SP-4217 Beyond the Ionosphere




[xiii] The year 1995 marked a number of anniversaries in the development of satellite communications:


  • The thirty fifth anniversary of the launch of Echo 1, the first passive communications balloon
  • The thirtieth anniversary of the April 1965 launch of Early Bird (Intelsat I), Comsat’s first satellite, which effectively began global satellite communications
  • The twenty fifth anniversary of the launch of NATOSAT, the first satellite stationed over the Atlantic Ocean to carry military traffic between the United States and its NATO allies
  • Most notably, the fiftieth anniversary of Arthur C. Clarke’s article published in Wireless World, in which he proposed the use of geosynchronously orbiting satellites for communications relay sites1


Satellite communications are at the very heart of the notion of a “global village” and constitute continually growing, multibillion dollar, nearly ubiquitous civil and military enterprise deserving recognition. Much fanfare accompanied the first satellite television broadcasts. Yet, as the technology has grown increasingly pervasive, satellites have became an almost invisible part of the cultural landscape. Simultaneously, satellite communication has become a tremendous international commercial success, currently worth around $15 billion dollars per year; it is on the verge of expanding spectacularly in the near future, perhaps to $80 billion per year by the end of the decade. Despite the expanding network of fiber optic cables, approximately 60 percent of all overseas communications pass via satellites. More than 200 countries and territories rely on nearly 200 satellites for defense, direct broadcast, navigational, and mobile communications, not to mention data collection and faxing, via domestic, regional, and global links.

Despite the commercial success and ubiquity of satellite communications, far too little attention has been paid to its development. For the most part, scholars have focused on politics and policy studies of the period roughly from 1958 to the mid 1970s (customarily centering their discussions on the passage of the Communications Satellite Act of 1962 and Intelsat negotiations), neglecting economic and technological questions and slighting the earlier work of the 1940s and 1950s. Recently, however, some scholars have attempted to address these overlooked areas of research. I saw a need to bring the results of their research to light, while in the process stimulating others to take up research in satellite communications history. Roger Launius, NASA’s Chief Historian, and the NASA History Office staff graciously offered to help organize a symposium on the development of satellite communications titled “Beyond the Ionosphere: The Development of Satellite Communications.” Through their efforts and hard work, the symposium took place at NASA Headquarters, 17-18 October 1995, and a tour of Comsat’s research laboratories followed, thanks to John V. Evans, Vice President and Director of Comsat Laboratories. In addition, George Washington University hosted a one day celebration of government- industry cooperation prior to the NASA History Office symposium.

[xiv] That symposium served as a forum for presenting not only the research results of scholars, but also the experiences of practitioners. Indeed, on of the motives for organizing the symposium was to create a vehicle that would facilitate fruitful interaction among scholars and practitioners. A few papers not presented during the symposium have been included in this book to provide additional temporal, geographical, and thematic coverage of the symposium’s vast subject the development of satellite communications. While complete coverage of such a subject is impossible at present, these “proceedings” attempt to present a broad, but systematic survey of the evolution of satellite communications. It is hoped that this diffusion of scholarly research and practical experience will both fill gaps in the literature and provide a framework for future studies. Finally, this work will have achieve its goal of it stimulates others to take up research on satellite communications history.



Figure 1. Arthur C. Clarke during a visit to the Goddard Space Flight Center in 1976.

Figure 1. Arthur C. Clarke during a visit to the Goddard Space Flight Center in 1976. His article on “Extra-Terrestrial Relays,” published in 1945, proposed a series of geosationary satellites. Today, the geostationary orbit is known also as the Clarke orbit. (Courtesy of NASA, photo no 76-007273)


The contributions to this volume demonstrate, if nothing else, the dramatic temporal and geographic breadth and thematic richness of satellite communications history. The narrative, which has not a single strand, but many, reaches back nearly a half century to the first attempts to communicate via natural and artificial satellites; it extends from the United States and its northern and southern neighbors to the countries of Western and Eastern Europe, to India, Australia, and Asia, and to the rest of the globe. This book, then, is organized along temporal and geographical lines.


The Three Stages of Satellite Communications Development


The temporal ordering of the development of satellite communications is somewhat problematic. As the readings make clear, satellite communications developed along several evolutionary lines that variously intersected and diverged. In addition, there is the difficulty of periodizing something whose existence was only dreamed 50 years ago. This work posits three stages of satellite communications development as a suggested framework for future research and discussion, but also to provide the diverse contributions of this volume with a rational organization.

The first stage of development, extending from the 1940s into the early 1960s, was distinguished by experiments with passive artificial and natural satellites. Long before the launch of Sputnik, investigators in the United States and Europe attempted to establish long distance communications using the Moon as a passive relay satellite, while others sought to create an artificial ionosphere (Project Needles) or to use meteor ionization trails (meteor burst communications). Military and business funding and the communications needs of both shaped these experiments.

[xv] Preceding these experiments was, of course, several decades of experience with radio communications, dating back to the pioneering work of Guglielmo Marconi and others in Europe and the United States. To achieve transmission distances beyond the horizon, long-distance radio systems ricocheted signals off an ionized portion of the atmosphere called the ionosphere. The ionosphere retained this communications role until the advent of satellite communications, initially in the guise of lunar relay experiments. Thus, the development of satellite communications can be thought of as a prolonged attempt to achieve long distance communications by going “beyond the ionosphere.” The second stage of satellite communications development began in 1958, not with Sputnik, but with the launch of the first communications satellite (SCORE) and the first teletype relay by satellite (Courier 1B). Project Echo followed, launched in 1960, then came Telstar (equipped with an active repeater) and Relay (the first satellite to transmit television worldwide) in 1962, Syncom 2 (the first geosynchronous communications satellite) in 1963, the first operational commercial communications satellite (Intelat I, alias “Early Bird”) in 1965, and in 1966 the first operational military communications satellite (IDSCS). By 1966, then, the era of satellite communications was well on its way.

The placement of these satellites in orbit by the United States alone signaled that country’s dominance of the field and precipitated a series of highly political negotiations on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean that eventually led to the creation in 1964 of Intelsat (International Telecommunications Satellite organization), an international framework for the growth of satellite communications. Comsat, a corporation created by congressional passage of the Communications Satellite Act of 1962, became the key organizations instrument through which the United States influenced the making of decisions and the letting of contracts within Intelsat. This second stage of development, then, saw the creation of satellite communications institutions and the establishment of management at the international level, while a single country, the United States, dominated satellite communications technology and services.

Although that domination continued throughout the 1960s and 1970s, more and more countries acquired access to communications satellites, especially in Europe, and challenged the U.S. monopoly. The nature of satellite communications has undergone deep changes since the late 1970s to the present, the period of the third stage of satellite communications development. During this period, the U.S. lead in satellite communications technologies and services established during the 1960s and 1970s waned, while Europe and Japan invested heavily in satellite communications research and development in the hopes of harvesting economic benefits and began to pose a major technological and economic challenge to the United States. Although the United States retained a leading position in the marketplace, it lost ground in the technologies and systems that held the key to future communications markets.

