Today in History – December 18, 1958 – SCORE (Signal Communication by Orbital Relay Equipment) was the world’s first communications satellite to be put into orbit. As the first American satellite to relay communications from one ground station to another, SCORE used a tape recorder to store and forward voice messages. It was used to send a Christmas greeting via short wave frequency to the world from U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower.
The SCORE satellite was designed and built by Kenneth Masterman-Smith, a military communication research engineer, along with other personnel with the U.S. Army Signal Research and Development Laboratory (SRDL) at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey. Launched in an Atlas rocket, SCORE provided a first test of a communications relay system in space. The technical objectives were to demonstrate the capabilities of satellite launch from an Atlas missile and the feasibility of transmitting messages through the upper atmosphere from one ground station to one or more ground stations. Score placed the United States at an even technological par with the Soviet Union as a highly functional response to the Sputnik satellites. The payload weighed 150 pounds, and was built into the fairing pods of the 9000 pound Atlas missile. Any of four ground stations in the southern United States could command the satellite into playback mode to transmit the stored message or into record mode to receive and store a new message. Its batteries lasted 12 days and it reentered the atmosphere on 21 January 1959.
SCORE was an early research endeavor for the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA), which eventually evolved into the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). It was developed during the dawn of satellite communication innovation in the U.S. and abroad. The first satellite equipped with on-board radio-transmitters was the Soviet Sputnik 1, launched in 1957. NASA launched an Echo satellite in 1960; the 100-foot aluminized PET film balloon served as a passive reflector for radio communications. Courier 1B, (built by Philco) also launched in 1960, was the world’s first active repeater satellite. Telstar was the first active, direct relay communications satellite. Belonging to AT&T as part of a multi-national agreement between AT&T, Bell Telephone Laboratories, NASA, the British General Post Office, and the French National PTT (Post Office) to develop satellite communication, it was launched by NASA from Cape Canaveral on July 10, 1962, the first privately sponsored space launch.
For more information, see the Engineering Pathway’s educational resources on communications satellites or GPS and geomatics systems. For related curricula, visit the Information Technology Education, Electrical Engineering Education , Surveying and Geomatics Engineering Education disciplinary communities.