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MAKING THE MODERN WORLD
Stories about the lives we've made

story:Space: The final frontier?

scene:Satellites: Communication and remote sensing


The Early Bird satellite, 1965. Also known as Intelsat 1, Early Bird was launched on 6 April 1965 into geostationary orbit over the Atlantic Ocean to become the world's first commercial communications satellite. picture zoom © National Aeronautics & Space Administration/Science & Society Picture Library

In 1945 Arthur C. Clarke published his seminal paper on what we would now call communications satellites. He predicted that such ‘extra-terrestrial relay stations' would enable telephone calls to be beamed around the world. His vision came true in the 1960s when the first communications satellites were launched by rocket into very high Earth orbits.

Today there are constellations of satellites in a variety of orbits that carry our phone calls, e-mails and television signals. They form a vital part of the growing global information network. Other spacecraft tell us where we are on the planet – whether in the air, on land or at sea. There are also eyes in the sky – satellites that look down on the Earth, its continents, oceans and atmosphere. We depend on such space platforms to forecast the weather and, increasingly, to tell us how we are affecting the Earth's environments.


Landsat image of the Tien Shan mountains on China's northwestern border. Five Landsats were launched between 1972 and 1984 to study the Earth's surface. Today satellites are used to provide information for map-making, studies of land use, pollution monitoring and mineral prospecting. picture zoom © National Aeronautics & Space Administration/Science & Society Picture Library


Resource Descriptions

The Early Bird satellite, 1965. Also known as Intelsat 1, Early Bird was launched on 6 April 1965 into geostationary orbit over the Atlantic Ocean to become the world's first commercial communications satellite.
Landsat image of the Tien Shan mountains on China's northwestern border. Five Landsats were launched between 1972 and 1984 to study the Earth's surface. Today satellites are used to provide information for map-making, studies of land use, pollution monitoring and mineral prospecting.
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