More than ever before, the geopolitics of satellite communications came into its own during the third sage of development, as the small club of countries with satellite access grew into a global public enterprise, embracing first the countries of North America and Western Europe, then outward into Eastern Europe, Asia, Africa, and South America. As satellite geographic coverage increased, the types of services offered multiplied. Fixed (as opposed to mobile) satellite communications services reached maturity during the 1960s and 1970s, while mobile and broadcast services underwent explosive growth during the third stage oil satellite communications development. Growth in fixed satellite services slowed to an annual rate of about 10 percent, while broadcast and mobile communications services thrived (growing more than 20 percent annually). The International [xvi] Maritime Satellite Organization (Inmarsat) introduced maritime service; it then branched out into aircraft and mobile land services. By the mid 1990s, the fastest growing field was personal communications services via satellite using hand held transceivers similar to those used in cellular radio.


Figure 2. The telephone shown here will provide voice, fax, and data services via the Iridium satellite communications system , as well as through terrestrial cellular telephone networks (availability and compatibility permitting), beginning in 1998

Figure 2. The telephone shown here will provide voice, fax, and data services via the Iridium satellite communications system , as well as through terrestrial cellular telephone networks (availability and compatibility permitting), beginning in 1998. (Courtesy of John Windolph)


Put in geopolitical terms, though, what characterized the third stage of satellite communications development was the creation of a true international satellite system a system that was international not only because satellite coverage was global, but because of the increasing number of countries with satellite access. Indeed, the global satellite system was built country by country. The nation state was a fundamental engine of growth, serving as both the initiator and chief consumer of satellite communications services in a given geographical and political territory. This circumstance was to be expected; in most countries of the world, the state traditionally was the sole provider and major user of communications systems. Those systems embraced everything from postal services (including financial services) and telecommunications (telegraphy, telephony, and telex) to roads, bridges, and waterways (communications in 1998. understood in the broadest sense of the word).

Because the global satellite system was built largely at the state level, to understand the character of the third stage of satellite communications development, we must consider each country (each telecommunications system provider) as a separate case. The results a would mirror the complexity and heterogeneity of factors that influenced the development of satellite communications across the planet. Political and cultural factors likely would dominate these country focused case studies, as the contributions to this volume affirm, although certainly technology and economics would play roles as well.


The Organization of This Book


The three overlapping stages of satellite communications development outlined above provide the three part framework for the organization of the papers contained in this book. Part I, “Passive Origins,” treats the first stage of satellite communications development, extending from the 1940s into the early 1960s, when passive artificial and natural satellites funded by the military and private enterprise established the field. Part II, “Creating the Global, Regional, and National Systems,” addresses events that constituted the second stage of development. Early in this stage, which stretched from the 1960s into the 1970s, satellite systems began to make their appearance in the United States, while domestic and international efforts sought to bring order to this new, but chaotic, field in the form of Comsat and Intelsat.

[xvii] While the first two parts of this book involve the United States and Western Europe, Part III, “The Unflding of the World System,” explores the development of satellite communications in the remainder of the world, with a strong emphasis on Asia. Thus, while the positing of three stages of satellite communications development serves as a temporal framework, the course taken in Part III is less determined by temporal limits than by geographical expansion. The political and cultural landscape of each country takes the lead in shaping that country’s accession to satellite communications capability.

Politics and culture utilize satellite communications within the national space in one of satellite two ways: to create internal political and cultural cohesion or to create cohesion among creation nation states. Countries occupying large landmasses, such as the United States, Canada, the Soviet Union, China, or the Indian subcontinent, inaugurated domestic satellite services to foster national cohesion, and so did the smaller states of Asia, but for different reasons. On the other hand, Western Europe initiated satellite programs in the name of regional integration, and the Soviet Union created Intersputnik, its own clone of Intelsat, to interconnect its client states (including Cuba). Moreover, to bolster colonial ties in the postcolonial era, Britain and France hoped to use satellites to communicate with their former colonies.

These are but some examples of the geopolitical motivations of states in acquiring satellite communications capability. However motivated the states were, though, the question of how the satellite communications capability was utilized must be addressed as well. Therefore, Part III includes a section on satellite applications in education and medicine, in mobile communications and navigation, and in corporate business strategies.

The three temporal stages of satellite communications development, and the focus in Part III on geographical expansion linked to factors of politics, culture, and national space, represent only a tentative framework for studying the development of satellite communications. Indeed, many themes not alluded to in this analytical schema merit study. Several of these themes will become apparent after a brief review of the papers contained in this volume.


Passive Origins


To understand the circumstances leading to the emergence of global satellite communications, we first must examine the technological, economic, and political world of cable telegraphy and telephony. That is the raison d”tre for Daniel R. Hedrick’s study of the rivalry between radio and cable. Until the advent of wireless radio a century ago, all electrical communications traveled by cable. Cable and radio cohabited peacefully for a couple of decades until the arrival of shortwave radio, which was faster and cheaper than conventional longwave radio. Headrick sees a parallel between the 1920s’ rivalry of shortwave and cable and today’s rivalry between satellites and fiber optic cable. Also from the era discussed by Headrick came the international carriers of record, such as American Telephone and Telegraph (AT&T), International Telephone and Telegraph (ITT), and Western Union International, which later played a key role in shaping U.S. satellite communications.

Although natural (meteors) and artificial (Project Needles) objects served as early passive relay satellite, the era of space communications actually began with the efforts on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean to use the Moon as a passive communications satellite. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT’s) Lincoln Laboratory carried out Project Needles, formerly known as Project West Ford, on behalf of the Department of Defense [xviii] (DoD). This project involved launching nearly 500 million-hair like copper wires into orbit in 1963, thereby forming a belt of dipole antennas. Lincoln Laboratory then used this artificial ionosphere to send messages between Camp Parks, California, and Westford, Massachusetts. British radio astronomers, including Sir Martin Ryle and Sir Bernard Lovell, as well as optical astronomers, objected fervently to Project Needles, and the Council of the Royal Astronomical Society formally protested to the U.S. President’s Science Advisor.2

Meteor burst communications outlived Project West Ford and has endured to the present. The purpose of meteor burst communications is to obtain secure, point to point radio connections. It originated in the United States in radio propagation work at Stanford University tarried out initially during the early 1950s. Von R. Eshleman, an electrical engineering graduate student, laid out in his dissertation a general theory of detecting meteor ionization trails and its application in actual experiments. After graduation, he developed this method of communicating in collaboration with his Stanford colleagues and with funding from the Air Force.3 The Stanford research had nontrivial consequences. Eshleman’s dissertation has continued to provide the theoretical foundation of modern meteor burst communications a communications mode that promises to function even after a nuclear holocaust has rendered useless all normal wireless communications. The pioneering work at Stanford, as well as at the National Bureau of Standards and the Air Force’s Cambridge Research Laboratories (without leaving out Jodrell Bank in Britain), received new attention in the 1980s when the Space Defense Initiative (“Star Wars”) revitalized interest in using meteor ionization trails for jam proof communications. Nonmilitary applications of meteor burst communications also have arisen in recent years.4

Concurrent with the research on meteor burst communications and Project West Ford; civilian and military investigators on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean attempted to use the Moon as a passive communications satellite. These lunar communications efforts succeeded. As a result, they constitute the first passive satellite communications link-a place in history usually accorded to the Echo balloon experiments. Those efforts are the subject of papers by David K. van Keuren and Jon Agar.

