In 1962 the United States launched the world's first fully active communications satellites--AT&T's Telstar, which transmitted telephone communications, data, and live television signals, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Relay Communications Satellite ("Relay I"). In 1965 INTELSAT deployed the first communications satellite in geostationary orbit, INTELSAT I or "Early Bird." Early Bird could relay 240 voice circuits or one television channel. The latest generation of INTELSAT satellites, INTELSAT VI, can transmit 120,000 telephone circuits as well as three television channels.
Commercial satellite communications systems may be grouped into three categories: international systems, regional systems, and domestic systems. INTELSAT and INMARSAT are international satellite communications cooperatives. INTELSAT, the International Telecommunications Satellite Organization, has 123 members and provides almost two-thirds of international telephone service and nearly all overseas television broadcasting to almost 180 countries via nineteen satellites. INTELSAT also offers domestic services to nations lacking domestic satellite systems. Until recently INTELSAT precluded private satellite systems from transmitting international communications. INMARSAT, the International Maritime Satellite Organization, has sixty-five members and offers ship-to-shore and ship-to-ship communications. The U.S. signatory to both organizations, COMSAT, is the largest user of both services and their largest owner (22 percent of INTELSAT, 25 percent of INMARSAT).
The regional satellite systems include the European Telecommunications Satellite Organization, EUTELSAT, which serves twenty countries; the Arab Satellite Organization, ARABSAT, which serves twenty-two nations; Palapa, an Indonesian system that serves Southeast Asia; and the regional systems of the former Soviet Union, MOLNIYA 1, 2, and 3, EKRAN, RADGYA, and STATSIONAR.