Bell Labs celebrates 50th anniversary of Telstar

by Staff Reporter | July 10th, 2012

Bell Labs, the research arm of Alcatel-Lucent will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the launch of Telstar I, the world’s first active communications satellite. The launch on July 10, 1962, in partnership with NASA, the company spokesman stated, ushered in the era of modern communications including real-time global telephone service, data communications and TV broadcasting.

The satellite could carry 600 voice calls and one black-and-white TV channel

Jeong Kim, president of Bell Labs said: “With Telstar and its successors, the world was made a smaller place, as billions of people around the world had instant access to news, sports and entertainment. The phrase “live via satellite” became part of the common vernacular. At the time, few people would have believed that 50 years later you could actually talk to your house or car, or predicted that children would play video games with other children 10,000 miles away.

“Today, as we celebrate the enormous achievement that Telstar represented, Bell Labs researchers are laying the foundation for communications and collaboration for the next 50 years,” Kim added.

Telstar’s transformation of communications

Telstar I, a sphere roughly a yard in diameter and weighing about 170 pounds, was reportedly a technology ‘tour de force,’ incorporating dozens of innovations from Bell Labs, including the transistor and solar panels, and was powered by 3,600 solar cells also invented by Bell Labs in 1954. The satellite could carry 600 voice calls and one black-and-white TV channel.

It was launched on top of a NASA Thor-Delta rocket and was placed in an elliptical orbit some 30,000 miles above the Earth’s equator, with a maximum transmission time between Europe and the United States of 20 minutes per pass. Once in orbit on July 10, the world’s first transatlantic television signal was beamed via Telstar from an earth station in Andover, Maine, USA, to a twin station in Pleumeur-Bodou, France. A signal was also received at a sister station in Goonhilly Downs, England.

Telstar achieved many firsts – it was the first active, direct-relay communications satellite, it successfully transmitting through space the first television pictures, telephone calls, high-speed data communications and fax images, and the first live transatlantic television feed. Telstar 1 went out of service on February 21, 1963, with subsequent Telstar satellites taking its place, including Telstar 18, which launched in 2008.

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