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Satellite Timeline

Interactive Media
Satellite Timeline

An interactive timeline of significant events in satellite and telecommunications industry over the last fifty years.  Click on the image to the left to tour the decades of the Satellite Era.  

 

 

 

 


Pre-Flight
Before the first satellite was placed in orbit, the work of novelists, visionaries and scientists built the conceptual foundation for the Satellite Era.
  • 1865 - Jules Verne - The French author Jules Verne published From the Earth to the Moon, describing a manned mission to the Moon boosted by a space cannon called Columbiad. Verne's prescient novel was packed with technical details that, in many cases, bore an eerie similarity to the Apollo 11 flight in 1969.
  • 1897 - H.G. Wells - The English author H.G. Wells published The First Men in the Moon, which introduced the ideas of the retrofiring of rockets to change orbits and the use of a satellite in polar orbit for navigation, observation and communications.
  • 1903 - Konstantin Tsiolkovsky - The Russian physicist Konstantin Tsiolkovsky published theories on space flight and rocketry, the first known workable design for a reaction rocket, a proposal to use hydrogen and oxygen as rocket fuel, and equations calculating speeds to place a satellite into earth orbit as well as escape velocity.
  • 1914 - Goddard Patents - Inventor Robert H. Goddard filed patents on rocket combustion chambers, nozzles, propellant feed systems, and multi-stage rockets.
  • 1923 - Herman Oberth - Romanian physicist Herman Oberth published articles indicating the practical importance of space stations placed in Earth orbit.
  • 1926 - Robert H. Goddard - March 16: Robert H. Goddard successfully launched a liquid fueled rocket that reached a speed of 60 miles per hour.
  • 1945 - Arthur C. Clarke - October: former British Radar Establishment Officer and space guru Arthur C. Clarke published an article in Wireless World envisioning a global communications network provided by three manned space stations in geostationary orbit around the earth's equator. He speculated that it might take 50 years to put them into orbit because of the lack of sophisticated computer technology and the unreliability of radio tubes.
  • 1946 - RAND - May: The US Army Air Force asked Douglas Aircraft's Project RAND to analyze a report by Wernher von Braun proposing the launch of an artificial satellite. RAND's May 2, 1946 report, "Preliminary Design of an Experimental World-Circling Spaceship," was the world's first comprehensive engineering study of a satellite spacecraft featuring multiple stages, covering the problems of guidance, communication, thrust control, materials, fuels, and means to deal with the space environment.
  • 1955 - Orbital Radio Relays - April: Dr. John R. Pierce's article, "Orbital Radio Relays" in Jet Propulsion, discussed both active and passive satellite "repeaters" and outlined the concept behind what would become the Echo 1 balloon satellite.
    1950's
    The Satellite Era began in October 4, when the Soviet Union launched Sputnik 1. It electrified the world and alarmed the Soviet Union's Cold War adversaries, giving rise to the Space Race.
  • 1957 - Sputnik 1 - October 4: The Soviet Union launched the first artificial satellite, Sputnik 1, into low earth orbit, giving birth to the age of satellites and space applications.
  • 1957 - Sputnik 2 - November 3: The Soviet Union startled the world by launching a second satellite less than one month after Sputnik 1. Sputnik 2 carried radio and TV transmitters, telemetry, scientific instruments - and a dog named Laika, making it the first biological spacecraft.
  • 1958 - Explorer 1 - January 31: The US launched Explorer 1, designed by JPL and carrying instruments developed by Dr. James Van Allen, as part of the International Geophysical Year. A Geiger counter aboard this satellite revealed the existence of intensive radiation belts surrounding earth that were designated the “Van Allen Belts”.
  • 1958 - NASA Formed - October 1: The US Congress voted to approve the formation of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to pursue human spaceflight, space exploration and the development of space applications. The existing NACA research agency based at Lewis Field in Cleveland Ohio became the basis for this new US civilian air and space agency.
  • 1958 - SCORE satellite - December 18: The US launched the Signal Communication by Orbiting Relay Equipment (SCORE) satellite. This satellite transmitted back to earth a recorded Christmas greeting from President Dwight Eisenhower. “Peace on Earth, Goodwill to Men”
  • 1960's - - The 1960s was the decade when satellite communications moved from pioneering experiements to commercial reality. It began with the 1960 launch of the metallized balloon Echo1, which bounced radio signals back to Earth. But before the decade was out, the entire world watched "live via satellite" as Apollo 11 astronauts stepped on the Moon's surface for the first time.
  • 1960 - Echo-1 - August 12: NASA launched, Echo 1, developed by a Bell Labs team led by Dr. John Pierce. The satellite consisted of a large metallized balloon that passively reflected radio signals back to earth. Visible to the naked eye at night, it was probably seen by more human beings than any other artificial object in space up to that time. Instrumentation included telemetry beacons and temperature monitors powered by solar cells. This experiment essentially confirmed that communications satellites would need to have active repeaters to be commercially viable.
  • 1960 - Courier 1B - October 4: Courier 1B was the world’s first active repeater satellite. Built by the Palo Alto, California–based Western Development Labs (WDL) division of Philco. Courier 1B carried 19,000 solar cells and was the first satellite to use Nickel Cadmium storage batteries. It had an effective message transmission rate of 55,000 bit/s. After 228 orbits in 17 days, the payload ceased to respond to commands from the ground.
  • 1961 - UN Resolution 1721 - December 20: The UN General Assembly adopts resolution 1721 calling for the application of international law to space exploration and applications, and the free exploration and use of space by all nations without national appropriation.
  • 1962 - Ariel 1 - April 26: Ariel-1, named for the sprite in Shakespeare's "Tempest," became the world's first internationally conceived and executed satellite. The spacecraft was designed and built by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC) and carried six British experiments designed to study the ionosphere and its relationship to solar radiation. This first in a series of 5 satellites was launched on a Thor Delta rocket.
  • 1962 - Telstar 1 - July 10: The launch of Telstar 1, developed by a Bell Laboratories team led by Dr. John Pierce and funded by AT&T, marked the beginning of the commercial satellite industry. A non-geostationary satellite, it carried the first transatlantic TV images and the first live satellite phone conversation between AT&T Chairman Fred Kappel and Vice President Lyndon Johnson.
  • 1962 - Alouette 1 - September 20: Alouette 1 was Canada's first satellite. Launched by NASA from Vandenberg AFB into Earth orbit, Alouette studied the ionosphere for 10 years before being switched off. As of January 2006, Alouette-1 remains in orbit and some of those pioneers suggest there is a slim chance it might turn on if the right signals were transmitted.
  • 1962 - Relay - December 13: A NASA project, Relay was a 78 kg, spin-stabilized, active-repeater spacecraft boosted by a Delta launch vehicle. The first Relay satellite was launched December 13, 1962, and it remained operational for more than 2 years. Relay 2, launched January 21, 1964, was used in thousands of tests and experiments and in some 40 public demonstrations through September 1965.
