7 January 2022

A rocket takes off

A three-stage Delta rocket on blast off. This one is launching the “Relay” Satellite.

ITV Annual 1964 cover

From the ITV Annual for Boys and Girls 1964

AT 4.35 a.m. on the morning of July 10, 1962, a mighty three-stage Delta rocket blasted off the launching pad at Cape Canaveral. Inside the nose cone of the giant rocket, clamped to the final stage, was Telstar, a spherical-shaped satellite weighing 170 lb. [77kg] and measuring 34 inches [86cm] in diameter. The rocket thrust its way into space, reaching a height of nearly 600 miles [965km] before ejecting its payload into orbit. The launching of this privately owned satellite, by the American Bell Telephone Company, represented a major breakthrough in the field of Intercontinental Communications and Television.

Behind the fantastic engineering feat if the actual launching was eight years of research and development by the Bell Company. The first proposal for a communications satellite was suggested by Dr. John P. Pierie in 1954, the ever-growing need for improvement and enlargement of the transatlantic telephone system being the spur to the Company. The usual method of linking continents is the laying of cables at the bottom of the sea. This is an expensive business, both from the point of view of the initial outlay and for the cost of repairs. Dr. Pierie felt that a successful satellite would, in the long run, be very much cheaper. From that idea, Telstar slowly began to take shape.

While the models were being put through their paces, work started on Telstar’s principal ground station in Andover, Maine, and at the G.P.O. site at Goonhilly Downs, Cornwall. The work was to take eighteen months, but, when completed, both the British and the American stations were able to perform the tasks they had been built for.

During the building of the two giant listening stations, the Telstar experiments reached a final stage. Model after model had come through its test with flying colours. Any snags that had appeared were immediately ironed out. With all the data from these tests at hand, Bell engineers started to build the actual fly model – the model that would go into orbit. As launch day neared, the final touches were added.

On July 30th, 1962, television viewers in England saw their first ITN newscast from New York. Telstar I was an unqualified success – but a success that was to be overshadowed by Telstar II. This new satellite was launched on May 7th, 1963. Both Telstar II and Relay were used to give viewers in Europe a grandstand coverage of Major Gordon Cooper’s epic space flight in May.

The first steps towards World Television have been taken, but what of the future? The answer seems to lie in “Syncom”, a satellite designed to stay in a “fixed” position above earth. Three of these satellites could provide a global communications network with an uninterrupted television and telephone service. The first Syncom has been launched, but unfortunately without Telstar’s success. Nevertheless, if the problems can be solved from this type of satellite, you will be able to watch, live, any major event, from any part of the world.


Two men working on a full-size model of Telstar

Bell Telephone Engineers studying an early model of Telstar. The engineer kneeling is holding a frame for attaching electronic equipment inside the satellite. In the foreground is a completed mock-uo of a Telstar satellite.


Men work at various banks of dials and knobs

A model specially designed for high-frequency vibration tests being put through its paces in the laboratory. Such tests helped establish mechanical requirements for actual satellites.


A man works at an instrumentation panel

Final instrumentation tests on a Relay satellite. Although different in shape to Telstar, the Relay satellite is the same basic principle.


A huge building with a domed outbuilding

Bell’s vast “listening” station at Andover, Maine. The building in the foreground houses the control, computing and tracking equipment of the Great Horn, which is covered by a huge rubber weather dome in the background. At left of control building, an antenna sends commands to Telstar and also tracks the satellite. The smaller dome on the right covers a precision tracking antenna.


The Great Horn

A cutaway diagram of the Great Horn's rubber dome

Close-up of the dome with listening and transmitting horn. The horn can be rotated through a full circle. The 68-foot-wide [21m] mouth can be tilted to any angle.


A radiotelescope

The British side of Telstar is the transmitting and receiving station at Goonhilly Downs, Cornwall. This is the 85-foot-diameter [25m] paraboloidal-reflector aerial which can also revolve through a circle and be tilted to any angle.


A man works on the satellite

When the satellite reaches a certain point in its orbit, the sun’s rays are reflected from the mirror this engineer is mounting on its side, to observers at the Holmdel, N.J., ground station. These flashes help determine the angle of Telstar’s axis in space.


A man works on the satellite

The final check of the solar batteries. These batteries, the dark shining areas on the satellite, convert sunlight into electrical energy to power Telstar’s electronic equipment. The bans running around the waist of the satellite are receiving and transmitting antennas.


Two men work on the satellite

All the tests have been completed and the finished satellite is mated to the third stage of its carrier rocket at Cape Canaveral.


A rocket takes off

Blast-off for Major Cooper. This picture of the Atlas Rocket at blast-off was flashed to viewers in England direct from Cape Canaveral via Telstar II.



The ITN news caption that was transmitted from New York, via Telstar.


Three satellites depicted covering all of Earth

Artist’s impression of three Syncom satellites in orbit giving round the world, round the clock television coverage.


You Say

2 responses to this article

Steve Clauter 10 July 2022 at 11:28 pm

I would love to make a full size model of Telstar. Where can I get drawings of Telstar to make a model? I do presentations with Dr. Sky and we would use this model in those presentations. Thank you.

Russ J Graham 13 July 2022 at 2:13 pm

Harvard University has an archive of NASA Telstar I technical specs and data that includes some illustrations. The website is very hard to navigate, but starting here and navigating backwards and forwards from the first and last pages may provide you some useful information.

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