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A-1 was the first French satellite, launched on 26 November 1965 from the soon-to-close Hammaguir launch site in Algeria (which had gained independence from French rule a few years earlier). The original designation of A-1 was later changed in honour of the cartoon character, Asterix (although it had almost been called Zebulon or Zebby, after a puppet from the telelvision show The Magic Roundabout). With the launch of Asterix, France became the third country to launch its own satellite, and the sixth to have a satellite in orbit (the UK, Canada and Italy had satellites launched previously on American rockets). Asterix had been developed as part of a kind of internal French space race. It was built and launched just ten days before the FR-1 satellite was launched on an American Scout rocket. Weighing … Read entire article »



Cosmos 2222 was launched twenty years ago on 25 November, 1992 from the Plesetsk cosmodrome. The 1900 kilogram US-K model satellite was part of the Oko (eye) program, which were intended to identify ballistic missile launches through infra-red detection of their exhaust. To detect these launches the satellites were equipped with a distinctive telescope equipped with a four metre sunshade. Cosmos 2222 ceased functioning in December 1996, but remains in orbit today, along with the Molniya rocket body that launched it. … Read entire article »


Cosmos 312 was the fifth of the Soviet Sfera satellites (thus also known as Sfera 5), launched on 24 November 1969. The Sfera (sphere) program was a series of geodetic satellites used to improve the accuracy of maps – and of long-range weapons systems. The satellites held flashing lights to indicate their position relative to the surrounding starfields and thus used to measure the position of points on the earth’s surface to within a few dozen meters. Still in orbit today, Cosmos 312 is accompanied by the rocket booster that launched it. … Read entire article »


On 23 November 1960 the TIROS-2 satellite was launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida, aboard a Thor-Delta rocket. Also known as TIROS-B, the satellite’s name indicates that it was the second Television InfraRed Observation Satellite. The TIROS program was NASA’s first step in using satellites to study the earth – meteorology being the most promising application. TIROS-2 had two television cameras for imaging cloud cover, as well as radiometers for measuring infrared radiation from earth and the atmosphere. It was the first satellite to make infrared observations. The craft was a 127 kilogram, 18-sided right prism 107 cm in diameter and 56 cm high constructed from aluminum alloy and stainless steel and tiled with 9260 solar cells which … Read entire article »

Skynet 1A

Skynet 1A was the first of the Skynet family of British military communication satellites. The satellite was a 422 kilogram spin-stabilised cylinder (a “spinner”), 810 mm high and 1370 mm in diameter with a despun antenna platform, built by Philco Ford/Ford Aerospace in the United States (later Skynet satellites were built in the United Kingdom). The Skynet program was begun after Lord Mountbatten recommended that the three armed forces use a single method of communication, and the satellite was intended to provide secure voice, telegraph and fax. Two ships, Fearless and Intrepid were fitted with 2 metre dish stations to work with Skynet 1. Launched on 22 November 1969 from Cape Canaveral aboard a Delta M rocket, Skynet 1A was … Read entire article »

Injun 4

The “Injun” satellite series was developed at the University of Iowa by James Van Allen (and his team of “Injuneers”), launched between 1961 and 1974 to study radiation and magnetic phenomena in the ionosphere and beyond. Injun 1 was the first satellite developed by a university. They notably monitored radiation from the Starfish Prime high-altitude nuclear test and mapped the Van Allen belts. The last three of six satellites in the Injun series were launched by NASA as part of the Explorer program, thus Injun 4 is also designated Explorer 25. Originally, Van Allen had intended to name the first satellite of this series Hawkeye, for Iowa’s mascot and football team, but to avoid confusion with the new Hawk … Read entire article »

Solidaridad 1

When Mexico retired its first telecommunications satellites – Morelos 1 and 2 – they turned to their creators at Hughes Space and Communications Company to create replacements. The first replacement was Solidaridad 1, launched along with Meteosat 6 by Ariane rocket from Kourou, French Guiana on 20 November 1993. Also known as Satmex 3, Solidaridad 1′s name was chosen to indicate its role of uniting metropolitan and rural Mexico with the world. The satellite covered Mexico, with some bands extending to the United States, Caribbean and South America, providing “voice telephony, data communications, television relay, facsimile transmission, business networks … educational TV broadcasts … [and] nationwide mobile services.” Twelve thousand rural schools across the country received educational … Read entire article »


The United States Navy has a natural interest in Solar radiation because of its impact on radio communications on Earth. During the 1950s, attempts were made to measure radiation from Solar flares using rockets, but it took the advent of the satellite age for the field to mature. The SOLRAD (SOLar RADiation) satellite program began in 1960 and continued until 1976, making it one of the longest-running series of satellites devoted to a single research program. Early SOLRAD satellites were launched with the then-classified GRAB (Galactic Radiation And Background) satellites, the United States’ first intelligence satellites, designed to intercept Soviet signals. The first SOLRAD/GRAB mission was the first multiple-satellite launch. It determined that radio fade-outs were caused by … Read entire article »

Review: ‘Communications from superior galactic communities’ by Ronald Bracewell

[This post is the second in a series exploring major works in the field of space archaeology. Read the first part here.] In 1959, Giuseppe Cocconi and Philip Morrison proposed what would become the mainstream strategy of the modern search for extraterrestrial intelligence: scanning for interstellar radio signals intentionally beamed towards the Solar system by advanced civilisations. Ronald Bracewell of Stanford University, however, questioned some of the assumptions on which the nascent SETI program was founded: that interstellar communication was only practical using electromagnetic waves; that civilisations would transmit ‘on spec’ over geological timespans; and that a civilisation would be close enough that we would be among its targets. In late May, 1960, Nature published his response, ‘Communications from Superior Galactic … Read entire article »

Review: ‘Searching for interstellar communications’, by Giuseppe Cocconi and Philip Morrison

[This post is the first in a series exploring major works in the field of space archaeology. The next will be more artefact-based, but it was important to begin with the origin of SETI itself.] On 19 September 1959, the modern search for extraterrestrial intelligence was born with the publication in the prestigious journal Nature of an article by Giuseppe Cocconi and Philip Morrison of Cornell University. The piece, ‘Searching for interstellar communications,’ proposed a search of nearby sun-like stars for microwave radio signals on the 21-centimeter hydrogen line. You can read the article online at the (paywalled) Nature archive, or for free here and here. It’s quite short, go read! Welcome back! For such a brief article, … Read entire article »