  • 1963 - COMSAT Formed - February 1: Following the 1962 passage of the Communications Satellite Act by the US Congress, the Communications Satellite Corporation (COMSAT) was formed to provide international satellite services and manage the US majority ownership of INTELSAT.
  • 1964 - Syncom 3 Launched - August 19: A Hughes Aircraft team led by Dr. Harold Rosen launched Syncom 3, the first geostationary satellite. Prior to this success, Syncom 1 malfunctioned on the way to GEO orbit, and Syncom 2 achieved only a sharply inclined orbit. Reaching GEO orbit, Syncom 3 proved the concept first suggested by Dr. Arthur C. Clarke nearly 2 decades before.
  • 1964 - Intelsat Agreement Signed - August 20: The Interim Agreement to form the International Telecommunications Satellite Consortium (later designated as Intelsat) was signed by 15 signatories from 15 countries, with 11 of these entities having legal effect namely, United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Japan, the Netherlands, Germany Spain, Austria, Norway, Switzerland and the Vatican State.
  • 1964 - Tokyo Olympics - October: Carried on Hughes Aircraft's Syncom 2 and Syncom 3, the Tokyo Olympics became the first major sporting event carried live via satellite around the world.
  • 1965 - Early Bird - April 6: Intelsat I (nicknamed Early Bird) became the first commercial communications satellite to be placed in geosynchronous orbit. Built by Hughes Aircraft for COMSAT and modeled on the Syncom series, it was the first satellite to provide real-time transmission between Europe and North America, carrying TV, telephone and fax traffic. Deactivated after four years of service, the 76 lb (34.5 kg) satellite was briefly reactivated in January 1969 to serve the Apollo 11 flight when the Atlantic Intelsat satelite failed.
  • 1965 - Molniya 1 - October 14: The Soviet Union launched Molniya 1-3, the third in a series of communications satellites to use a twelve-hour, highly elliptical orbit. Such orbits require less rocket power than GEO orbit and are well suited to communications with northern latitudes, though the ground antennas must track their movement. Since they move very slowly at apogee, they appear to 'hover' for hours at a time over northern latitudes. The first two launches, in January and June, failed, but Molniya 1-3 achieved orbit and operated until February 1966. By 1968, Molniya 1 satellites were in full operation.
  • 1966 - ATS-1 - December 11: NASA launched ATS-1, the first of its experimental Application Technology Satellites. The ATS spacecraft were designed for communications, but excess space was available for meteorological sensors to observe the Earth's cloud cover and weather patterns. The system demonstrated the ability to acquire information that meteorologists could use immediately in an operational setting. ATS I-V served as the first generation of what became the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites (GOES).
  • 1966 - Initial Defense Satellite Communications Program - The American military’s first near-geosynchronous satellite communications system. A total of 26 IDSCP satellites were launched between 1966 and 1968 in four groups by Titan IIICs to near-equatorial, 29,500-km-high orbits. Each weighed about 45 kg.
  • 1967 - Intelsat II - January 11: The spin-stabilized Intelsat 2B was launched into GEO orbit over the Pacific Ocean Region, expanding Intelsat's coverage to 2/3 of the Earth. Intelsat 2A, launched in October 1966, was never operationally useful due to a bad orbit. Intelsat 2B remained in service for 2 years and was followed by Intelsat 2C and 2D, which lasted for 3.5 years each. Two onboard transponders could support 240 voice channels or 1 TV channel.
  • 1968 - Intersputnik - In response to the perceived domination of Intelsat in international satellite communications, the Soviet Union submitted to the United Nations the first draft of an agreement with 8 other nations (Poland, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Mongolia, and Cuba) creating Intersputnik.
  • 1969 - Intelsat III - July 1: The launch of Intelsat 3 to cover the Indian Ocean Region completed the company's plan to provide full global satellite communications coverage for the first time in history. Of the 8 spin-stabilized satellites in the Intelsat 3 series, five would successfully enter service, operating for between 1.5 and 16 years with two transponders using 12-watt TWTA amplifiers able to support 1,500 voice circuits or 4 TV channels.
  • 1969 - Apollo 11 - July 20: The first landing on the moon by Apollo 11 was broadcast "live via satellite" to a global audience over Intelsat satellites. Intelsat also provided communications support for the mission, battling a series of technology challenges. A failure of the Atlantic satellite in the spring of 1969 threatened to stop the Apollo 11 mission altogether. When a replacement satellite went into a bad orbit, NASA improvised by using undersea cable telephone circuits to bring Apollo's communications to Flight Control.
  • 1969 - AZUR - November 8: Germany’s first scientific satellite, Azur, was launched by NASA to study the Van Allen belts, solar particles, and aurorae. "Azur" is the German word for "sky blue."
    1970's
    As the 1970s began, nations around the world raced to develop rockets and launch satellites as a demonstration of scientific prowess and national pride. By the end of the decade, satellite communications had become a business serving the broadcast and cable television industry around the world.
  • 1970 - Dong Fang Hong 1 - April 24: Dong Fang Hong 1, also known as China 1, was launched aboard China's Long March 1 rocket as part of the PRC's Dong Fang Hong ("The East is Red") satellite program. The launch made China the fifth nation to launch a satellite on its own rocket. At 173 kg, it was far heavier than the first satellites of other countries. Like Sputnik 1, it carried a radio transmitter. While orbiting the Earth for 28 days, it broadcast the Chinese Communist Party anthem for which the satellite was named.
  • 1970 - Ohsumi - February 11: Ohsumi, a small scientific satellite designed to study the ionosphere and solar emissions, was launched on a Japanese Lambda 4-S booster, making Japan the fourth country to launch a satellite into orbit on its own rocket. Weighing 24 kg, the satellite achieved an elliptical order in which it remained until reentry in 2003.
  • 1971 - World Administrative Radio Conference for Space Telecommunications. - June 7-July 17: The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) convened the World Administrative Radio Conference for Space Telecommunications (WARC-ST) and determined the frequency allocations for Broadcast Satellite Services (BSS).
  • 1971 - Intelsat - August 21: The final treaty for the creation of the International Telecommunications Satellite Organization (ITSO) was signed by 11 national governments, creating the predecessor organization to today's Intelsat.
  • 1971 - Prospero - October 28: The launch of Prospero X-3 from Woomera, South Australia on a Black Arrow rocket made Britain the sixth nation to place a satellite into orbit using a domestically developed launch vehicle (after the USSR, USA, France, Japan and China). The satellite contained a single experiment to test solar cells as well as a tape recorder that failed on May 24 1973 after 730 plays. Though its terrestrial tracking station was decommissioned in 1996, radio transmissions from Prospero could still be heard as late as 2006. It remains in low Earth orbit with an expected lifetime of 100 years.
  • 1971 - Intersputnik - November 15: The final treaty for the creation of Intersputnik was signed by the Soviet Union and eight socialist nations: Poland, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Mongolia, and Cuba. Intersputnik did not begin operations, however, until 1974.
