Media Technology and Society: A History: From the Telegraph to the Internet

By Brian Winston | Go to book overview

15

COMMUNICATIONS SATELLITES

SCIENTIFIC COMPETENCE AND IDEATION: THE COMMUNICATIONS SATELLITES

The ground of scientific competence for the communications satellite includes two fundamentals. First is the theoretical understanding of how gravity might make ‘a projectile…revolve in an orbit, and go round the whole earth’ which was outlined by Newton in the Principia (Lovell 1973:9). Second is an understanding of rocketry.

The origins of the rocket are lost in time but it is noted as an instrument of war at the battle of K’ai-Feng-Foo in 1232. It became something of the weapon of the underdog, because igniting a combustible substance inside a tube requires no great theoretical knowledge nor, indeed, a very high level of technological wherewithal. Rockets were used, for example, against the British by the Sultan of Mysore in the battles of Seringapatam in 1792 and 1799. In the twentieth century, both in Russia and in a Germany constrained by the restrictions of the Treaty of Versailles, there was considerable interest in rockets (Blagonravov 1996).

From 1932, Sergev P. Korolyov was head of MosGIRD (the Moscow Reactive Propulsion Group) and in the 1950s he was in charge of the intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) programme which led to the launch of Sputnik. Also in 1932, the Germany army found a home at one of its proving grounds for an amateur society, Verein für Raumschiffahrt (the Society for Space Travel—VfR) which had been regularly launching rockets from a Raketenflugplatz just outside Berlin. The army gave a young VfR member and Ph.D. candidate, Wernher von Braun, facilities to pursue his research into rocket combustion. By 1937, von Braun was installed, with a staff of eighty, at Peenemunde on the Baltic coast. By 1942, his fourth Fernraket Aggregat (Long-range Rocket Assembly) was put into production, using slave labour, as the Vergeltungswaffen Zwei—Vengeance Weapon No. 2 or V-2. Those launched against Britain killed 2754 people and injured 6523

-276-

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Media Technology and Society: A History: From the Telegraph to the Internet
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Figures xi
  • Acknowledgements xiii
  • Introduction: A Storm from Paradise 1
  • Part I - Propagating Sound at Considerable Distances 17
  • 1 - The Telegraph 19
  • 2 - Before the Speaking Telephone 30
  • 3 - The Capture of Sound 51
  • Part II - The Vital Spark and Fugitive Pictures 65
  • 4 - Wireless and Radio 67
  • 5 - Mechanically Scanned Television 88
  • 6 - Electronically Scanned Television 100
  • 7 - Television Spin-Offs and Redundancies 126
  • Part III 145
  • 8 - Mechanising Calculation 147
  • 9 - The First Computers 166
  • 10 - Suppressing the Main Frames 189
  • 11 - The Integrated Circuit 206
  • 12 - The Coming of the Microcomputer 227
  • Part IV - The Intricate Web of Trails, This Grand System 241
  • 13 - The Beginnings of Networks 243
  • 14 - Networks and Recording Technologies 261
  • 15 - Communications Satellites 276
  • 16 - The Satellite Era 295
  • 17 - Cable Television 305
  • 18 - The Internet 321
  • Conclusion: the Pile of Debris 337
  • Notes 343
  • References 351
  • Index 361
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