Telstar was the first active communications satellite (launched in 1962), and the first satellite designed to transmit telephone and high-speed data communications. Its name is used to this day for a number of television broadcasting satellites.
Belonging to AT&T, the original Telstar was part of a multi-national agreement between AT&T, Bell Telephone Laboratories, NASA, the British General Post Office, and the French National PTT (Post, Telegraph & Telecom Office) to develop satellite communication. Bell also built the Andover Earth Station in Andover, Maine, and held a contract with NASA, reimbursing the agency three million dollars for each launch, independent of success.
The satellite was built by a team at Bell Telephone Laboratories, including John Robinson Pierce who created the project, Rudy Kompfner who invented the traveling wave tube transponder used in the satellite, It was roughly spherical, was 34.5 inches (880 mm) long, and weighed 170 pounds (77 kg). Its dimensions were limited by what would fit in one of NASA's Delta rockets. Telstar was spin-stabilized, so its outer surface was covered by solar cells in order to always receive some power. The power produced was a relatively tiny 14W.
Telstar was equipped with a helical antenna which received microwave signals from a ground station, then amplified and rebroadcast the signal. The broadcasts were made from a series of somewhat directional feed horns distributed around the satellite's "equator". The electronics switched which antenna was active as the satellite rotated.
The main earth receiving station was Goonhilly Downs in the south-west of England and was used by the BBC. It was the international coordinator and the standards 525/405 conversion equipment (filling a very large room at that time) was researched and developed by the BBC and located in the BBC Television Centre London. Also with Early Bird in 1964 as well as the Summer Olympics mostly coming into Europe via the BBC, the main US networks, NBC, CBS and ABC all made their contributions from Europe mainly through the BBC. (N.Smyth-Irish)
Launched by NASA aboard a Delta rocket from Cape Canaveral on July 10, 1962, Telstar was the first privately sponsored space launch. A medium-altitude satellite, Telstar was placed in an elliptical orbit (completed once every 2 hours and 37 minutes), revolving at a 45 degree angle above the equator. Because of this, its transmission availability for transatlantic signals was only 20 minutes in each orbit.
Telstar relayed its first television pictures (of a flag outside Andover Earth Station) to Pleumeur-Bodou on the date of its launch. Almost two weeks later, on July 23, it relayed the first live transatlantic television signal. The first broadcast was to have been remarks by President John F. Kennedy, but the signal was acquired before the President was ready, so the lead-in time was filled with a short segment of a televised major league baseball game between the Philadelphia Phillies and the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field Box Score (Tony Taylor was seen flying out to rightfielder George Altman). During that evening it also dealt with the first telephone call transmitted through space and successfully transmitted faxes, data, and both live and taped television, including the first live transmission of television across an ocean (to Pleumeur-Bodou, in France; ). US president Kennedy gave a live transatlantic press conference via Telstar.
Telstar, which had ushered in a new age of the benevolent use of technology, actually became a victim of technology during the Cold War. The day before Telstar was launched, the United States tested a high-altitude nuclear device (called Starfish Prime) which super-energized the Earth's Van Allen Belt where Telstar took orbit. This vast increase in radiation, combined with further increases during subsequent high-altitude blasts, including a Soviet test in October, overwhelmed Telstar's fragile transistors; it went out of service in early December, but was restarted by a workaround in early January of 1963. The additional radiation associated with its return to full sunlight once again caused transistor failure, this time irreparably, and it went out of service on February 21, 1963.
According to the US Space Objects Registry, Telstar 1 was still in orbit as of March 2008.
Experiments continued, and by 1964, two Telstars, two Relay units (from RCA), and two Syncom units (from the Hughes Aircraft Company) had operated successfully in space. Syncom 2 was the first geosynchronous satellite and its successor, Syncom 3, broadcast pictures from the 1964 Summer Olympics. The first commercial geosynchronous satellite was Intelsat I ("Early Bird") launched in 1965.
The next wave of Telstar satellites launched with Telstar 301 in 1983, and was followed by Telstar 302 in 1984 and Telstar 303 in 1985.
The next wave, starting with Telstar 401 came in 1993 and was lost in 1997 from a magnetic storm and Telstar 402 was launched but destroyed shortly after in 1994. It was replaced in 1995 by Telstar 402R, eventually renamed Telstar 4.
Telstar 10 was launched in China in 1997 by APT Satellite Company, Ltd.
In 2003, Telstars 4–8 and 13 — Loral Skynet's North American fleet — were sold to Intelsat. Telstar 4 suffered complete failure prior to handover; the others were renamed Intelsat Americas 5, 6, etc. At the time of the sale, Telstar 8 was still under construction by Space Systems/Loral, and was finally launched June 23, 2005 by Sea Launch.
Telstar 18 was launched in June 2004 by Sea Launch. The upper stage of the rocket underperformed, but the satellite used its significant stationkeeping fuel margin to achieve its operational geostationary orbit; it has enough on-board fuel remaining that will allow it to exceed its specified 13-year design life.
Derivative uses of the nameJoe Meek composed a popular instrumental recording in 1962, named Telstar after the satellite; it was originally performed by The Tornados and covered by The Ventures among many others. Sound effects on the record, intended to symbolize radio signals, were produced by Meek running a pen around the rim of an ashtray, and then playing the tape of it in reverse. This track is also the unofficial club anthem of East Fife F.C., a professional league soccer club from the town of Methil in Scotland.
Former Bangles lead singer Susanna Hoffs also recorded a song called "Wishing on Telstar" on her 1991 album When You're a Boy.
Telstar was mentioned in the first episode of The Addams Family television series pilot that aired Sept. 18, 1964. Mr. Addams mentions his friend Gumba in Nairobi who could hurt the school board member, suggesting they use Telstar to call him.
In the United States, the heavy metal band Helstar took their name partly from the satellite as well.
The Adidas Telstar football (soccer ball) was designed for use in the 1970 and 1974 FIFA World Cup tournaments.
There is a Spanish company called Telstar. It is a manufacturer of freeze-dryers and other high-technology equipment. http://www.etelstar.com/
Telstar was the name of a mini-boss monster in Squaresoft's hit role-playing game Final Fantasy VI. The enemy was encountered in Kefka's camp while besieging Doma Castle.
Project: Telstar is an anthology of robot-and space-themed comics published in 2003 by AdHouse Books.
Telstar Drug was the name of a drug store in Calgary, Canada. The store's roof featured a neon sign in the shape of a rocket with the satellite on its nose. After the store closed, the sign was taken down and put on permanent display in the Glenbow Museum.
Telstar in Danish: Telstar
Telstar in German: Telstar
Telstar in Spanish: Telstar (satélite)
Telstar in Persian: تلستار
Telstar in French: Telstar 1
Telstar in Georgian: ტელსტარი
Telstar in Dutch: Telstar (satelliet)
Telstar in Polish: Telstar 1
Telstar in Portuguese: Telstar
Telstar in Russian: Телстар
Telstar in Finnish: Telstar
Telstar in Swedish: Telstar