  • 1972 - FCC Open Skies - The seminal event of the 1970's was the"Open Skies" ruling by the US Federal Communications Commission, which favored competition in satellite services and set a precedent that influenced government policy around the world.
  • 1972 - Anik 1A - November 9 - Anik A-1, the world's first domestic communications satellite, was launched from Cape Canaveral aboard a Delta rocket. Built by Hughes, Anik A1 carried 12 C-band transponders capable of transmitting 12 color TV channels or 7,000 telephone circuits. A new side-facing "see through" parabolic antenna, measuring 5 feet in diameter and covered by a fine gold mesh minimized the tipping effect of solar pressure. The antenna rotated at 100 RPM in the opposite direction of the spin-stabilized satellite in order to maintain a fix on earth. Anik A-1 also introduced a shaped-beam antenna that permitted it to provide coverage only to Canada.
  • 1974 - WESTAR 1 - April 13, Western Union and NASA joined forces to launch Westar 1, the first commercially-launched American domestic communications satellite. Built by Hughes using the HS-333 spin-stabilized platform, Westar 1 was the first of five satellites launched by Western Union from 1974 to 1982. Like Anik A-1, it carried 12 transponders. It was used by Western Union for its telegraph and mailgram services, as well as by PBS, NPR and the Mutual Broadcasting System. Westar 1 was retired from service in April 1983.
  • 1974 - ANS - August 30: The first Dutch satellite, the Astronomical Netherlands Satellite-A (ANS A) was launched as an Earth-orbiting, sun-synchronous astronomical observatory. The spacecraft was attitude-controlled by magnetic coils interacting with the Earth's magnetic field. The experiments on board observed celestial objects in UV and X-ray wavelengths. During its 20-month lifetime, ANS measured the positions, spectra, and time variations of galactic and extragalactic X-ray sources and obtained over 18,000 observations of about 400 objects.
  • 1974 - INTASAT - November 15: The launch of INTASAT, the first Spanish satellite, put a small, magnetically-oriented, spin-stabilized spacecraft into orbit to study the ionosphere. Its primary purpose was to conduct worldwide observations of ionospheric electron counts. About 40 ground observers used the beacon experiment for ionospheric study. INTA was responsible for coordinating all beacon data acquisition and processing.
  • 1975 - Aryabhata - April 19: Launched by the Soviet Union from Kapustin Yar, Aryabhata was India's first satellite, named after a ancient Indian mathematician (5th century AD). Aryabhata was built by the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) to conduct experiments in X-ray astronomy, aeronomics, and solar physics.
  • 1975 - SITE - August 1: The Indian government began educational TV broadcasts to 5,000 villages via CATV and terrestrial rebroadcast. The Satellite Instructional Television Experiment (SITE) was delivered via NASA's ATS-6 satellite. The signal had 2 audio channels carrying different dialects.
  • 1975 - Thrilla - Before 1975, cable TV was largely a rural industry that brought remote areas better reception and more channels. Then the October 1, 1975 Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier boxing match, carried live on the fledgling Home Box Office cable channel via Telstar 1, showed that programs delivered via satellite to cable headends could attract a nationwide audience.
  • 1975 - RCA SATCOM - December 13: The launch of Satcom 1 marked the entry of a new name - American Communications or AMERICOM - into the satellite business. Ordered by the FCC to create a separate corporate entity to operate its domestic satellites, RCA formed AMERICOM in 1975. Its first satellite, Satcom 1, was instrumental in helping early cable TV channels to succeed in the US and was the first satellite used by the major broadcast TV networks ABC, NBC and CBS to distribute programming to all of their local affiliate stations.
  • 1976 - Marisat - February 19: COMSAT launched Marisat, the first Mobile Communications satellite. Marisat allowed constant ship-to-shore communications for the maritime industry. Prior to Marisat, companies would go as long as 48 hours without communication with their ships at sea. Two additional satellites were launched on June 9 and October 14, providing global coverage and an immense gain in maritime safety.
  • 1976 - Palapa A1 - July 8: Palapa A1, the first satellite in Indonesia's domestic system, was launched into orbit, becoming the first domestic satellite serving a developing nation. Nearly identical in design to Anik A-1 and Westar 1, Palapa A1 carried 12 transponders providing 4,000 voice circuits or 12 TV channels to the nation's 6,000+ inhabited islands. Meaning "fruits of labor," the Palapa system was originally operated by Perumtel, a state-owned company, but the system is now run by Satelindo. Palapa A1's operational life ended in June 1985.
  • 1976 - WTCG-TV - December 17: Ted Turner's WTCG-TV began broadcasting throughout the United States via Satcom 1, becoming the first American "superstation." Turner bought the Independent television station WJRJ-TV in Atlanta in 1970 and changed the call letters to WTCG for Turner Communications Group.
  • 1977 - Direct Broadcasting Satellites - October 27-November 21: The World Administrative Radio Conference (WARC 77) finalized frequency allocations for Direct Broadcasting Satellites (DBS).
  • 1978 - Magion 1 - November 14: Launched as part of the Interkosmos-18 experiment by the Soviet Union, MAGION 1 was the first of a series of small MAGnetospheric and IONospheric satellites manufactured in the Czech Republic and designed to "hitchhike" aboard other spacecraft.
    1980's
    The Eighties was the decade of the entrepreneur. Taking advantage of global coverage, new companies introduced the 24-hour news channel and direct-to-home satellite TV. The international satellite monopoly was broken by a steely-nerved visionary willing to place big bets. The boom was matched by developing nations that took their first steps into space.
  • 1980 - CNN - June 1: Ted Turner, owner of Turner Broadcasting, launched the Cable News Network (CNN). Originally mocked as the "Chicken Noodle Network," CNN lost money at the rate of $2 million per month as it labored to build a first-rate news organization with bureaus across the US and then around the world. Turner's executive team doubted it would survive stiff competition with Satellite NewsChannel, a Group W/ABC joint venture, but after Turner launched a second CNN service, "Headline News" in 1982, ABC and Group W sold their venture to Turner, ending effective competition in the US. By 1985, CNN was reaching 30 million US homes and turned its first profit on the way to transforming global news coverage.
  • 1981 - Bulgaria 1300 - August 7: The first Bulgarian satellite, Bulgaria 1300 (Intercosmos 22), was launched by the Soviet Union. The spacecraft contained a set of plasma, particle, field and optical experiments designed and constructed in Bulgaria. The spacecraft was three-axis stabilized and based on the Meteor bus. In addition to solar panels, the outer skin included a conducting material that made possible measurement of electric fields and low energy plasma.
  • 1981 - USSB - Stanley S. Hubbard founded the United States Satellite Broadcasting company and applied for the first US direct-to-home broadcasting license. Hubbard, widely considered to be the father of satellite broadcasting, teamed up with RCA/Thomson Consumer Electronics and Hughes Electronics to develop a digital service capable of 175 channels. When service began, Hubbard offered programming under the USSB name (mostly premium channels, plus MTV and others) while Hughes offered programming under the banner of DirecTV (mostly basic services). DirecTV later bought USSB .
