On December 18, 1958, the world’s first communications satellite was launched. Dubbed SCORE (Signal Communication by Orbiting Relay Equipment), the project was so secret that only 88 people were aware of its existence. Before the date of the SCORE launch, 53 of the 88 people had been told the project had been canceled and they were not to mention to anyone that it had ever existed.
The craft carried messages on a tape recorder which was also used to send a Christmas greeting from President Eisenhower for 13 days:
“This is the President of the United States speaking. Through the marvels of scientific advance, my voice is coming to you from a satellite traveling in outer space. My message is a simple one: Through this unique means I convey to you and all mankind, America’s wish for peace on Earth and goodwill toward men everywhere.”
The underlying message was less cheery. The U.S. now had the capability of delivering a nuclear weapon from space.
Sputnik 1, launched on October 4, 1957, was the first satellite and had a radio transmitter, but SCORE’s messages could be uploaded and changed from the ground. Wikipedia has a list of communications satellite firsts.
Satellite swarms are now revolutionizing Earth imaging. Planet Labs, a Silicon Valley startup, uses an ultra-small 3U Cubesat design, and promises to shake up the field of satellite imagery.
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