[xix] The Moon communications relay had its origins in radar experiments conducted in 1946 by a team of investigators at the U.S. Army Signal Corps’s Evans Signal Laboratory, near Belmar, New Jersey, working under the laboratory’s director, John H. DeWitt, Jr. They successfully detected radar waves transmitted to the Moon on 10 January 1946. As early as 1940, DeWitt had failed to bounce radio signals off the Moon, to study the Earth’s atmosphere, using the transmitter of Nashville’s radio station WSM. He wrote in his notebook: “It occurred to me that it might be possible to reflect ultra short waves from the Moon. If this could be done it would open up wide possibilities for the study of the upper atmosphere. So far as I know, no one has ever sent waves off the earth and measured their return through the entire atmosphere of the earth.”5 Later, in 1946, a Hungarian physicist and director of the research laboratory of the United Incandescent Lamps and Electric Company (Tungsram), Zoltan Bay, succeeded in bouncing radar waves off the Moon. Other experimenters had preceded DeWitt and Bay, but they had failed to detect lunar radar echoes.6 The tentative, but successful trailblazing efforts of DeWitt and Bay opened up new vistas in ionospheric and communications research using radio echoes reflected off the Moon.

Private enterprise showed no lack of interest in developing a lunar communications relay. Experiments conducted at ITT’s Federal Telecommunications Laboratories, Inc., in New York City, shortly after World War II, attempted to use the Moon as a passive relay for radio telephone communications between New York and Paris. The lunar relay would allow ITT to compete with AT&T, which held a monopoly on transatlantic cable traffic. What the Federal Telecommunications Laboratories imagined, however, the Collins Radio Company in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and the National Bureau of Standards’s Central Radio Propagation Laboratory in Sterling, Virginia, accomplished on 8 November 1951, when a slowly hand keyed telegraph message was sent over the Iowa Virginia circuit several times. The message was the same sent by Samuel Morse over the first U.S. public telegraph line: “What hath God wrought?”7

Meanwhile, though, the first use of the Moon as a relay in a communications circuit had been achieved only a few days earlier by military researchers at the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL). The efforts of the NRL to use the Moon as a passive communications satellite are the subject of David van Keuren’s contribution. For the Navy, secure, reliable long distance communications were a tactical necessity, especially during the Cold War of [xx] the 1950s. Moreover, ionospheric storms had shown the vulnerability of radio transmission to natural jamming. The Navy’s project called Communication Moon Relay (also known as “Operation Moon Bounce”) sought to exploit the Moon as a high-tech communications option in the years before the launch of the first artificial satellite. Through his discussion of Operation Moon Bounce, moreover, van Keuren shows the close linkages between classified and unclassified research and development programs that existed within U.S. military laboratories during the Cold War.

Jon Agar takes up the lunar communications relay program undertaken on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean by Sir Bernard Lovell and his colleagues at the Nuffleld Radio Astronomy Laboratories at Jodrell Bank. Unlike the work at the NRL, the Jodrell Bank experiments received underwriting from private enterprise namely, Pye Telecommunications Ltd., a British electronics firm based in Cambridge. Thus, this early stage of satellite communications development not only witnessed activity on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, but interest and funding came from both military and business sources. Agar also points out the role of demonstration that is, public displays of scientific spectacle such as the bouncing of signals off the Moon in funding the construction and operation of the giant Jodrell Bank radio telescope, as well as in supporting Jodrell Bank research in general.


Creating the Global, Regional, and National Systems

The United States and Canada


In light of the NRL, Jodrell Bank, and other lunar relay tests, as well as the West Ford and meteor burst experiments, Project Echo can be understood as a turning point, rather than a starting point, in the development of satellite communications. Similar to its predecessors, Echo was a passive communications relay; however, unlike them, it was an artificial satellite. Lunar echo and meteor burst techniques used natural satellites. Although Project Needles created an artificial ionosphere, it was not placed in orbit until 1963, three years after the launch of the first Echo balloon. As a passive relay, then, Echo continued past practice, but as an artificial satellite, it symbolized the future of space communications. Part II of this volume begins with two papers on this transitional satellite communications program.

In the first paper, Donald C. Elder, drawing on research conducted for a lengthier and more detailed study8 reviews the origins of Project Echo. Echo received inheritance from the military interest in satellite communications begun with the first lunar passive relay experiments. Initial funding for Echo came from DoD’s research and development agency, the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA), as well as NASA’s predecessor, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). The Pentagon was interested in space surveillance, such as taking photographs from space, and doing so involved the principle of overflight: who owned the space above each country?

Elder also argues that Echo originated with a prophetic science fiction article written by John Robinson Pierce, the director of research at AT&T’s Bell Telephone Laboratories. Although Arthur C. Clarke first published the notion of space communications via geo-….



Figure 3. John Robinson Pierce, the former director of research at AT&T's Bell Telephone Laboratories.

Figure 3. John Robinson Pierce, the former director of research at AT&T’s Bell Telephone Laboratories. In a piece of science fiction, Pierce predicted in 1952 the potential benefits of satellite communications. A few years later, he helped realize the first artificial communications satellite, Echo. (Courtesy of NASA)


….-synchronous satellites, seven years later Pierce published in 1952 a story in Astounding Science Fiction in which he discussed the potential benefits of satellite communications. Echo came into existence, though; only after the Eisenhower administration gave its approval in 1955 to the launch of a satellite as part of the 1957 1958 International Geophysical Year (IGY). Thus, Echo ultimately involved collaboration by AT&T, NASA (as NACA’s successor), and the IGY coordinators. Elder also recounts the technical difficulties encountered in constructing a balloon appropriate for the Echo experiments-namely, one that would not fall apart before being placed in orbit.

Also significant for the future development of satellite communications is that Project Echo saw the intertwining of private enterprise and the nation’s space agency. The relationship between NASA and business was to color the future development of satellite communications. The association of NASA through the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL)- and AT&T’s Bell Telephone Laboratories is the substance of Craig B. Waff’s contribution. Continuing the Echo story, Waff focuses on the problem of target acquisition, which is a prerequisite for all satellite communications. Indeed, as the geosynchronous orbit reaches saturation, and as Iridium and other satellite communications systems create a growing demand for low and medium orbital slots, the problem of acquiring satellite targets, first encountered on Project Echo, takes on new relevance. Recalling the lunar communications tests of the 1950s, JPL and Bell personnel conducted a range of tests, including a lunar bounce experiment, to prepare for Project Echo. Taking part in Project Echo also served JPL’s new research direction, for it was a key milestone in the creation of the Deep Space Network, NASA’s worldwide space communications network.

That NASA would play a central role in the development of satellite communications was determined by its monopoly on civilian launchers. Daniel R. Glover reviews NASA’s experimental communications satellite program from the agency’s founding to the present.

[xxii] NASA’s launcher monopoly assured its place on Project Echo, as well as AT&T’s Telstar, a system of communications satellites to be placed in polar and equatorial orbits. Telstar, similar to Echo, involved NASA and AT&T going forward in tandem in space communications. For launch, tracking, and telemetry services on Telstar, AT&T paid NASA $6 million. For its part, AT&T hoped to use Telstar to extend into space its historical monopoly on American wire and transatlantic cable traffic.

