Year of Invention: 1962
What Is It? Communications device launched into space to relay data, voice,
and visual information.
Who Invented It? Jerry R. Pierce (in Bell Labs, New Jersey)
Communications satellites are humans’ most successful venture in space. They have also been critical to both the development of an effective world wide communications system and the development of a sense of global community.
Communications satellites were the first device to extend daily human activity beyond the surface of the earth. They were the first practical use humans made of space.
In 1865, as the American Civil War ground to a bitter end, Jules Verne delighted the world by describing space flight to the moon in his novel From the Earth to the Moon. In 1924, German scientist Herman Oberth described satellites and space stations in a more scientific way in Ways to Spaceflight.
The jet engine became a reality in the late 1930s. The first rocket engines were built in late 1943. By 1948, rockets had edged to the top of Earth’s atmosphere and touched the edge of space.
Multichannel microwave systems carried hundreds of voice, data, and television channels beginning in the 1940s. However, relay towers had to be built every 40 or 50 miles.
On December 18, 1958, the U.S. Army launched a secret Signal Communications by Orbiting Relay Equipment (SCORE) satellite. This military satellite contained the electronics to receive and retransmit a few voice and data channels. In 1960, AT&T launched Echo 1, a giant reflective balloon tucked inside a 26-inch magnesium sphere. Once in orbit, the sphere broke open and the reflective balloon deployed and inflated. It literally reflected radio signals back to Earth. However, the reflected signals were too weak at ground level to be of much value and were often lost in static.