  • 1982 - Mission STS-5 - November 11: NASA's Space Shuttle flew its first mission to deliver communications satellites into low Earth orbit. Mission STS-5 deployed two communications satellites, both Hughes-built HS-376 spacecraft: SBS-3 owned by Satellite Business Systems, and Anik C3 owned by Telesat Canada. Thrusters aboard the spacecraft subsequently inserted them successfully into GEO orbit.
  • 1983 - SSP Formed - Meeting in Denver, Colorado, a small group of visionaries founded a nonprofit organization called the Society of Satellite Professionals in order to promote professional development in the fledgling satellite industry.
  • 1983 - Cable Neighborhood - June 28: Hughes Communications launched Galaxy 1 aboard a Delta rocket. Carrying 24 primary and 6 back-up C-band transponders, Galaxy 1 was the first satellite devoted exclusively to cable television and carried such services as HBO, Cinemax, The Movie Channel and Showtime. Its success created the concept of the "cable neighborhood," a single location in the sky where cable systems could find all or most of the programming they needed, reducing the number of antennas needed on the ground.
  • 1984 - Mission STS 51-A - November 8 - November 16: Westar 6 and Palapa B2 became the first satellites to be retrieved from space and repaired by the Space Shuttle Discovery's mission STS 51-A. After deploying Canadian communications satellite Telesat-H and a defense communications satellite SYNCOM IV-I (LEASAT-1), astronauts wearing jet-propelled manned maneuvering units, retrieved the two malfunctioning satellites. Both of these satellites had been deployed on Mission 41-B.
  • 1985 - Brazilsat A1 - February 8: Latin America's first satellite, Brasilsat A1, was put into orbit at 65 degrees W. Built by Canada's Spar Aerospace based the Hughes HS-376 design, the spin-stabilized satellite featured a single antenna on a despun platform and carried 24 primary and 6 back-up C-band transponders. It was designed to serve for eight years but remained in service for 17, more than double its design lifetime.
  • 1985 - SES - March 1: The Société Européenne des Satellites-Astra (SES Astra) was founded as Europe's first private satellite operator. It launched Astra 1A in 1988 and launched direct-to-home satellite broadcasting in Europe when Sky Television bought four transponders. In 1991, SES Astra pioneered again by co-locating more than one satellite at the same orbital position to improve bandwidth efficiency and offer greater view choice.
  • 1985 - Morelos 1 - June 17 - June 24: The first Mexican satellite, Morelos 1 was deployed by Space Shuttle Mission STS 51-G, along with Arabsat 1-B (Arab Satellite Communications Organization); and Telstar 3-D (AT&T). Morelos 1 provided 12 channels operating in the C-band and 6 channels operating in the Ku band. It carried educational and commercial television programs, telephone and facsimile services, and data and business transmission services to even the most remote parts of Mexico.
  • 1986 - Viking - February 22: Sweden's first satellite, Viking, was launched to continue the work of a series of successful sounding rockets in investigating the interaction of the solar wind with the Earth's magnetic field. Providing Sweden with experience in satellite system development and management, the satellite returned a large quantity of data, including the full cycle of auroral activity.
  • 1988 - PAS 1 - June 15: PanAmSat successfully launched PAS 1 into orbit, completing one of the most amazing business exploits in satellite history. Founded by Rene Anselmo, PanAmSat applied for FCC permission to launch a private satellite in 1984, at a time when Intelsat was the monopoly international service provider. Permission was granted only a year later. Anselmo bought a satellite for $48 million from RCA Astro, 60% of its original price, after another customer cancelled. He contracted for the maiden launch of Ariane 4 and insured the satellite for only half its value. By the time of the launch, PanAmSat had negotiated landing rights with only 7 countries and had no customers. But Anselmo's many gambles succeeded and, by 1991, PAS-1 was nearly at full capacity, By 1993, the company had $17 million in profits on $50 million in sales.
  • 1988 - Offek 1 - September 19: The launch of Ofeq 1 (also spelled in English Offek or Ofek) made Israel the ninth nation to launch a satellite into orbit. The Ofeq satellites conduct reconnaissance from low Earth orbit, completing one orbit every 90 minutes. Ofeq 1, like its successors, was launched on a Shavit rocket from Palmachim Air Force Base on the Mediterranean coast.
  • 1988 - ASTRA 1A - December 11: The launch of Astra 1A opened a new era in European broadcasting. Launched and flown by Société Européenne des Satellites (SES), the satellite provided television coverage to Western Europe and was revolutionary as one of the first medium-powered satellites, allowing reception with smaller dishes than before. Among the channels carried in the first years were the entire four channel Sky Television service. Astra 1A began television broadcasts on February 5, 1989. Until 1998 all of Astra's satellites were co-located with 1A at 19.2°E, leading that position to be known mostly as Astra 1. In December 2004 Astra 1A was moved into a "junk orbit" after some time at 5.2°E providing data services.
  • 1989 - First UK DBS - February 5: Sky Television launched a UK direct-to-home satellite service via the Astra 1A satellite, one year before competitor British Satellite Broadcasting. In contrast to BSB's ambitious (and highly expensive) space and ground technology, Sky chose to use the European Astra satellite and broadcast in PAL with analogue sound; this system would require 60cm (24") dishes. The successful launch of Sky proved two things: that the PAL system usually gave adequate picture quality, and that many people were happy to watch Sky's "lowbrow" programming and not wait for BSB's promised quality output. By investing less and maintaining lower overhead than its rival, Sky prevailed in the competitive race and merged with BSB in 1990 to form British Sky Broadcasting.
  • 1989 - Marcopolo 1 - August 27: The British Satellite Broadcasting consortium launched Marcopolo 1, the first of two satellites, to provide direct-to-home satellite television in competition with the Rupert Murdoch's pan-European Sky Channel. Technology problems with a new flat-plate customer antenna delayed the start of service until March 1990, one year after Sky, leading to BSB's bankruptcy in November of that year. The company was taken over by Sky to form British Sky Broadcasting. BSB sold Marcopolo 1 to NSAB of Sweden, which operated it as Sirius 1 until it was decommissioned in 2003. Marcopolo 2 was sold to Telenor, which operated it as Thor 1 until decommissioning in 2002.

    1990's
    In the 1990s, international competition advanced, companies consolidated gains and DTH service was introduced to the US market. The "club" of satellite nations nearly doubled from 21 at the beginning of the decade to 36 by 1999.

