1st active repeater communications satellite launches, December 13, 1962

-December 13, 2016

NASA’s Relay 1, the first active repeater communications satellite, launched atop a Delta B rocket from LC-17A at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on December 13, 1962. (See NASA illustration of Relay 1 to right)

Unfortunately, two basic problems arose shortly after launch: the satellite's response to spurious commands and the leakage of a high-power regulator. The leakage caused the first two weeks of satellite operation to be useless.

After this period, satellite operation returned to normal, allowing the satellite’s transmitters (one transmitter for tracking and one for telemetry) to perform.

But the leakage problem caused the satellite to revert to a low voltage state early in 1965. Sporadic transmission occurred until February 10, 1965, after which no usable scientific data was obtained.

Relay 1 was the first satellite to broadcast television from the United States to Japan. The first broadcast during orbit on November 22, 1963 was to be a prerecorded address from the United States President John F Kennedy to the Japanese people. Instead, the broadcast was an announcement of JFK’s assassination.

In the three days following the Kennedy assassination, Relay 1 handled a total of 11 spot broadcasts (eight to Europe and three to Japan) as all the useful passes of the satellite were made available to permit immediate coverage of the assassination.

In August 1964, this satellite was used as the United States-Europe link for the broadcast of the 1964 Summer Olympics from Tokyo, after the signal was relayed to the United States via the Syncom 3 satellite. This marked the first time that two satellites were used in tandem for a television broadcast.

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For more moments in tech history, see this blog. EDN strives to be historically accurate with these postings. Should you see an error, please notify us.

Editor's note: This article was originally posted on December 13, 2012 and edited on December 13, 2016.

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