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Syncom (for "synchronous communication satellite") started as a 1961 NASA program for active geosynchronous communication satellites, all of which were developed and manufactured by Hughes Space and Communications. Syncom 2, launched in 1963, was the world's first geosynchronous communications satellite. Syncom 3, launched in 1964, was the world's first geostationary satellite.[1]

In the 1980s, the series was continued as Syncom IV with some much larger satellites, also manufactured by Hughes. They were leased to the United States military under the Leasat program.

Syncom 1, 2 and 3[edit]

First generation Syncom satellite.

Common features[edit]

The three early Syncom satellites were experimental spacecraft built by Hughes Aircraft Company's facility in Culver City, California. All three satellites were cylindrical in shape, with a diameter of about 71 centimeters (28 in) and a height of about 39 centimeters (15 in). Pre-launch fueled masses were 68 kilograms (150 lb), and orbital masses were 39 kilograms (86 lb) with a 25-kilogram (55 lb) payload. They were capable of emitting signals on two transponders at just 2 W. Thus, Syncom satellites were only capable of carrying a single two-way telephone conversation, or 16 Teletype connections. As of 25 June 2009, all three satellites are still in orbit, although no longer functioning.[2]

Syncom 1[edit]

Syncom 1 was intended to be the first geosynchronous communications satellite. It was launched on February 14, 1963 with the Delta B #16 launch vehicle from Cape Canaveral, but was lost on the way to geosynchronous orbit due to an electronics failure.[3] Seconds after the apogee kick motor for circularizing the orbit was fired, the spacecraft fell silent. Later telescopic observations verified the satellite was in an orbit with a period of almost 24 hours at a 33° inclination.

Syncom 2[edit]

Syncom 2 was the first geosynchronous communications satellite. Its orbit was inclined rather than geostationary. The satellite was launched by NASA on July 26, 1963[4] with the Delta B #20 launch vehicle from Cape Canaveral. The satellite successfully kept station at the altitude calculated by Herman Potočnik Noordung in the 1920s.

During the first year of Syncom 2 operations, NASA conducted voice, teletype, and facsimile tests,[4] as well as 110 public demonstrations to show the capabilities of this satellite and invite feedback. In August 1963, President John F. Kennedy in Washington, D.C., telephoned Nigerian Prime Minister Abubakar Tafawa Balewa aboard USNS Kingsport docked in Lagos Harbor; the first live two-way call between heads of government by satellite. The Kingsport acted as a control station and uplink station.

Syncom 2 also relayed a number of test television transmissions from Fort Dix, New Jersey to a ground station in Andover, Maine, beginning on September 29, 1963. Although it was low-quality video with no audio, it was the first successful television transmission through a geosynchronous satellite.[4]

Syncom 3[edit]

Syncom 3 was the first geostationary communication satellite, launched on August 19, 1964 with the Delta D #25 launch vehicle from Cape Canaveral. The satellite, in orbit near the International Date Line, had the addition of a wideband channel for television and was used to telecast the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo to the United States.[5] Although Syncom 3 is sometimes credited with the first television program to cross the Pacific Ocean, the Relay 1 satellite first broadcast television from the United States to Japan on November 22, 1963.[6]

Turned off in 1969, Syncom 3 remains in geosynchronous orbit as of December 2012.[7] In 40 years it has drifted 8 degrees to the west, to longitude 172.[8]

Syncom IV (Leasat)[edit]

Syncom IV, Hughes owned US Military Leasat

The five satellites of the 1980s Leasat (Leased Satellite) program (Leasat F1 through Leasat F5) were alternatively named Syncom IV-1 to Syncom IV-5. These satellites were considerably larger than Syncoms 1 to 3, weighing 1.3 tonnes each (over 7 tonnes with launch fuel). At 4.26 meters (14.0 ft), the satellites were the first to be designed for launch from the Space Shuttle payload bay.

Hughes was contracted to provide a worldwide communications system based on four satellites, one over the continental United States (CONUS), and one each over the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian oceans. Five satellites were ordered, with one as a replacement. Also part of the contract were the associated control systems and ground stations.

Leasat F1's launch was cancelled just prior to lift-off and F2 became the first into orbit on August 30, 1984 aboard Discovery on shuttle mission STS-41-D. F1 was launched successfully on November 8, 1984 aboard STS-51-A followed on April 12, 1985 by Leasat F3 on STS-51-D. F3's launch was declared a failure when the satellite failed to start its manoeuvre to geostationary orbit once released from Discovery. On August 27, 1985 Discovery was again used to launch Leasat F4, and during the same mission (STS-51-I) captured and repaired F3. F3 successfully fired its perigee motor and obtained a geostationary orbit, however F4 would later fail and was declared a loss.

The fifth and last Leasat (F5), which was built as a spare, was successfully launched by Columbia mission STS-32 on January 9, 1990. The last active Leasat, it was officially decommissioned on September 24, 2015, at 18:25:13 UTC.[9]

Date Name ID Launch vehicle
1963-02-14 Syncom 1 1963-004A Thor Delta B
1963-07-26 Syncom 2 1963-031A Thor Delta B
1964-08-19 Syncom 3 1964-047A Thor Delta D
1984-11-10 Leasat F1 1984-113C Discovery, STS-51-A
1984-08-31 Leasat F2 1984-093C Discovery, STS-41-D
1985-04-12 Leasat F3 1985-028C Discovery, STS-51-D
1985-08-29 Leasat F4 1985-076D Discovery, STS-51-I
1990-01-09 Leasat F5 1990-002B Columbia, STS-32

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Syncom 1, 2, 3". 2013-03-06. Retrieved 2013-03-10. Syncom 3 was the first geostationary satellite...It was...placed over the equator at 180 degrees longitude in the Pacific Ocean. The satellite provided live television coverage of the 1964 Olympic games in Tokyo, Japan... 
  2. ^ "U.S. Space Objects Registry". Retrieved 2009-06-25.  (extremely slow site)
  3. ^ "The Room-Size World (cover story)". TIME magazine. May 14, 1965. 
  4. ^ a b c Henry, Varice F.; McDonald, Michael E. (July 1965). "Television Tests with the Syncom II Synchonous Communications Satellite (NASA technical note D-2911)" (PDF). NASA. Retrieved 2014-12-07. 
  5. ^ "For Gold, Silver & Bronze". TIME magazine. October 16, 1964. 
  6. ^ "Significant Achievements in Space Communications and Navigation, 1958-1964" (PDF). NASA-SP-93. NASA. 1966. pp. 30–32. Retrieved 2009-10-31. 
  7. ^ "Syncom 3. Satellite details and informations about 1964-047A, TLE data for Norad 858". Retrieved 2013-03-11. The spacecraft next carried out a series of attitude and velocity maneuvers to align itself with the equator at an inclination of 0.1 degrees and to slow its speed so it drifted west to the planned location at 180 degrees longitude where its speed at altitude was synchronized with the Earth. 
  8. ^ "Real time tracking and positioning of Syncom 3 satellite 1964-047A identified by Norad 858".  Requires Javascript.
  9. ^ Nerenberg, Sharyn (January 24, 2015). "Another Intelsat Satellite Serves Customers for More Than 25 Years". Intelsat. Retrieved September 25, 2015. 


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