  • 1990 - Lusat - January 22: Lusat-OSCAR-19, Argentina's first satellite, was launched into polar low Earth orbit aboard an Ariane launcher equipped with the European Space Agency's ASAP (Ariane Structure for Auxiliary Payloads), a large flat ring designed to give small satellites inexpensive rides into space alongside major satellites. Lusat was one of six AMSATs (amateur radio satellites) put into orbit on that flight, including one from Brazil. A 9-inch (23 cm) cube weight less than 25 pounds (11 kg), LO-19 was a pacsat with a digital message bbs available for non-profit use by hams around the globe. The name Lusat came from the amateur radio designation for Argentina, "LU."
  • 1990 - Asiasat-1 - April 7: The launch of AsiaSat 1 marked the first time in history a satellite was returned to orbit. Built by Hughes for Western Union and originally named Westar 6, the satellite was stranded by a booster misfire in a useless orbit. It was rescued by Shuttle Mission STS-51 in November 1984. After repair by Hughes, the satellite was sold to the AsiaSat consortium and relaunched as AsiaSat 1 in China's first commercial space launch. The HS-376 model spacecraft was 7.2 feet (2m) wide and 21.6 feet (6.5m) high, weighed 1,280 pounds (581kg) and was spin-stabilized, with the side-facing antenna and electronics despun in order to point at Earth.
  • 1990 - Badr 1 - July 16: Badr-1 (Badr-A), Pakistan's first indigenously developed satellite, was launched from the Xichang Launch Center, China aboard a Chinese Long March 2E rocket. Designed as a small AMSAT (amateur radio satellite) by the Pakistani Space Agency, Badr-1 weighed 150 pounds and was designed for a circular orbit at 250-300 miles altitude. Though the Long March rocket put it into an elliptical orbit of 127-615 miles, the satellite successfully completed its design life. "Badr" comes from the Urdu language and means "new moon."
  • 1992 - Kitsat A - August 10: South Korea's first satellite - KITSAT-A, also known as URIBYOL (meaning "our star") - was launched from Kourou in French Guiana by an Ariane booster. The product of a technology transfer program with Surrey Satellite Technology, this LEO smallsat carried an electronic mail system, an Earth-picture camera, and a device to measure cosmic rays.
  • 1993 - PoSAT-1 - September 26: Po-SAT-1, Portugal's first satellite, was launched through a collaborative program with the University of Surrey, Surrey Satellite Technology and a consortium of Portuguese academia and industry. Like KITSAT-1, PoSAT-1 carries a wide range of technology experiments, including earth imaging cameras, DSP and space-radiation experiments. In addition, PoSAT-1 carries the first microsatellite GPS experiment and an ultra-low-cost CCD star sensor.
  • 1993 - Thaicom 1 - December 17: Thailand's Shinawatra Computer and Communications Co. sent ThaiCom 1, the first Thai satellite, into GEO orbit aboard an Ariane 44L launcher from Kourou, French Guiana. Carrying 12 C-band and 3 Ku-band transponders, the Hughes-built HS-376 satellite weighed 1,384 lbs (629kg), a light weight that allowed the satellite to carry extra fuel in order to prolong its service life.
  • 1994 - DirectTV - June: Hughes Electronics and United States Satellite Broadcasting introduced DirecTV, the first US all-digital direct-to-home TV service. It was carried on the high-powered DBS-1 satellite, launched in 1993 with a payload of 16 Ku-band transponders. The DirectTV system, consisting of an 18-inch (46cm ) satellite antenna and set-top receiver, quickly became America's hottest-selling consumer electronics product of the year. In September, DirecTV launched DBS-2. The additional capacity allowed DirecTV to expand its offerings to 150 digital channels in competition with cable systems typically offering 30 analog channels.
  • 1994 - Turksat 1B - August 11: Turk Telekom's Turksat 1B, Turkey's first satellite, was launched into GEO orbit aboard an Ariane 4 launcher, following the failure of Turksat 1A in January, which exploded in the air due to launcher failure. Turksat 1B carried 16 Ku-band transponders of which 6 operated at 72 MHz and 10 at 36 MHz. Traffic on Turksat 1B included TV and radio broadcasting, data, voice and Internet for rural areas.
  • 1995 - PAS 4 - August 3: With the successful launch of PAS 4 aboard an Ariane 4 launcher, PanAmSat became the first private satellite company to achieve global coverage. The Hughes-built HS-601 satellite weighed 3.2 tons (2920 kg) and carried 20 C-band transponders and 30 Ku-band transponders.
  • 1995 - Okean 1 (Sich 1) - August 31: The first Ukrainian satellite, Okean 1, was launched was an oceanographic research satellite, developed by KB-3 at NPO Yuzhnoye in the Ukraine, Vladimir Iosifovich Dranvoskiy, Chief Designer. The Okean oceanographic research satellite was later renamed Sich-1 by the Ukrainians.
  • 1995 - FASat Alfa - August 31: FASat (Fuerza Aéra de Chile Satellite) Alfa was launched into orbit aboard a Soviet TSYCLON rocket. Constructed under a Technology Transfer Program between the Chilean Air Force and Surrey Satellite Technology of the UK., FASat Alfa was seen as a stepping stone for Chile in building scientific and technological experience. The program goals were to create a group of engineers with aerospace experience, put a Chilean satellite into orbit, and install and operate the Mission Control Station (ECM-Santiago) in Chile.
  • 1995 - Echostar 1 - December 28: Echostar 1, a Lockheed Martin AS-7000 satellite, was launched aboard an CZ-2E rocket from China's Xichang Center to provide direct-to-home television service in competition with DirecTV. Echostar was formed in 1980 by its chairman and CEO Charlie Ergen as a distributor of C-band TV systems. In 1992, the company's FCC application for an orbital slot at 119 degrees W was approved. In 1994, Echostar introduced the "Dish Network" as the brand name for its all-digital DBS service. Echostar 1 weighed 3.6 tons (3287kg) and carried 16 Ku-band transponders.
  • 1996 - Measat 1 - January 13: The launch of Measat 1, built by Boeing and launched on an Ariane 4 rocket, put Malaysia's first satellite into orbit. The Boeing 376 spacecraft weighed 1.6 tons (1450kg) and carried 12 C-band transponders and 5 high-powered Ku-band transponders for direct-to-home TV service. Innovations in the satellite included gallium arsenide solar cells delivering higher power, a lightweight, high-gain shaped antenna, and a more efficient bipropellant attitude control system. The owner, Binariang, used Measat 1 to provide service from India to Hawaii and from Japan to East Australia including telephony, video, data and business networks.
  • 1997 - PanAmSat Merger - May 16: PanAmSat and Hughes Electronics completed the merger of their fixed satellite services operations into a new publicly held company, also called PanAmSat, with Hughes as the majority owner. The merger, announced in 1996, made Hughes a satellite industry powerhouse that also controlled DirecTV and was the largest supplier of commercial satellites. After merging its fleet with Hughes' Galaxy satellite fleet, PanAmSat became one of the largest satellite fleet operators in the world.
