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Valira Torrent:   Contents | Subject index


Perforation image from Serif Art Gallery. © Serif Inc, 1996

Valira Torrent - bulletin of the Andorran Philatelic Study Circle. Issue 17, pp5-7 (March 1983)

Copyright notice

Spotlight on Commems Telstar stamp
Catalogue numbers
Scott 154   SG 185   Yv 165   Michel 178

Telstar - the 1st Transatlantic Televison Satelite

By Ray B. Dixon

Space the final frontier .............. Star Trek 1966

A communication satellite idea was first documented in a magazine article in 1945 by the well known author Arthur C. Clarke. As in most pioneering exploits it was not clear what techniques would prove the most useful. This resulted in many varied and different ideas.

There were basically two types of satellite, passive and active. With passive satellites, a signal being transmitted from one point on Earth is reflected from the satellite, so that it reaches the second point on Earth, for which it was intended. Active satellites contain a transponder, that can transmit, amplify and receive signals from the respective ground station. Herein lies their big advantage, amplification.

The very earliest communications, by means of a passive satellite, made use of signals reflected from the Moon. By 1960 a communication link was established between Washington D.C. and Hawaii. Due to the Moon's terrain and unavailability each and every month, this idea was eventually superceeded.

In August 1960, Echo 1 was launched into approximately 1600km circular orbit by the Thor Delta 1 launch vehicle, (also used to launch Telstar). Echo 1 was a 30m diameter balloon made of plastic, (Mylar) and coated with aluminium to aid signal reflection. Tests were carried out between California and New Jersey. Reflecting signals from Echo was a complete success. Used for experimental telephone, facsimile, (photographs and drawings) and data transmissions, Echo 1 began to change shape due to "memory" of the plastic form, which causes material to return to its prior condition.

Echo 2, (41 metres in diameter) was made twenty times more rigid and was successfully launched in January 1964. Television pictures were received in Africa. Tests were also carried out between the United States, Manchester in England and Gorky in the U.S.S.R.

Project West Ford originated in 1958 and was an ingenious passive scheme. The proposal was to launch into orbit, around the Earth, a dispersed ring of wires, completely circumscribing the globe, from the North to the South Pole. Communications being achieved by pointing transmitting and receiving antenna towards any point on the ring. Astronomers strongly objected to such cluttering of space which could seriously affect their radio telescope signals. This objection was simply overcome by making the wires from a substance that would gradually disintegrate in space. Launched in May 1963 into a 3,000km orbit, several tests and experiments were carried out between Pleasanton, California and West Ford, Massachusetts. The success of Active satellites however, heralded the end of passive communications.

The very first active communication satellite was SCORE, launched in December 1958. The 68kg satellite capably demonstrated the future of space communications and was a U.S. Air Force project. It transmitted for 13 days and re-entered 34 days later.

The U.S. Army (not to be outdone) took over Project Courier. A similar satellite to Telstar, it was launched in October 1960 by a Thor-Able-Star rocket, into an orbital altitude of between 924km and 1212km. Courier was a delayed repeater type satellite and operated successfully for 18 days, before its final demise.

The next active satellite to be launched was Telstar. What made Telstar so unique was that it was built and launched at the expense of the American Telephone and Telegraph Company, (private enterprise). Weighing in at 78kg it was launched from Cape Canaveral on the 10th July, 1962. The external appearance of Telstar is well known. It was a faceted sphere with solar panels and a diameter of only 88cm and the double row of openings around it's circumference which compose the receiving and transmitting antennas. Sixty of it's 72 facets carried a total of 3600 solar cells which converted the sun's energy to supply about 15 watts of electrical energy. Its orbital characteristics were:-

Telstar
   Apogee:        5435  Kilometres
   Perigee:        914  Kilometres
   Inclination:     45  Degrees
   Period:         158  Minutes

Telstar not only carried the communications transponder, but a sophisticated command and control system. Aboard was also a telemetry system capable of measuring and transmitting to the ground the conditions of all elements of the space craft, as well as the results of radiation particle monitoring and damage experiments. Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on the point of view, Telstar was launched one day following the United States high altitude nuclear explosion on July 9th, 1962. This caused an unexpectedly high exposure to high energy particles, particularly electrons. Telstar provided excellent monitoring of these increases in radiation intensity but at the same time, sustained an unexpected damage rate because of the additional particles.

A giant moveable horn antenna near Andover, Maine locked onto the shifting satellite. When correctly positioned the first television pictures were transmitted across the Atlantic and received at the Pleumeur Bodou station in Northern France. On the 11th July the signals were received at the British P.O. station at Goonhilly Downs, in Cornwall.

On November 24th after months of successful operations, Telstar's decoders failed. An ingenious signal confirmed damaged transistors, due most likely to the passage through the Van Allen radiation belts. Another signal was transmitted, to remove the voltage from the damaged transistors, was accepted and permitted eventual recovery, on 20th December, 1962.

Telstar continued to function until February 21st, 1963 when trouble again appeared in the command system and Telstar went silent forever.

With the success of Telstar, Telstar 2, (slightly larger and heavier) was launched on 7th May, 1963, into a higher orbit to avoid harmful radiation. With the exception of the period from July 16th to August 12th when Telstar 2 failed to respond, this sister satellite functioned perfectly the remainder of its useful life.

The stamp, designed by Claude Durrens and engraved by Jean Bequet, clearly shows Telstar above the North Atlantic. The satellite is shown receiving signals from France and transmitting to the United States. As stated, Telstar was launched on the 10th July, 1962 and transmitted T.V. pictures on that date from Andover to Pleumeur Bodou and to Britain on the llth July. The 11th and 12th July shown on the stamp are the dates the first T.V. transmissions took place between France and the United States.

The 50c stamp in blue and reddish violet was released on September 29th, 1962. Recess printed, and in common with all French Andorra issues printed by the P.T.T. in Paris at the Atelier de Fabrication des Timbres. Produced from three cylinders, in sheets of 25 each cylinder, each stamp was 52mm by 3lmm, comb perf 13 and each sheet was 5 by 5 with no dated corners (coin-daté). A total of 400,000 were printed, the actual quantity sold has not been released. The stamps were on sale in Paris and in Andorra and are still postally valid in Andorra. The same design (with slight rearranging) was used for the following French possessions, all issued after 29th September: Comoro Island, Somali Coast, St. Pierre and Miquelon, Fr. Polynesia, New Caledonia, Wallis and Futuna Islands, French Southern and Antartic Territories.

From a thematic stand point I'm sure Telstar would provide an ideal topical, as many other countries issued Telstar stamps, with Jamaica and Nigeria the only commonwealth countries to do so.

Detail of flaw

There is an excellent flaw on stamp R1/l with the broken frame line above JUILLET. It is found on all three cylinders but is most pronounced on the central cylinder. There are a number of other minor varieties, mainly blue blobs of colour etc. The stamps have the Presse marking IZ5


Zucker rocket cover

Along with normal F.D.C's, a number were serviced with a rocket cachet "ZR. 122" in red or black. The covers also show a sticker depicting a map of Andorra with the superimposed flight path of a rocket - "122 Zucker". These stickers, in yellow, red, blue and green with a white background measure approx. 64 by 56mm and are perf 11. Larger and imperforate stickers have also been recorded. The cachet and stickers are Bogus Issues.

References

W. A. Jacques, Andorra - Andorre;
Scott Postage Stamp Cat.
L. Jaffe, Communications in Space;
W. R. Corliss, Scientific Satellites;
The Encyclopaedia Britannica.

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Updated 10th October 2000