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.
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.
Sooner than you think -- probably within ten years -- satellites will make it possible
for you to watch live TV programs from foreign countries.
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.
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.
Space Timetable. Communications satellites will bring about profound changes in our everyday lives.
These pioneering accomplishments are coming soon:
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.
- 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 under construction.
- 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.
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.
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 of America.
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.
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
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 it first.
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 cycles.
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 quickly.
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 signal.
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 January 28, 2013