  • 1997 - Thor II - May 20: Norway put its first satellite, the Hughes-built Thor 2, into GEO orbit. The spin-stabilized HS-376HP satellite, operated by Telenor, featured two telescoping cylindrical solar panels and folding shaped-beam antennas. It carried 18 Ku-band transponders and, co-located with Telenor's Nordic Hot-Bird, covered Scandinavia, the North Atlantic and Greenland. Thor 2 was decommissioned in 2002.
  • 1997 - Mabuhay (Agila 2) - August 19: The launch of Agila 2 added the Philippines to the list of satellite nations. Designed and built by Space Systems/Loral for the Mabuhay Philippines Satellite Corporation, Agila 2 was launched by a Chinese CZ-3B rocket to provide TV, telephone and data services to Southeast Asia. Agila 1 was lost due to rocket failure. Shaped beam antennas provided C-band access to 20 nations and Ku-band coverage to China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and the Philippines. A C-band spot-beam on Hawaii provided access to the USA.
  • 1998 - New Skies Satellites - March 31: The 22nd meeting of the Intelsat Assembly of Parties unanimously approved the creation of a private, independent spin-off company, New Skies Satellites, to be based in The Hague, Netherlands. As part of the agreement, Intelsat transferred working capital, five in-orbit satellites, one in-construction satellite and their associated orbital positions to the newly created company.
  • 1998 - Nilesat 101 - April 28: Nilesat 101, built by Astrium for the Egyptian Radio & TV Union, was launched into GEO orbit aboard an Ariane 44P launcher to deliver digital TV, radio and multimedia to more than five million homes across North Africa and the Middle East. The Eurostar-2000 satellite weighed 2 tons (1827kg) and carried 12 Ku-band transponders. It made Egypt the first country on the African continent to have its own direct TV broadcast satellite.
  • 1998 - ST 1 - August: The ST1 satellite, jointly owned by Singapore Telecom and Chungwha Telecom of Taiwan, was launched into GEO orbit aboard an Ariane 44P launcher, weighing 3.5 tons (3200kg) and carrying 16 Ku-band and 14 C-band transponders. The Astrium-built Eurostar 2000 model satellite provides telecom and direct-to-home broadcast services to most of Asia.
  • 1999 - ROCSAT 1 - January 27: RocSat 1 (Republic of China Satellite 1) was placed in low Earth orbit aboard a Lockheed Martin Athena 1 rocket to conduct experiments in ocean color imaging, space telecommunications and solar-terrestrial physics. Developed jointly by TRW with a team of NSPO engineers, RocSat 1 was three-axis-stabilized, weighed 886 lbs (402kg) and communicated with ground stations in S-band. It was renamed Formosat 1 in December 2004.
  • 1999 - Ørsted - February 23: A Delta-2 launch vehicle lifted the first Danish Satellite, Ørsted, into orbit, also carrying South Africa's SUNSAT microsatellite and the Advanced Research and Global Observation Satellite (ARGOS). From low Earth orbit, the small scientific satellite studied the Earth's magnetic field and its interaction with the solar wind. It was named for Hans Christian Ørsted (1777-1851) a Danish physicist who discovered that current flowing through a wire can deflect a magnetized compass needle, which inspired the development of electromagnetic theory.
  • 1999 - SunSAT - February 23: The launch of the Stellenbosch University Satellite (SUNSAT) added South Africa to the list of satellite nations. This micro-satellite, designed and built by electrical engineering students at the Stellenbosch University in South Africa, was designed for operation in low Earth orbit to provide imaging, worldwide store-and-forward email communications and remote sensing including studies of the Earth's magnetic field, gravity field, atmosphere, and ionosphere plus intercomparison of GPS and SLR precision orbits.
  • 1999 - Intelsat Assembly of Parties - October 29: In Penang, Malaysia, the INTELSAT Assembly of Parties, including representatives of all 143 member governments, voted unanimously to privatize the treaty organization that created the world's first international satellite system in order to ensure its long-term sustainability.
    2000's
    The story of the 21st Century's first decade is still being written - but it has already been a wild ride. As nations continued to score "satellite firsts," deal-makers began transforming the industry through a frenzied pace of mergers and acquisitions.
  • 2000 - VOD via Satellite - March: TVN Entertainment introduced ADONISS, the first commercial asset management and distribution platform for video-on-demand content delivery to cable and telco TV headends via satellite using open-standard interfaces. ADONISS offered a one-stop solution for complex problems in digital asset compression, encoding, asset management and distribution. By 2007, TVN was packaging, distributing and managing more than 3,000 hours of VOD programming per month for more than 150 content providers.
  • 2000 - ORBIT Act - March 17: US President Bill Clinton signed into law the Open-market Reorganization for the Betterment of International Telecommunications (ORBIT) Act, with the goal of helping to promote a more competitive global satellite services market. Among provisions provoking considerable controversy in the industry was a requirement for the full privatization of Intelsat.
  • 2000 - Saudisat - September 26: Saudi Arabia launched its first satellite, SaudiSat 1A, into low Earth orbit aboard a Russian Dnepr 1 rocket. Designed and built by the Space Research Institute at King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology in Riyadh, it provided store-and-forward communications and provided an amateur radio communications payload and several science experiments. Other small satellites that accompanying SaudiSat 1A into orbit included Megsat 1, Unisat 1 and Tiungsat 1.
  • 2000 - Thuraya 1 - October 21: Thuraya 1, the United Arab Emirates' first satellite, was inserted into GEO orbit by a Sea Launch Zenit-3SL rocket from a floating platform in the Pacific Ocean. The Boeing 702-model satellite weighed 5.6 tons (5108kg) and carries 128 L-band transponders and 2 C-band transponders. Under the $960 million contract signed in 1997, Hughes (acquired by Boeing) agreed to provide a complete space-based mobile communications system to user handsets in the Middle East, North and Central Africa, Europe, Central Asia and the Indian subcontinent from a total of two satellites. Thuraya 1, one of the most powerful ever launched, had the capacity to carry nearly 14,000 simultaneous calls.
  • 2001 - SES Global - March 28: SES Global announced the acquisition of GE Americom from General Electric for US$5 billion in cash and stock, granting General Electric a 25% stake in SES Global in the process. In the same transaction, SES Global acquired 100% of SES Astra, Europe's leading DTH company, in order to create a global fleet of 28 satellites plus partnership and investment investors in 13 others serving Asia and Latin America.
  • 2001 - Intelsat Ltd. - July 18: Intelsat completed its privatization by establishing a holding company, Intelsat Ltd., based in Bermuda, and formally ending its 37-year history as an international treaty organization.
  • 2001 - Merger - October: Hughes Electronics accepted a bid from Echostar CEO Charlie Ergen to acquire its DirecTV unit in a $25.8 billion deal that would create a single US DTH operator with nearly 17 million subscribers.
  • 2001 - Maroc-Tubsat - December 10: Morocco's first satellite, Maroc-Tubsat, was launched by Zenit rocket from the Baikonur Cosmodrome into a sun-synchronous orbit at an altitude of 621 miles (1000km). A joint project of CRTS Morocco and the Institut für Luft- und Raumfahrttechnik at TU Berlin, the 103-pound (47kg) satellite carried Earth remote sensing and vegetation detection equipment, store-and-forward communications (S-band) and experimental attitude-control systems.
