19 September 2009

Weighing only 55 lbs and about the size of a bass drum, the first geostationary communications satellites were the three Syncom satellites built by Hughes in the 1960s. Syncom 1 was launched on 13 February 1963 atop a Delta rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida. All communications with Syncom 1 were lost when the apogee kick motor was only a second left from its 22 second burn to put it into geostationary orbit.

Syncom 2 was launched 26 July 1963 and was more successful. After a month in near-geostationary orbit with the USS Kingsport in Lagos Harbor, Nigeria, acting as a relay, Syncom 2 allowed President John F. Kennedy to speak by phone to Nigerian Prime Minister Abubaker Balewa from the White House in the first satellite conversation between two heads of state.

Syncom 3 was launched a year later and reached true geostationary orbit in time to broadcast the opening ceremonies of the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo in the first continuous satellite TV broadcast across the Pacific. Syncoms 2 and 3 would operate until 1966, providing telephone service home for US troops in Vietnam.

The Syncom ground station dish was 85 feet across, cost millions of dollars and only had a single channel. Today's home satellite dishes are less than 2 feet across, cost under $100 and provide over 300 channels.

Source: Air & Space Smithsonian, September 2009. "Spin Doctors- How three engineers launched the comsat revolution" by Guy Gugliotta, p25.

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