communications, was launched by the United States Air Force on December 18, 1958. Score was equipped with tape recorder units that transmitted prerecorded messages back to earth on receipt of signals. The day after it was launched, a Christmas greeting to the world recorded by President Dwight Eisenhower was transmitted. Score continued to transmit for 12 days before its batteries became too weak for further use.

The roll call of early experimental communications satellites which foreshadowed commercial satellite service includes. Score (December 18, 1958), Echo I (August 12, 1960), Courier (October 4, 1960), Testar I (July 10, 1962), Relay I (December 13, 1962), Syncom I . . . which failed to operate (February 14, 1963) Telstar II (May 7, 1963), Syncom II (July 26, 1963), Relay II (January 21, 1964), Echo II (January 25, 1964), and Syncom III (August 19, 1964).

In 1962 AT&T's Telstar satellite, the first communications satellite not built by the government, carried live television signals across the Atlantic Ocean for the first time.

On August 31, 1962 President John Kennedy signed the "Communications Satellite Act of 1962" . . . and, with the issuance of a "certificate of incorporation" on February 1, 1963. Comsat was in business as a private enterprise . . . but with no money and no employees! Later that month a $5 million line of credit was extended to Comsat for start-up costs . . . and on March 10, 1963 Dr. Joseph Charyk, former Under Secretary of the Air Force, was named president. And today, after two dynamice decades, Charyk is still Comsaths CEO.

On August 20, 1964 the Intelsat Telecommunications Satellite Consortium was formed . . . a unique partnership of nations to Organize international satellite service.

Early Bird (also known as Intelsat I) became the world's first communications satellite when it was launched from Cape Kennedy (we have gone from Cape Canaveral to Cape Kennedy and back to Cape Canaveral during these two decades!) on April 6, 1965. This was the historic first step toward a worldwide network of satellites linking peoples of many nations.

Commenting on the launch, President Lyndon Johnson said: "The orbiting satellites herald a new day in world communications. For telephone, message, data and television, new pathways in the sky are being developed. They are sky trails to progress in commerce, business, trade, and in relationships and understanding among peoples. Understanding among peoples is a precondition for a better and more peaceful world. The Objectives of the United States are to provide orbital messengers, not only of words, speech, and pictures, but of thought and hope."

From there early beginnings just two decades ago, communications satellites have revolutionized world communications in three major areas: worldwide communications, largely through the Intelsat system; domestic communications, especially in the United States; and Third world communications, facilitating a quantum jump from rudimentry communications to sophisticated systems.

The role of the communications satellite in world communications is enormous. "Satellites have become the most important deliery system for long-distance communications," observes Olof Lundberg, director-general of the International Maritime Satellite Organization (Inmarsat), which presently serves more than 2,000 maritime industry customers via its global system. "The power of satellites cannot be over-estimated. When we consider the billions of people who have, at the same time, witnessed the same event . . . a walk on the moon, a World Cup Soccer game, a royal wedding . . . we realize how right McLuhan was when he spoke of a global village."

Today 109 nations are members of Intelsat (along with 20 other nations which lease Intelsat service) and there are 638 Intelsat earth stations scattered all over the world. Intelsat has launched 36 communications satellites since 1965, of which 16 are now in service.

Intelsat is already into its fifth and sixth generations of communications satellites. Five French Arianespace launches have been ordered by Intelsat for its Intelsat V series, two of which have already been successfully launched on October 19, 1983 and March 5, 1984.

The five Intelsat VI communications satellites, being built under a $700 million contract awarded to Hughes Aircraft, represent the beginning of a new generation. The Intelsat VI spacecraft will be the most massive commercial satellites ever built. They will be 39 feet tall and 12 feet in diameter. In orbit, each satellite will weigh approximately 4,000 pounds. Their solar panels will generate 2200 watts of electrical power.

In the United States especially the communications satellite has played a dramatic and basic role in domestic communications.

As early as 1966, Western Union and other began petitioning the FCC for permission to put up satellites for domestic communications. But, because of delays caused by complex legal and regulatory issues, it was not until 1970 (filing deadline: March 15, 1971) that the FCC entertained proposals for domestic satellite service on an "open skies" basis.

In the meantime, Canada upstaged the United States . . . putting its Hughes-built, NASA-launched Anik I into orbit on October 9, 1972 and Anik II up on April 20, 1973.

RCA Global Communications (and RCA Alascom) became the first United States domestic satellite carrier on using Anik II channels leased from Telesat Canada.

But it was Western Union, first to petition that FCC back in 1970 for permission to put up a domestic satellite, which actually got the first United States domestic satellite into orbit. On April 13, 1974 Westar I was launched from "The Cape" and on July 15, 1974 the first message was transmitted via Westar I.

It was when broadcasters and cable television companies began transmitting programs by satellite that domestic satellite capacity began to be fully utilized. But today voice traffic still accounts for 53 percent of domestic satellite traffic, data for 19 percent, and video for 28 percent (25 percent of that being CATV!)

Other carriers are joining RCA Americom and Westerm Union in the skies. GTE's Spacenet I, for example was successfully launched earlier this year by Arianespace from Kourou, French Guiana.

Last year the FCC took two major actions concerning satellites. It authorized 19 new domestic satellites, bringing to 38 the total number approved for operation by 1987, and it reduced the orbital spacing between 14/12-GHz (Ku-band) satellites to two degrees, from three, and said two-degree spacing would gradually be adopted for 6/4-GHz (C-band), thus making available more slots for satellites.

Late last year 22 companies . . . including Federal Express and Martin Marietta . . . asked the FCC for permission to build 58 new satellites and to launch 51 of them!

By 1990, according to an IRD forecast, domestic satellites will have over a thousand transponders in orbit and the traffic on them will be 43 percent voice, 40 percent data, and 17 percent video . . . that 17 percent being split up 65 percent cable television, 19 percent network transmission, and 16 percent direct broadcast services.

Since the first domestic communication satellite launch in 1974, service revenues have topped $700 million. Predicasts, the Cleveland-based research firm, predicts that between 1983 and 1995, communications services distributed via satellite will experience average annual gains approaching 19 percent. Revenues are projected to near $2.2 billion by 1988, and top $5.6 billion by 1995. During the same period, the number of domestic communications satellites will more than triple . . . from 22 to 69 . . . and, due to rapid technological advances, capacity will increase at an even faster rate.

In Africa, Southeast Asia, Alaska and other areas satellites are providing modern communications services now . . . bypassing entire eras of wire-stringing and cable-laying in third world and lightly populated areas."

Demand for satellite service is growing "just a little faster than supply of new transponders," according to a report from International Resource Development.

Almost 48 million North Americans will be tuning into TV programs broadcast directly from Satellites by 1994, according to a new study from Frost & Sullivan, which says that the long-term business potential of DBS is equally great, predicting that by 1994, revenues from satellite transponder rentals will reach $764 million, programming fees will reach $2.8 billion, and equipment sales will amount to over $3 billion!

Development of the communications satellite has been the most exciting communications development of the last two decades . . . and expansion of its usefulness will continue to the turn of the century and beyond.
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Copyright 1984 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:Communications News
Date:Sep 1, 1984
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