After reviewing NASA’s roles in Project Relay and Syncom, Glover discusses NASA’s generation of experimental communication satellites, known as the Applications Technology Satellite (ATS) series. NASA’s search for ATS series funding highlighted the ongoing relationship between the space agency and private enterprise. This time, though, the business was not AT&T, but the Communications Satellite Corporation (better known as Comsat). Congress objected to NASA’s continuation of Syncom(built by Hughes) out of fear that the space agency was developing technology for the benefit of a single private company, namely Comsat. As Glover explains, NASA responded by broadening the project’s objectives to include meteorology and other scientific experiments and renaming it the ATS series. Years later, in 1973, the ATS series came to a halt, when Congress canceled it as a budget reduction measure, so the commercial satellite communications industry, not NASA., would have to support its own research and development. When NASA resumed its experimental communications satellite program with the launch of the Advanced Communications Technology Satellite (ACTS) in September 1993, the space agency made it available to industry, universities, and other government agencies to conduct experiments. ACTS emerged only after a long and tortuous debate carried on throughout the 1980s by Congress and the White House over whether NASA should develop technology for the U.S. satellite communications industry.

In the background of that debate, as well as throughout the history of satellite communications in the United States, was the role of the military. After NASA and private enterprise, the military constitutes a third strand in the development of U.S. satellite communications. As we have seen, DoD supported space communications research and development as early as the 1940s and 1950s. Later, the Pentagon influenced NASA to include in its ATS series technology for gravity gradient stabilization (on ATS 2, AFS 4, and ATS 5) and for medium altitude orbits (ATS 2). These are only two examples drawn from. along history of development outlined by David N. Spires and Rick W. Sturdevant in their paper. Focusing on Air Force satellite communications from the 1960s to the present, these two writers show that the Air Force, as the chief provider of military launch vehicles, supporting infrastructure, and communications satellites, confronted a variety of interrelated technical, political, and institutional problems Although Air Force engineers often surpassed their commercial counterparts in the design of communications satellites, Spires and Sturdevant point out that the special endurance requirements of military communications satellites drove their costs upward even as commercial costs dropped. The high cost of military communications satellites persuaded Congress to pressure the Pentagon to cut costs and to consider using commercial satellite systems.

Although the military often is portrayed as a unified entity, Spires and Sturdevant demonstrate its organizational disunity, at least for the case of satellite communications. Within DoD, moreover, the fractured, complicated system of satellite communications management has impeded the integration of military satellite communications planning and activities across the three services, as well as the transition of new technology from the research and development laboratory to the operational satellite.

[xxiii] A key military satellite communications research facility was MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory, which oversaw Project West Ford. By 1963, when Project West Ford was launched, Lincoln Laboratory had established a reputation as a major defense research laboratory and as a vital center for state of the art electronics and computer research. Heir to MIT’s Radiation Laboratory, which had been at the heart of U.S. radar research and development during World War II, Lincoln Laboratory was underwritten jointly by the three armed services. The Air Force provided most of the funding, though. The laboratory designed and developed what became known as SAGE (Semi Automatic Ground Environment), a digital, integrated computerized North American network of air defense. SAGE involved a diversity of applied research in digital computing and data processing, long range radar, and digital communications. Lincoln Laboratory also worked on the Distant Early Warning (DEW) Line, a network of radome enclosed radars intended to search for incoming enemy aircraft, and its successor, the Ballistic Missile Early Warning System (BMEWS).

William W. Ward and Franklin W. Floyd, drawing on their personal experiences, describe the military satellite communications development work that took place at Lincoln Laboratory under their direction primarily Project Needles and the Lincoln Experimental Satellite (LES) series. In particular, they focus on the development and testing of communications satellite hardware and electronics. Scholarly studies of satellite communications have tended to concentrate on politics and policy studies, in contrast to the conspicuous emphasis on technology offered by Ward and Floyd.

Through the Lincoln Laboratory’s research and development work described by Ward and Floyd, as well as the efforts outlined by Spires and Sturdevant, the military sought to create a system of space communications. The military is only, one thread of the story of the development of U.S. satellite communications, however. The second thread is the independent, though at times intertwining, development of satellite communications by NASA. Yet a third thread is woven through this strange narrative fabric: private enterprise. Businesses interacted with the military side of satellite communications, as well as with NASA, but as seen in the case of lunar relay communications, private enterprise took an active interest in and funded tests of space communications technologies as early as the 1950s.

The importance of private enterprise in the development of satellite communications is the core of David J. Whalen’s offering. Conventional wisdom, Whalen argues, holds that the government developed satellite communications technology because industry was either unwilling or unable to face the high costs and high risks of research and development. Before the launch of Echo in 1960, private industry notably AT&T and ITT–invested substantial amounts in satellite communications research and development and expected to reap a profit. AT&T’s participation in Project Echo was a further expression of its commitment to and competence in satellite communications. AT&T not a government laboratory had made that possible.

The government curtailed AT&T’s involvement in the development of satellite communications, according to Whalen, largely out of fear that AT&T would extend its terrestrial telecommunications monopoly into space. The Kennedy administration, while not against private industry, stood firmly against AT&T enjoying a monopoly of space communications. In some ways, this moment marked the beginning of the end of AT&T’s monopoly. As Whalen so convincingly argues, the problem was not an industry unwilling or unable to face the costs and risks of developing satellite communications systems, but the efforts of the government (including NASA) to restrain AT&T from extending its monopoly into space.




Figure 4. The U.S.S. Kingsport carrying the first shipboard satellite communications station into the Pacific in 1964.

Figure 4. The U.S.S. Kingsport carrying the first shipboard satellite communications station into the Pacific in 1964. Previously, this satellite station had served in the Atlantic and the Mediterranean for military communications via Syncom. (Courtesy of NASA)


NASA checked the AT&T monopoly by awarding contracts to RCA and Hughes not AT&T to build Relay and Syncom, respectively. Congress and the White House reaffirmed their belief in private enterprise by establishing a private corporation (Comsat) through the Communications Satellite Act signed by President Kennedy in August 1962. Nonetheless, the intent behind the creation of Comsat was to ensure that any existing telecommunications company could not establish a monopoly on space communications, although the new law did grant Comsat a monopoly on satellite communications.

Comsat’s monopoly did cot come to an end until the June 1972 decision by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that opened up domestic satellite communications. Subsequently, Western Union launched WESTAR in 1973, and Comsat General launched COMSTAR in 1975. The 1980s saw the launching of several hundred transponders for domestic uses by ASC (American Satellite Company), FORDSAT (Ford Aerospace), GALAXY (Hughes), GSTAR (GTE), SPACENET (GTE Space net), SBS (Satellite Business Systems), and Telstar (AT&T).

[xxv] Whalen’s contribution also considers Comsat’s selection of the ultimate satellite orbit for the single global satellite communications system that the firm was entrusted with creating. The choice was neither simple nor easy. AT&T and DoD favored the tried and true medium altitude satellite, while others including NASA, favored geosynchronous satellites. Tentatively, Comsat selected the geosynchronous Early Bird satellite, launched in March 1965, and only decided on the geosynchronous orbit after additional study contracts and satellite design studies.

