The History Behind Satellite Technology

Most of us take satellite technology for granted, as if it always existed. However, those who are in their golden years will remember a time in which satellites did not exist. The truth is that satellite technology has not been around for very long. This amazing technology has only been around for about half a century yet it has revolutionized our way of life.

The Origins of Satellite Technology

The first satellite was the size of a basketball. Referred to as “Sputnik”, this Russian satellite was launched on October 4, 1957. Sputnik took a mere 98 minutes to orbit the Earth as it proceeded along its elliptical path. It only took four months for the United States to develop its version of an artificial satellite, Explorer 1. These technological breakthroughs spawned the dawn of the space race. There is no doubt that the invention of satellites changed how people look at planet Earth. Satellites made it possible to communicate with people across the globe in an instantaneous manner. They also allowed humanity to view life on Earth from a brand new vantage point. It is worth noting that satellites are referred to as “artificial” because they are man-made. Natural satellites also exist throughout space. An example is the Earth’s moon.

The International Council of Scientific Unions

The launch of Sputnik can be partially attributed to the work performed by the International Council of Scientific Unions in 1952. This group determined that the time frame of July 1, 1957 to December 31, 1958 represented a period of intense solar activity. This window of time was dubbed as the “International Geophysical Year” (IGY). The council called for the launch of satellites during the IGY in an effort to create a map of the Earth’s surface. One year later, the White House announced its intent to send a satellite into outer space for the IGY. Proposals were solicited from Government research agencies for the project. Within two months, the Naval Research Laboratory’s Vanguard was selected to represent the United States for the IGY. This group created a satellite with a 3.5 pound payload. This size paled in comparison to that of the Soviet Union’s 186 pound Sputnik.

Beyond Sputnik

Thousands of artificial satellites have been launched since the Soviet Union sent Sputnik into the great beyond nearly 60 years ago. According to some sources, the exact number of man-made satellites sent into outer space is 6,600. Space stations also qualify as satellites. They are unique in the fact that they are sometimes launched piece by piece and assembled in orbit. All in all, over 40 countries have relied on the satellite launching technology developed by 10 scientifically advanced countries. Out of the thousands of satellites launched into space, 3,600 are still in orbit. About a thousand are still operational. Those that are no longer operational are currently circling the Earth in the form of space debris.


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