Loss of the OTS 1 Satellite

OTS In Orbit - Artist's Impression

The OTS Satellite In Orbit – Artist’s Impression

This is a sorry tale of how four years’ work was destroyed in 54 seconds. Some say that the number thirteen is unlucky and on 13th September 1977, exactly 35 years ago today, this proved to be the case for me and the whole team that developed the OTS satellite. Here’s how things played out.

The European Space Agency’s Orbital Test Satellite (OTS) was one of the very first geostationary, 3-axis-stabilised Ku-Band communications satellites. It was developed as a test bed for a host of new European technologies and transmission techniques aimed at bringing regional TV and trunk telephony services to Europe. It was the forerunner of the highly successful ECS satellites which were subsequently operated and managed by EUTELSAT.

I spent four years working on different aspects of the OTS satellite, the communications transmission design and on the ground segment earth stations. For any interested readers with a technical bent you can check out details on the EXPERIENCE and PUBLICATIONS pages of this site.

In March 1977 I took on the role of designing, planning and implementing the in-orbit testing (IOT) of OTS. This was to be carried out from Telespazio’s Fucino earth station complex in the mountains east of Rome, Italy, and you can check out the Fucino earth station complex with the interactive Google Map on my related blog post [Read more…]

50 Years of Satellite Communications

It’s not often that I publish two blog posts in quick succession, but this is an exception. Only a couple of weeks ago on July 10th 2012 I posted “The Birth of Satellite Communications” on the anniversary of the launch of Telstar, the world’s first commercial communications satellite.
That blog post was subsequently published in the July 2012 MilsatMagazine article here.

Since then I have come across some other references and resources that I believe are really worth capturing and sharing. First, an excellent 12 minute video produced by the European Space Agency and entitled “50 Years via Satellite”. Below the ESA video are links to some things that The Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum have contributed. All these are worth watching.

ESA-Euronews video: 50 Years via Satellite

Video 1

The Smithsonian Institute National Air and Space Museum Links:
The Smithsonian Institute hosted a commemorative event here.
The chair of their History Division, Paul Ceruzzi, produced a very good blog post here.

Many thanks to Isabel Lara (@isalara) at The Smithsonian for providing these two links.

50 Years Ago Today – The Birth of Satellite Communications

First Satellite TV in the UK received by Goonhilly
The Telstar Satellite

The Telstar Satellite

10th July 1962 marked the birth of satellite communications. Exactly 50 years ago today the Telstar satellite commenced its journey into space from Cape Canaveral and became the first ever active commercial communications satellite. It carried the first live trans-Atlantic TV broadcasts.

These days, satellite launches are commonplace and polar orbits, MEO orbits, Molniya orbits, Tundra orbits and the geostationary orbit are filled with communications satellites operating at frequency bands from UHF through L-Band, S-Band, C-Band, X-Band, Ku-Band, Ka-Band and above. As at 1st January 2012 there were 419 satellites operating in the geostationary orbit alone.

I’m not writing this as a “third party commentator”, but as someone who has been intimately involved with and has contributed to the development of satellite communications [Read more…]