For the most part, however, Whalen’s paper sketches the role of private enterprise in U.S. satellite communications development. It is a thread of development, as with that of the military or NASA that sometimes intertwines with the other threads of development, but often develops on its own. The development of satellite communications thus has not one unified past, but rather it. reflects the sometimes connected and sometimes separate relationships among those three threads.




These three threads, however, illuminate the development of satellite communications only in the United States. Part II, therefore, contains a second section, which addresses the development of European satellite communications and the relationship between U.S. and European satellite communications. The view of European satellite communications presented by these contributions echoes the multifaceted nature of U.S. satellite ‘communications development.

Western Europe necessarily followed a different evolutionary pattern, shaped by each country’s distinct culture, politics, and economy, as well as by the move toward European integration that started after World War II. Western European nations created collective organizations to achieve a variety of ends. The Council of Europe, created in 1949 with headquarters in Strasbourg, France, provided member states a political organization, while the European Coal and Steel Community, created in 1952, stimulated the production of coal and steel by reducing trade barriers. The European Atomic Energy Pacific Community (known as Euratom) promoted joint exploitation of the peaceful uses of atomic energy, and the European Economic Community (known as the Common Market), created in 1957, sought to eliminate all economic barriers among member states. Despite the move toward European integration, the diversity, and passion of European national politics cannot be overlooked.

Although Europe delayed launching its own satellite communications program, some European countries participated in U.S. efforts. For example, investigators at France’s national telecommunications research center, the Centre National d’Etudes des Télécommunications, received signals transmitted from AT&T’s Holmdel facility that bounced off Echo in August 1960.9 Symphonie, a bilateral Franco German communications satellite, preceded the 1978 launch of the first European communications satellite; decision by the Federal the Orbiting Test Satellite. By then, however, Canada and several other countries had satellite capacity, too.

[xxvi] Two key aspects of the development of satellite communications in Europe were the drive toward European integration and cooperation with the United States. The nature and extent of that cooperation was not at all obvious to all European governments, especially the French. Should a united Europe develop its own satellite launchers? Should Europe institute its own system of satellite communications? The answers to those questions were undeniably and necessarily coupled to the character of cooperation with the United States. As the 1960s began, the United States held a monopoly on satellite communications monopoly that would not ease possibly until the next decade. What AT&T was to U.S. communications, the United States was to European -and global telecommunications.

A further complication was the creation of a single global satellite communications system, a goal the United States touted. In any unified global system, the United States would have a dominant place because of its lead position in the field and its monopoly on launch vehicles. In negotiating with the United States over the creation of a global satellite communications system, unity served European interests well. The countries of Western Europe decided to negotiate as a bloc, not individually, as had been the practice in past telecommunications negotiations.

The European side of satellite communications development starts with a paper by Arturo Russo on the beginnings of the European effort to launch a communications satellite. Referring to research performed for the European Space Agency (ESA) history project with colleagues John Krige and Lorenza Sebesta, Russo attempts to answer the question: Why did it take such a long time to develop a European communications satellite program?

He finds two major factors that limited Europe’s ability to act. The first was the institutional framework. Getting the two multinational European space organizations the European Space Research Organization (ESRO) and the European Launcher Development Organization (ELDO) involved in satellite communications implied a change in their purpose and programs’, which was a difficult task. Strong disagreements existed among ELDO member states, and a European satellite communications effort required a comprehensive international policy framework in which national economic interests and political goals could be satisfied. The second factor was the question of users namely, the state telecommunications administrations. While interested in supporting research and development studies of satellite communications, these potential users worried about the economic prospects of a European satellite system. The solution, Russo points out, came in the form of two so called package deals a, pair of sweeping agreements that aimed to satisfy national interests and transformed ESRO’s mission.

In none of the studies conducted did the economics of the European satellite communications program demonstrate its potential to yield revenues in excess of costs. Russo argues that the ultimate justification for the program’s approval was a handful of noneconomic factors, namely:


(1) the assertion of Europe’s political and technological independence from the two superpowers, which was a key element particularly of the French government’s space policy; (2) the recognition of the aerospace sector as strategically important for the development f advanced industrial technology; (3,) the need to qualify European industry for competitive participation in Intelsat procurement contracts; (4,) the understanding that the Orbiting Test Satellite and European Communication Satellite programs were the heart of an evolutionary program leading to other application fields, such as aeronautical and maritime [xxvii] telecommunications, direct television broadcasting, and Earth observation; (5) the search for autonomy of political and cultural expression (as the influential French newspaper Le Monde declared in 1967: “The transmission of radio and television programs is one of most supple and diversified means to assure a presence and influence abroad”); and (6) the those questions were general drive toward European economic and technical integration.” 10


Moreover, a key part of the European story was the negative role played by the various at AT&T was to U.S. national postal and telecommunications administrations. Working through the European Telecommunications Satellite Committee (known by its French acronym CETS), these administrations opposed the placement of a communications satellite over Europe, communications sys although not above the Atlantic Ocean, on economic grounds: the system would not nearly pay for itself. ESRO then turned to the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), a frustrated customer of the national postal and telecommunications administrations; as operator of the Eurovision television network, the EBU depended on its network of terrestrial cables. When the EBU proposed to replace that terrestrial network with a European satellite, the deadlock created by the national postal and telecommunications administrations finally ended.11

Arturo Lorenza Sebesta, also with the European Space Agency history project, examines the impact that the availability of U.S. launchers had on the development of European satellite communications. Tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union, as well as between the United States arid France, played a role, as well as the commonly held belief that the technological research necessary for the development of a European launcher would stimulate economic growth. She pays close attention to the influence of U.S. policy on the European nations’ decision to design and build their own launchers and particularly to organizations the shifting U.S. position on the offering of launcher technology and facilities over time.

A number of factors shaping the development of satellite communications in Europe emerge from Sebesta’s perceptive study. She demonstrates the interweaving of U.S. and European satellite communications policy. She also discusses how the United States could use its commanding position to dominate the negotiations that led to the creation of (the umbrella organization for the unified global satellite communications system) and to garner for U.S. industry, as a consequence of that commanding position, the largest share of Intelsat contracts. The United States sought to impose its will on Europe through these negotiations, especially the clause relating to the creation of regional satellite systems and the geographical definition of the European broadcast space. However; the U.S. position was not based solely on its technological and industrial lead; it was closely associated with security concerns, specifically the transfer of sensitive technology and generally the NATO alliance. Sebesta sheds light, too, on some of the motives behind. NASA’s attempts to foster cooperation with its European partners, such as the desire to channel funding away from military ends and toward peaceful uses of space. In turn, for example, West Germany hoped to acquire military related technologies denied it by treaties dating from the end of World War II.

[xxviii] Sebesta points cut that not only was there discordance over a collective satellite communications policy among Western European states, but that within those states discord reined. At the European level, France and Britain were at odds. France favored an independent European launcher and had taken a number of steps to establish a force de frappe separate from the nuclear umbrella held out by the United States through the NATO alliance. Nonetheless, not everybody in France was in favor of a European launcher.

In contrast to the French position, the British generally favored collaborating with the United States and relying on U.S. launch services. As with France, Britain was not unified on satellite communications policy. British disunity is the subject of Nigel Wright’s contribution. Scholars, he argues, have tended to portray Britain as an obstructionist player, holding up satellite communications development to protect its substantial investment in underwater telegraph and telephone cables, and they have concentrated on the role of the British Post Office to the exclusion of other government offices. Here, Wright focuses on the part played by the Foreign Office to illuminate the spectrum of views that shaped the British position on satellite communications vis-à-vis Europe and the United States.

