Telstar is the name of various communications satellites. The first two Telstar satellites were experimental and nearly identical. Telstar 1 launched on top of a Thor-Delta rocket on July 10, 1962. It successfully relayed through space the first television pictures, telephone calls, and telegraph images, and provided the first live transatlantic television feed. Telstar 2 launched May 7, 1963. Telstar 1 and 2—though no longer functional—still orbit the Earth.
Belonging to AT&T, the original Telstar was part of a multi-national agreement among AT&T (USA), Bell Telephone Laboratories (USA), NASA (USA), GPO (United Kingdom) and the National PTT (France) to develop experimental satellite communications over the Atlantic Ocean. Bell Labs held a contract with NASA, paying the agency for each launch, independent of success.
Six ground stations were built to communicate with Telstar, one each in the US, France, the UK, Canada, Germany and Italy. The American ground station—built by Bell Labs—was Andover Earth Station, in Andover, Maine. The main British ground station was at Goonhilly Downs in southwestern England. The BBC, as international coordinator, used this location. The standards 525/405 conversion equipment (filling a large room) was researched and developed by the BBC and located in the BBC Television Centre, London. The French ground station was at Pleumeur-Bodou (48°47′10″N 3°31′26″W) in north-western France. The Canadian ground station was at Charleston, Nova Scotia. The German ground station was at Raisting in Bavaria. The Italian ground station was at Fucino in Abruzzo.
The satellite was built by a team at Bell Telephone Laboratories that included John Robinson Pierce, who created the project; Rudy Kompfner, who invented the traveling-wave tube transponder that the satellite used; and James M. Early, who designed its transistors and solar panels. The satellite is roughly spherical, measures 34.5 inches (876.30 mm) in length, and weighs about 170 pounds (77 kg). Its dimensions were limited by what would fit on one of NASA's Delta rockets. Telstar was spin-stabilized, and its outer surface was covered with solar cells capable of generating 14 watts of electrical power.
The original Telstar had a single innovative transponder that could relay data, a single television channel, or multiplexed telephone circuits. Since the spacecraft spun, it required an array of antennas around its "equator" for uninterrupted microwave communication with Earth. An omnidirectional array of small cavity antenna elements around the satellite's "equator" received 6 GHz microwave signals to relay back to ground stations. The transponder converted the frequency to 4 GHz, amplified the signals in a traveling-wave tube, and retransmitted them omnidirectionally via the adjacent array of larger box-shaped cavities. The prominent helical antenna received telecommands from a ground station.
Launched by NASA aboard a Delta rocket from Cape Canaveral on July 10, 1962, Telstar 1 was the first privately sponsored space launch. A medium-altitude satellite, Telstar was placed in an elliptical orbit completed once every 2 hours and 37 minutes, inclined at an angle of approximately 45 degrees to the equator, with perigee about 952 kilometres (592 mi) from Earth and apogee about 5,933 kilometres (3,687 mi) from Earth This is in contrast to the 1965 Early Bird Intelsat and subsequent satellites that travel in circular geostationary orbits.
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