Intelsat-I: The satellite which revolutionized the development of global telecommunication


Daily we tune into our favorite radio channel, watch sitcoms on televisions or browse the internet on our smartphones. But what we don’t realize or are unaware of the simple fact that all these are made possible through the relay and amplification of radio telecommunication signals by a communication satellite.

Even though Sputnik launched by Russia on October 1957 marked the commencement of satellites being launched into space, Intelsat I or fondly called as The Early bird was the first commercial communications satellite which was placed in the geosynchronous satellite (GSO) on 6 April 1965. It was built by Space and Communications Group of Hughes Aircraft Company founded by billionaire Howard Hughes in 1932 (now known as Boeing Aircraft Company) for Communications Satellite Corporation (COMSAT) which activated it on 28 June. It was based on the prototype that Hughes had built for NASA intended to prove the feasibility of the idea of communications via synchronous-orbit satellite.

A geosynchronous orbit satellite is often confused with the geostationary satellite. A geosynchronous satellite has its orbit matched with the rotation of the Earth on its artificial axis lasting 23 hours, 56 minutes and 4 seconds. While a geosynchronous satellite appears to return to the initial point above the Earth at the end of each orbit, a geostationary satellite is placed above the equator and seems to be stationary in the sky.

The satellite provided the first live TV coverage of Gemini 6 spacecraft splashdown in December 1965. It was also the first one to handle television, telephone, and fax signals. The tiny early bird satellite having the dimension of 76 × 61cm and weighing just 34.5kg transmitted direct and almost instantaneous contact between Europe and North America. Intelsat has also been credited to broadcast the landmark first live television program-Our World which aired in June 1967. The program viewed by whopping 400 million viewers in 25 countries had artists and performers representing 19 countries. The two-and-a-half-hour-long special broadcast was concluded by the song All You Need is Love written especially for the event by John Lennon and performed by the legendary The Beatles.

Initially envisioned to service for only 18 months, Intelsat-1 remained in service for almost four years being deactivated in January 1969.  It was briefly activated in June of the same year to serve the Apollo 11. But it was deactivated in August 1969.  Although it remains deactivated in orbit even today, it was activated again in 1990 to celebrate its 25th anniversary.


Picture by Intelsat.