While British officials were aware of the potential threat that a U.S. satellite system posed for British cable interests, they did not act “automatically” to frustrate early satellite development. Rather, they viewed satellites and cable playing complementary roles, as Daniel Headrick notes in the case of cables and radio. Moreover, according to Wright, many people both in and out of British government favored construction of an independent satellite system in collaboration with Europe and the British Commonwealth. The Foreign Office, however, supported cooperation with the United States for diplomatic reasons, mainly to preserve good relations with that country. The Ministry of Aviation, on the other hand, backed an independent satellite system a position arising from that ministry’s role as Britain’s voice in ELDO. The position of the British Post Office derived chiefly from its interaction with the membership of the Commonwealth Telecommunications Partnership. The Post Office at first favored an independent Commonwealth European satellite system, believing that a satellite system controlled by the United States (and serving mainly the highly profitable transatlantic telecommunications routes) would not meet Commonwealth needs. Thus, Wright manages a convincing argument that opposes the established historiography namely, that with the exception of the Foreign Office, British governmental agencies early on preferred a satellite system independent of the United States.

The lion’s share of deliberations between Western Europe and the United States over satellite communications took place within the framework, of negotiations over the creation of a unified global satellite communications system what eventually came to be called Intelsat. In 1972, Jonathan F. Galloway examined those negotiations from a policy studies perspective, shortly after their resolution in the Intelsat Definitive Agreements signed in May 1971.12 1971 . He returns a quarter century later, in this volume, to reconsider those events and his conclusions.

Galloway finds that his original themes “remain very relevant, despite the more colorful and even dramatic new vocabulary introduced by the likes of Newt Gingrich, the Tofflers, and Kenichi Ohmnae.” These themes are as follows:


  • [xxix] Revolutionary or evolutionary technological change
  • The breakdown of barriers between making and understanding foreign and domestic policy
  • Models of rationality in policy making appropriate to changing contexts


Seeking to understand the decision making process, Galloway considers the mixture of cooperation, competition, and conflict manifested by the Intelsat negotiations as eluding understanding at the global or comprehensive level, because they operated in a way that was not unified was “pragmatic, incremental, and muddled” Indeed, he asserts, ‘The world is not a tidy place. There is chaos, and at the edge of chaos one new world order is not emerging. So it was in the formative period of satellite communications.”13

As for the development of satellite communications, Galloway takes the reader through the maze of agencies responsible for establishing U.S. satellite communications policy that shaped for determining the country’s bargaining position vis-à-vis the Intelsat negotiations. While Russo, Sebesta, and Wright present the European rationale, Galloway presents that of the United States. A major obstacle in those negotiations was the U.S. penchant for privately owned telecommunications monopolies. If a private company, such as Comsat, were to enter into negotiations with foreign governments over satellite communications policy, what would be the role of government? How would the State Department, the Pentagon the FCC participates in those negotiations? Galloway explores these questions and shows how they influenced U.S. satellite communications discussions with Europe. Traditionally, European state telecommunications administrations had contracted on a bilateral basis with AT&T, not the U.S. government. With the creation of Comsat, AT&T was out of the negotiating picture, but Europeans still expected to negotiate with a private business. Although the U.S. military had been developing passive space communications techniques since the 1950s, DoD use of the civilian satellite system was resolved in 1961 However, according to Galloway, this issue arose again on more than one occasion. In the end, DoD bought satellite access from Comsat. As with the Intelsat negotiations, the Pentagon’s use of civilian satellites involved both domestic and foreign considerations. In a final section, Galloway discusses Soviet satellite communications and the diplomatic motives behind the creation of an Intelsat clone known as Intersputnik. In this context, the theme of state versus business interests echoes, as the Soviet Union proposed a world satellite system that only states, not private entities such as Comsat, could join. This position was equally an expression of Cold War diplomacy.


The Unfolding of the World System

Geography, Politics, and Culture


Part III contains the themes of the third stage of satellite communications development and consists of two sections. The first addresses the geographical growth of satellite communications, while the second considers satellite applications. By examining the growth of satellite communications in North America (Canada and Cuba) and Asia (China, India, and Indonesia), the first section draws attention to the influence of geography, politics, [xxx] and culture on satellite communications development in those regions. Above all else, though, the papers implicitly highlight the creation of the global satellite system country by country.

Among the first countries to establish domestic satellite communications systems were those that span vast distances, such as the United States, Canada, the Soviet Union, China, and India. Such vast nation states require a unified national telecommunications network, and satellites serve that need efficiently and effectively. Bert C. Blevis, drawing on his personal experience in the field, outlines the case of Canada. Appropriately, he begins with the ionospheric research that preceded satellite communications efforts; early Canadian satellites continued that research tradition. As in the United States, Canadian investigators considered lunar and meteor communications techniques. That work merits additional exploration by scholars to provide a greater understanding of the origins of satellite communications.

Political decisions were important in the shaping of Canada’s satellite communications program. As Blevis notes, Canada did not follow the U.S. or European lead in developing its own launcher, relying instead on those of NASA and ESA. The government was not unaware of the economic benefits of supporting a space program, however. In 1963, the Canadian government decided to transfer space technology from the Defense Research Telecommunications Establishment to industry. Also, after the 1967 Chapman report recommended encouraging the Canadian space industry; the Communications Technology Satellite program sought to improve Canada’s satellite and spacecraft design and manufacturing capability. While Blevis addresses geographical and political questions in his overview of Canadian satellite communications development, the impact of satellites on Canadian culture remains for a future study. The apparent strength of the resurgent French separatist movement in Quebec argues against the notion that satellites tend to homogenize national cultures.

From Canada we turn to China another country that occupies a large landmass, not to mention a fourth of the world’s population. Zhu Yilin, a member of the Chinese Academy of Space Technology, provides an overview of satellite communications development in that country. Geography was a key factor, but, unlike the United States and Canada, China lacked an extensive national telecommunications system until the inauguration of its satellite program. The cultural and political impact of satellites in China, therefore, has been all the more dramatic. Satellite communications served to establish a national educational television network, provided long distance telecommunications, and assisted in the modernization of the country’s banking system. The use of nationwide television broadcasts to foster political unity and to insert the Beijing political line into each and every village cannot be overlooked.

Yet another geographically large country to establish a domestic satellite communications system is India. Participation in the Satellite Instructional Television Experiment (SITE), carried out in cooperation with NASA, and India’s first communications satellite, INSAT, form the heart of the contribution by Raman Srinivasan. Drawing from research carried out for his doctoral dissertation, Srinivasan shows how India’s earliest experiences with satellite communications served as a fulcrum for social and cultural change and economic development during a critical period in that country’s evolution.

[xxxi] SITE was a massive experiment in social engineering. It involved placing televisions in 5,000 remote villages, some of which lacked electricity. One of the major challenges to making the experiment work was to create six hours of programming every day. SITE also proved vital in inculcating technical and managerial expertise necessary for India to create its own domestic satellite system, known as INSAT. This system was geared to serve rural India; a weather system was added specifically to aid farmers.

