Satellite TV

On July 10th, 1962, NASA launched the first Telstar satellite. The spherical satellite—which actually looks like a model of the Death Star—was the first to relay television and telephone signals through space.

In fact, just two days after launch on July 12, 1962, the satellite transmitted a television signal across the Atlantic Ocean from Andover Earth Station in Maine to the Pleumeur-Bodou Telecom Center in Brittany, France. According to the excellent history at, the first images from the United States were of President John F. Kennedy and the first beamed over from France were of singer Yves Montand, along with clips of sporting events. Telstar 1 was also responsible for the first telephone calls—some 400 of them—sent through space.

Telstar 1 only entered an eccentric, low-earth orbit, and it was never useful for satellite television or telephone communication as we know it today. Each orbit lasted just 2.5 hours and the satellite could relay transatlantic signals for barely twenty of those minutes. Telstar lived a short life too: It operated for about a year and a half. Its onboard electronics failed in November 1962, but that short mission was enough to change the world forever.

Early History

In 1945 British science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke proposed a worldwide communications system which would function by means of three satellites equally spaced apart in earth orbit.
This was published in the October 1945 issue of the Wireless World magazine and won him the Franklin Institute’s Stuart Ballantine Medal in 1963.

The first public satellite television signals from Europe to North America were relayed via the Telstar satellite over the Atlantic Ocean on 23 July 1962, although a test broadcast had taken place almost two weeks earlier on 11 July. The signals were received and broadcast in North American and European countries and watched by over 100 million. Launched in 1962, the Relay 1 satellite was the first satellite to transmit television signals from the US to Japan. The first geosynchronous communication satellite, Syncom 2, was launched on 26 July 1963.

The world’s first commercial communications satellite, called Intelsat I and nicknamed “Early Bird”, was launched into geosynchronous orbit on April 6, 1965. The first national network of television satellites, called Orbita, was created by the Soviet Union in October 1967 and was based on the principle of using the highly elliptical Molniya satellite for rebroadcasting and delivering of television signals to ground downlink stations.

The first commercial North American satellite to carry television transmissions was Canada’s geostationary Anik 1, which was launched on 9 November 1972. ATS-6, the world’s first experimental educational and direct broadcast satellite (DBS), was launched on 30 May 1974. It transmitted at 860 MHz using wideband FM modulation and had two sound channels.
The transmissions were focused on the Indian subcontinent but experimenters were able to receive the signal in Western Europe using home constructed equipment that drew on UHF television design techniques already in use.

The first in a series of Soviet geostationary satellites to carry direct-to-home television, Ekran 1, was launched on 26 October 1976. It used a 714 MHz UHF downlink frequency so that the transmissions could be received with existing UHF television technology rather than microwave technology.