  • 2002 - Rejection - October 10: Citing anti-trust concerns, the US Federal Communications Commission rejected the proposed $25.8 billion merger with DirecTV proposed by Echostar CEO Charlie Ergen and approved by the board of Hughes Electronics in October 2001.
  • 2002 - Alsat 1 - November 28: Algeria joined the satellite club with the launch of Alsat 1 aboard a Russian Kosmos-3M launcher. A joint project of the UK's Surrey Space Centre and the Algerian Centre National des Techniques Spatial, the 200-pound (90kg) microsatellite carried Earth imaging cameras providing 32-meter resolution and was the first satellite in the Surrey-led Disaster Monitoring Constellation of low-Earth-orbit satellites. Alsat 1 was launched with the Mozhayets and Rubin 3-DSI smallsats.
  • 2003 - Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation - April 9: Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation, General Motors and Hughes Electronics reached agreement on a deal through which News Corp. would acquire a 34% stake in Hughes (20% owned by GM) including DirecTV, Hughes Network Systems and an 81% ownership of PanAmSat. The acquisition was approved by the US Federal Communications Commission and Department of Justice on December 19.
  • 2003 - Hellas Sat 2 - May 13: The launch of Hellas-Sat 2 aboard a Lockheed Martin Atlas 5 rocket put Cyprus's first satellite into GEO orbit. It was owned by the Hellas Sat Consortium, a Greece-Cyprus venture majority-owned by the Greek national carrier OTE. An Astrium Eurostar-2000 satellite weighing 3.6 tons (3250kg) and carrying 30 Ku-band transponders suitable for direct-to-home television, Hellas-Sat went through multiple owners before reaching space. It was ordered by Intelsat, transferred prior to delivery to New Skies Satellites in 1988, then sold back to Intelsat in 2001. Unable to obtain an export license from the US government for launch on a Chinese Long March rocket, Intelsat cancelled the acquisition and, in 2002, the satellite was sold to the Hellas Sat Consortium.
  • 2003 - NigeriaSat - September 27: Nigeria became the latest nation with its own satellite when Nigeriasat1, a smallsat developed in cooperation with the UK's Surrey Space Centre, was placed in low Earth orbit by a Kosmos-3M launcher, along with STSAT 1, Bilsat 1, UK-DMC 1 Mozhayets 4, Larets and Rubin 4-DSI. Nigeriasat 1 operated as a node in the international Disaster Monitoring Constellation, a 6-nation collaboration led by Surrey Space Technologies bringing remarkable Earth observation capabilities to the countries involved as well as the international community.
  • 2004 - Connexion by Boeing - May 17: Boeing introduced Connexion by Boeing, providing in-flight connectivity for broadband Internet via satellite. Lufthansa was the first airline to contract for the service, for which Boeing installed a Ku-band antenna on the aircraft, leased satellite transponders and provisioned service from ground stations. Later the same year, ANA, Japan Airlines and SAS became partners. While other providers have offered in-flight Internet, only Connexion by Boeing accomplished it for flights over water. Boeing introduced maritime service in 2005 but, unable to attract enough users, it shut down consumer operations at the end of 2006. The company continued to provide service to government aircraft under a new name of Boeing Broadband Satcom Network.
  • 2004 - PanAmSat Acquired - August 20: An investment group including Kohlberg, Kravis Roberts, the Carlyle Group and Providence Equity Partners purchased PanAmSat from the News Corporation's DirecTV Group for $2.6 billion in cash. Following approval of the deal by the US Federal Communications Commission in June, the transaction completed the exit of News Corp. from the business of owning and managing commercial transponder capacity acquired when it bought DirecTV in 2003.
  • 2005 - Intelsat/PanAmSat - August 29: Intelsat and PanAmSat announced that the two companies would merge in a $6.4 billion deal that would create the world's largest satellite carrier with 51 spacecraft in orbit, eight teleports and more than 20 affiliated international gateways connected by 40,000 miles of fiber,” reaching 99% of the world’s populated regions. In the debt-financed, private-equity deal, Intelsat paid $25 per share in cash, or approximately $3.2 billion, and assumed an equal amount of PanAmSat's debt. The merger was approved by the US Department of Justice on May 26, 2006 and by the Federal Communications Commission on June 19, 2006. It became final on July 3.
  • 2005 - Sinah 1 - October 27: Iran became the 43rd country in the world to operate a satellite when the Sinah-1 was launched into low Earth orbit aboard a Kosmos-3M rocket, along with Topsat 1, China-DMS+4, Mozhayets 5, SSETI-Express, UWE1, XI 5, Ncube 2 and Rubin 5. The 350-lb (160kg) satellite carried an undisclosed experimental payload built by Russia's Polyot.
  • 2006 - Kazsat 1 - June 18: Kazakhstan became the 44th satellite nation when a Russian Proton-K-DM3 launcher put Kazsat 1 into GEO orbit. The 1.5-ton (1380kg) satellite, built by GKNPT Krunichev, carried 12 Ku-band transponders designed for TV, voice and data transmission for Kazakhstan and central Asia.
  • 2006 - Arqiva-BT - November 17: Arqiva, a British provider of satellite and terrestrial communications services, announced that it would acquire the Satellite Broadcast Services business of BT for 25 million pounds in cash, including long-term customer contracts, 6 teleports and personnel in the USA, France, Italy and the Netherlands. The deal marked BT's exit from the satellite business and the first international expansion of the private-equity-owned Arqiva.
  • 2006 - Skynet-Telesat - December 18: Loral Space and Communications announced an agreement with a Canadian partner, the Public Sector Pension Investment Board (PSP Investments) to acquire 100% of Telesat Canada from Bell Canada Enterprises for US$2.8 billion plus the assumption of US$148 million in debt. As part of the transaction, Loral agreed to transfer the fixed satellite services and network services of Loral Skynet to the new Canadian company, to be known as Telesat, based in Ottawa. The new company would have a fleet of 11 satellites in orbit and 4 on order, and revenues of about US$568 million.
  • 2007 - Libertad 1 - April 17: Columbia became the 45th satellite nation with the launch of the smallsat Libertad 1 aboard a Dnepr rocket from the Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, along with Egyptsat 1, Saudisat 3, SaudiComsat 3,4,5,6 and 7, CP 3, CP 4, CAPE 1, AeroCube 2, CSTB 1, and MAST. Built by the Space Program of the Sergio Arboleda University, the 2-lb (1kg) satellite used a telemetric payload that Kept it in communication with the University.
  • 2008 - January 15 - The third Geo-mobile satellite for Thuraya Satellite Telecommunications Company, based in the United Arab Emirates, was successfully launched. The Boeing-built Thuraya satellites enable mobile telephone services, transmitting and receiving calls through each satellite's 12.25-meter-aperture reflector. Calls are routed directly from one handheld unit to another or to a terrestrial network. The system has the capacity for 25,120 simultaneous voice circuits.