Brian Shoesmith draws on his research as a media scholar to discuss India and China, as well as Indonesia, and highlights the influence of culture and politics in the Asian “mediascape.” The significance of satellites is their ability to undermine state control of media and to force governments to rethink their broadcasting and communications policies. Because Asian satellites have broad footprints, sometimes covering the entire Eurasian land mass, political boundaries and geographical hindrances are surmounted.

The development of satellite communications in Asia, according to Shoesmith, took place in three stages, all of which are linked to the dominant trends in the growth of television on the continent. In the first stage, from 1962 to the 1980s, satellites were perceived as a tool of social engineering in developing economies. Stage two spans the late 1980s and was characterized by the response of Asian governments to the end of the Cold War. The third stage, 1991 to the present, is distinguished by the dominance of commercial -considerations.

Shoesmith makes some cogent observations. Rather than killing off old media technologies, such as newspapers, satellites have actually reinforced them, especially the vernacular press. Satellites, moreover, have not promoted the homogenization or standardization supposedly inherent in the technology. In addition, Shoesmith notes that the growth of satellite related applications in Asia has resulted from a linking of Western technology arid local capital.

The introduction of satellite communications into Canada, China, and India served an important internal need by providing telecommunications services efficiently and effectively over a vast expanse of territory. Satellite communications also linked countries to each other. Maintaining communications links with the rest of the world is most critical for island nations. The case of Cuba illustrates this geopolitical requirement, as well as some of the cultural and political aspects of satellite communications in a country that has a been a member of both the Intersputnik and Intelsat organizations.

José Altshuler, drawing on his extended research into the history of electricity and his participation in the Cuban space program, begins with some useful background on long-distance shortwave radio communications and an ingenuous attempt to relay the television broadcast of the World Series baseball games to Cuba via an airplane. Radio also linked Cuba to Eastern Europe and other countries before satellites became available. The creation of the Soviet satellite system, separate from that controlled by Intelsat, provided Cuba its first experience with satellite communications, beginning in 1973. However, Intersputnik provided only limited coverage until the replacement of the Molniya series with the geostationary Horizont and Stationar satellites.

The Molniya satellites had been placed in a highly elliptical orbit, the so called Molniya A orbit, which made them visible over a wide area of Soviet territories for about eight hours a day. The Molniya A orbit was better suited for coverage of the Soviet Union than a [xxxii] geostationary orbit. It covered areas geostationary satellites could not serve, and launches from high latitudes more easily entered this orbit than a geostationary orbit over the equator. The Molniya satellites were used for telephone and fax services and to distribute television programs from a central point near Moscow. During the 10 years following the launch of Molniya I, twenty nine more were placed in orbit.

Historian Roberto Diaz Martin continues Altshuler’s discussion of Cuban satellite communications. A technological difficulty that arose as a consequence of Cuba joining the socialist bloc was the switch from NTSC to SECAM. Cuban television, which dated from the 1950s, used the NTSC broadcast standard and operated on 110 volts at 60 hertz, while SECAM receivers required 220 volts at 50 hertz, the European standard, In the end, geographical and cultural factors decided in favor of NTSC, the standard used by most Caribbean countries. Using SECAM would have isolated Cuba from its neighbors. Diaz-Martin also relates how Cuba joined Intelsat, as well as some of the cultural uses (program exchanges) of satellite communications.




Departing from the preceding discussions of the development of satellite communications systems, the second section of Part III examines satellite applications that is, the ends to which people use the communications capability made available by satellites. This topic is sufficiently broad in scope as to merit its own volume. However, we present three case studies of satellite applications in the fields of education, medicine, and mobile communications, as well as their integration into corporate strategy.

Joseph N. Pelton discusses Project SHARE (Satellites for Health and Rural Education), which he conceived as Intelsat’s director of strategic policy to commemorate the organization’s twentieth birthday. The program makes free satellite capacity available to provide health and educational services to rural and remote areas. Project SHARE provided a fresh framework for international cooperation and engendered dozens of projects that affected nearly 100 countries and millions of people. Currently, fifty countries participate in Project SHARE.

Pelton concludes that the most successful programs were those designed and developed by the participating country. The technology that made the program succeed, especially in the rural areas where it was most needed, opposes the dictum that “big is beautiful.” Small, low cost ground pieces of equipment not the large ground stations and heavy streams of traffic that typify satellite communications were best suited to delivering educational arid medical services to rural and remote districts. This technology was part of a larger satellite communications “revolution” that saw a number of new services and ground technologies era emerge.

Among the satellite applications perceived as new is mobile communications. Edward J. Martin draws on his personal experience in this field to discuss the development of mobile satellite communications from the 1950s to the present. He begins with lunar relay communications and Project West Ford. Just as an airplane served to relay the World Series between Miami and, one of the earliest tests of mobile communication involved the use of an airplane.

[xxxiii] Martin relates the arduous struggle to create an aircraft to satellite navigation and communications system, called Aerosat, between 1963 and 1975. Several factors frustrated and eventually doomed attempts to bring Aerosat to life:


  • The lack of a unified policy within the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)
  • European opposition to the prospect of U.S. domination in another satellite application
  • Disagreement on which frequency band to use
  • The failure to include the airlines in the process


If the airline industry could not realize a satellite system, the maritime trade was more successful, perhaps because the effort began in 1966 under the aegis of the United Nations’ International Maritime Consultative Organization, which included delegates from the world’s major seafaring countries. The result was Inmarsat (International Maritime Satellite Organization later the word “Mobile” would be substituted for “Maritime”). After relating the initial problems faced by Inmarsat, Martin considers the organization’s extension into aeronautical services.

In the last paper, MCI’s historian, Adam L. Gruen, examines the use of communication satellites by that U.S. telecommunications firm. Although not a profitable venture, the company’s use of satellites was not a mistake; it was a necessary part of a greater and deliberate business scheme. Indeed, MCI knew that it was acquiring a money losing enterprise (Satellite Business Systems) Scholars who consider only the immediate profitability of corporate strategies should take heed.


Figure 5. Artist's sketch of how NASA ATS-E satellite, scheduled for launch in 1969, was to provide communications for transatlantic commercial air traffic.

Figure 5. Artist’s sketch of how NASA ATS-E satellite, scheduled for launch in 1969, was to provide communications for transatlantic commercial air traffic. (Courtesy of NASA, photo no. 69-H-1398)


Given life by a court decision, MCI needed to build a telecommunications network quickly. Here, we might see a parallel with China, which acquired a Artist’s sketch of how the NASA nationwide telecommunications system, almost instantaneously by launching a communications satellite. MCI management considered two technologies, satellites and fiber optics, and opted for both. Gruen argues that MCI’s purchase of Satellite Business Systems has to be understood within the context of 1980s business practices, ï when takeovers, corporate raiders, junk bonds, and pension plundering were common. To defend itself against a hostile takeover, MCI acquired “shark repellent” in the form of a stock sale to IBM. MCI’s purchase of Satellite Business Systems, partly owned by IBM, gave it access to that firm’s business customers. As Gruen concludes, “One has to be willing to expand one’s definition of profitability from the narrow frame of return on investment to the bigger picture,”14

[xxxiv] Gruen’s paper also echoes the cable versus radio theme addressed by Headrick, although with MCI, as with Nigel Wright’s discussion of British satellite communications, it was a matter of cables versus satellites. The two technologies today have found their niche based on the advantages of each over the other. Whereas cables are best suited to point to point circuits, satellites provide point to multiple point service. Also, the cost of cable circuits increases with distance, while satellite circuit costs are independent of distance between ground terminals. Satellites, too, can ford physical and political barriers that impede cable placement, and satellites are uniquely suited to mobile communications.




The contributions to this volume do not begin to exhaust the subject of satellite communications development; that would be impossible given the present state of research.

Nonetheless, the papers that follow present a broad, but systematic survey of the development of satellite communications. It is hoped that this book will stimulate readers to undertake fresh research, advancing knowledge in this field and leading eventually to the writing of a synthetic work. In addition, one can hope that a beneficial interaction between scholars and practitioners will be part of that synthetic work.

Appended to this volume are two aids for understanding the development of satellite communications. One is a chronology of key events synthesized from timelines submitted by this book’s contributors, as well as from selected works on the subject. The other is a list of suggested additional readings on the development of satellite communications. Those wishing complete technical details on satellites, or a list of satellites currently in service, should consult Jayne’s or NASA’s Satellite Situation Report, published by the Goddard Space Flight Center.



1. Arthur C. Clarke, “Extra Terrestrial Relays: Can Rocket Stations Give World Wide Radio Coverage?,” Wireless World 51 (October 1945): 305-08. Serial issues are identified only when each issue is paginated separately; otherwise, only the volume number and year of publication are provided.

2. Overhage to Ferguson, 26 June 1963, 1/24/AC 134, MIT Archives; Overhage and Radford, ‘The Lincoln Laboratory West Ford Program: An Historical Perspective,” Proceedings of the IEEE 52 (1964): 452-54; “Project West Ford Releases and Reports,” folder, Lincoln Laboratory Library Archives. Much of Volume 52 of the Proceedings of the ITEE addresses exclusively Project West Ford. On the antagonism of radio astronomers to Project Needles, see Bernard Lovell, Astronomer by Chance (New York: Basic Books, 1990), pp. 331 34; Martin Ryle and Bernard Lovell “Interference to Radio Astronomy from Belts of Orbiting Dipoles (Needles),” Quarterly Journal of the Royal Astronomy Society 3 (1962): 100-08; D,E. Blackwell and R. Wilson, “Interference to Optical Astronomy from Belts of Orbiting Dipoles (Needles),” ibid., pp. 109-17; Hermann Bondi, “The West Ford Project,” ibid., p. 99.

3. Von R. Eshleman, interview with Andrew Butrica, 9 May 1994, Stanford University, JPL Archives; Von R. Eshleman, “The Mechanism of Radio Reflections from Meteoric Ionization,” Ph.D. diss., Stanford University 1952; Von R. Eshleman, The Mechanism of Radio Reflections from Meteoric Ionization, Technical Report No. 49 (Stanford, CA: Stanford Electronics Research Laboratory, 15 July 1952), pp. ii-iii, 3; Laurence A. Manning, “Meteoric Radio Echoes,” Transactions of the Institute of Radio Engineers 2 (1954): 82-90; Laurence A. Manning and Von R. Eshleman, ‘Meteors in the Ionosphere,” Proceedings of the Institute of Radio Engineers 47 (1959): 186 199.

4. Robert Desourdis, telephone conversation, 22 September 1994; Donald Spector, telephone conversation, 22 September 1994; Donald L. Schilling ed., Meteor Burst Communications: Theory and Practice (New York: John Wiley an Sons, 1993); Jacob Z. Schanker, Meteor Burst Communications (Boston: Artech House, 19t0). On the civilian use of meteor burst communications, see Henry S. Santeford, Meteor Burst Communication System: Alaska Winter Field Test Program (Silver Spring, MD: U.S. Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Weather Service, Office of Hydrology, 1976).

5. DeWitt notebook, 21 May 1940, and DeWitt biographical sketch, HL Diana 46 (04), Historical Archives, U.S. Army Communications Electronics Command, Ft. Monmouth, NJ.

6. Among those were Thomas Gold, Von R. Eshleman, and A.C. Bernard Lovell. Gold, a retired Cornell University professor of astronomy, claims to have proposed a lunar radar experiment to the British Admiralty during World War II; Eshleman, a Stanford University professor of electrical engineering, unsuccessfully attempted a lunar radar experiment aboard the U.S.S. Missouri in 1946, while returning from the war; and Lovell proposed a lunar bounce experiment in a paper of May 1946. Thomas Gold, interview with Andrew Butrica, Ithaca, NY, 14 December 1993; Von R. Eshleman, interview with Butrica, Caltech, 9 May 1994;, Bernard Lovell, “Astronomer by Chance,” manuscript, February 1988, p. 183, personal papers, Sir Bernard Lovell.

7. D.D.Grieg, S. Metzger, and R. Waer, “Considerations of Moon Relay Communication,” Proceedings of the IRE 36 (May 1948): 652 63; “Via the Moon: Relay Station to Transoceanic Communication,” Newsweek 27 (11 February 1946): 64; Peter G. Sulzer, G. Franklin Montgomery, and Irvin H. Gerks, “A U H.F Moon Relay,” Proceedings of the IRE 4O (1952): 361. A few years later, three amateur radio operators, “hams” who enjoyed detecting long distance; transmissions (DXing), succeeded in bouncing 144 megahertz radio waves off the Moon on 23 and 27 January 1953. E.P.T., “Lunar DX on 144 Mc!,” QST 37 (1953): 11-12, 116. Their success sparked an ongoing ham interest in lunar DXing, which continues today in the form of contests to detect lunar radio echoes the 1950s. Moreover, ionospheric storms had shown the vulnerability of radio transmissions to natural jamming. The Navy’s project called Communication Moon Relay (also known as “Operation Moon Bounce”) sought to exploit the Moon as a high tech communications option in the years before the launch of the first artificial satellite. Through his discussion of Operation Moon Bounce, moreover, van Keuren shows the close linkages between classified and unclassified research and development programs that existed within U.S. military laboratories during the Cold War.

8. Donald C. Elder, Out From Behind the Eight Ball: A History of Project Echo, AAS History Series, Vol. 16 (San Diego: American Astronautical Society, 1995).

9. Jean P.E Voge, “Telecommunications spatiales et transmissions a grande distance par satellites artificiels,” L’IndustrieNationale 13 (1961):1-16, esp. 11.

10. See Arturo Russo’s conclusion in Chapter 10 of this book, titled “Launching the European Telecommunications Satellite Program.”

11. René Collette, “Space Communications in Europe: How did we Make it Happen?,” History and Technology 9 (1992): 83-93.

12. Jonathan F. Galloway, The Politics and Technology of Satellite Communications (Lexington, MA Lexington Books, 1972).

13. See the introductory paragraphs in Jonathan F. Galloway, “Originating Communications Satellite Systems: The Interactions of “Technological Change, Domestic Politics, and Foreign Policy.” Which is Chapter 13 of this book.

14. See the conclusion of Chapter 22 of this hook by Adam L. Gruen, “Net Gain: The Use of Satellites at MCI.”