  • 2008 - April 7 – Hughes announced the activation of its first HughesNet consumer broadband Internet subscriber on its SPACEWAY 3 Ka-band satellite, launched in August 2007. SPACEWAY 3 employs high-performance, onboard digital processing, packet switching, and spot-beam technology to offer direct site-to-site connectivity at rates of from 512 Kbps up to 16 Mbps.
  • 2008 - April 14 – ICO Global Communications celebrated the successful launch of its new North American geosynchronous satellite, ICO G1. With a total mass of 6,634kg, ICO G1 was the largest satellite ever launched by an Atlas rocket, and the largest commercial satellite ever launched. Operating in the 2 GHz S-band, the satellite will allow ICO to offer a new generation of mobile services for consumers, including fully interactive mobile video, navigation and emergency assistance service to be known as ICO mim™ (mobile interactive media).
  • 2008 - April 18 – Vietnam’s first telecommunications satellite, Vinasat-1, was successful placed into orbit by an Ariane rocket. The satellite, which will be operated by Vietnam Posts and Telecommunications Group, will provide mobile broadcasting, direct-to-home television, video conferencing and data transmission to Vietnam and the Asia-Pacific region. The satellite will also allow Vietnam's rural communities access to telephone communications, videoconferencing, high-speed Internet, radio, tele-medicine, and tele-education.
  • 2008 - July 29 - The longest-running merger proposal in history came to a close when XM Satellite Radio and Sirius Satellite Radio became one company named Sirius XM Satellite Radio. The merger, announced February 2007, sought to combine the two US satellite radio companies in order to compete more effectively with terrestrial and Internet alternatives.
  • 2008 - September 28 – The Falcon 1 rocket’s fourth launch was the first success for Space Exploration Technology Corp. (SpaceX), and marked the entrance of the first privately funded, liquid-fuelled launcher into the competitive launch services market. The brainchild of PayPal founder Elon Musk, the Falcon 1 rocket is designed to minimize price per launch for low-Earth-orbit satellites and is the precursor to the more powerful Falcon 9, which, if successful, will allow SpaceX to launch larger geostationary satellites and go head-to-head with the established launch services companies.
  • 2008 - December 1 – China launched a new remote sensing satellite aboard a Chinese CZ-2D Chang Zheng 2D launch vehicle. The satellite was developed by the China Academy of Space Technology and, according to state media, will be used for scientific research, land resources surveying, crop yield estimate and disaster prevention and relief, having a positive role in the country’s economic development.
  • 2008 - February 10 – An Iridium satellite and a Russian Cosmos satellite collided in the first-ever satellite crash. According to the U.S. Strategic Command's Space Surveillance Network, the collision left behind an estimated 600 pieces of debris. Prior to this incident, there were roughly 17,000 pieces of manmade debris orbiting Earth. The low-earth orbit (LEO) location of the collision contains many other active satellites that could be at risk from the resulting orbital debris.
  • 2009 - February - An Iridium satellite in low Earth orbit collided with a Russian Cosmos satellite being relocated to a new orbital position. The collision occurred at an altitude of 790 kilometers (491 miles) over northern Siberia and created over 500 pieces of space debris.
  • 2009 - February - Iran reported a successful launch of its first domestically-produced satellite into orbit aboard a Safir-2 rocket. According to official reports, the satellite, called Omid or Hope in Farsi, is intended for telecommunications and research activities. The launch makes Iran the 11th country to put a satellite into orbit since the Soviet Union launched Sputnik in 1957.
  • 2009 - June - NASA celebrated the five year anniversary of the Cassini probe’s arrival at Saturn. The mission’s extension, through September 2010, was named for the Saturnian equinox, which occurred in August 2009 when the sun shone directly on the equator and began to illuminate the northern hemisphere and the rings’ northern face. Cassini is observing seasonal changes brought by the changing sun angle on Saturn, the rings and moons, which were illuminated from the south during the mission’s first four years.
  • 2009 - July - SpaceX performed the first commercial mission of its Falcon 1 vehicle. The two-stage, liquid oxygen/rocket-grade kerosene vehicle lifted off from the Reagan Test Site on Omelek Island, approximately 2,500 miles southwest of Hawaii. The launch placed the RazakSAT satellite into Earth orbit for Malaysia.
  • 2009 - July - An Ariane 5 rocket lifted Terrestar-1, the heaviest commercial satellite ever launched, into orbit to provide a fully integrated satellite-terrestrial mobile network leveraging TerreStar’s S-band mobile satellite service (MSS) spectrum. The launch was followed in September by the announcement that the company had teamed with AT&T to bring to market the first fully integrated satellite-mobile smartphone in the United States.
  • 2009 - October - ViaSat signed a definitive agreement to acquire WildBlue Communications in a cash and stock transaction valued at $568 million. WildBlue’s Ka-band consumer broadband service will use capacity on the ViaSat-1 satellite, set for launch in early 2011, and ViaSat will integrate its ground network technology with WildBlue’s operational and distribution platform.
  • 2009 - November - Intelsat celebrated two successful launches just one week apart. On 23rd a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket lifted Intelsat 14 into orbit carrying the first government payload hosted aboard a commercial satellite. The payload was Cisco's Internet Router in Space (IRIS), designed to test the extension of IP routing into Earth orbit for the US Defense Department and commercial customers. Then on the 30th, Intelsat 15 was launched from Kazakhstan aboard a Land Launch Zenit 3SLB vehicle. The Intelsat 15 satellite will broadcast video and data services to Russia and the Middle East.
  • 2009 - December 28 - The DIRECTV 12 satellite was launched aboard a Proton rocket from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The satellite completes DIRECTV's phased expansion of high-definition television service to U.S. households. Built by Boeing, DIRECTV 12 will allow the direct-to-home broadcasting firm to expand its HD capacity by 50 percent to 200 national HD channels and 1,500 local HD channels.
  • 2009 - Three companies filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 2009: In June it was Sea Launch, reporting assets of between $100 million and $500 million and estimated debt of almost $2 billion. In November, Sea Launch secured financing for continued operations and just two weeks later successfully launched the Intelsat 15 satellite from the Baikonur Space Center in Kazakhstan. In May, DBSD North America, formerly known as ICO North America, a subsidiary of ICO Global Communications, filed claiming assets totaling about $630 million as of March 31 and outstanding debt of about $813 million. Then in July Asian satellite operator ProtoStar filed for bankruptcy. Intelsat won the bidding for the ProtoStar 1 satellite in October with a $210 million offer. The ProtoStar 2 satellite went to SES during a December auction for $185 million.

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    Satellite Timeline

    An interactive timeline of significant events in satellite and telecommunications industry over the last fifty years. Click on the image to the left to tour the decades of the Satellite Era.

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