Communications Satellites, Part 1: Pre-History

Moon bounce communications were discussed (and demonstrated!) in the 2022-05-07 post, “Apollo Spacecraft S Band Communication System, Part 16—Visiting the Stanford Dish” and Project Echo in the 2022-01-22 post “From 1960—‘The Big Bounce’: Project Echo”. Here is more on Project West Ford, one of the more screwball ideas pursued by the U.S. military and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which envisioned creating an artificial ionosphere around the Earth by orbiting 480,000,000 (around half a billion) copper needles in medium Earth orbits at 87 and 96 degrees. Solar radiation pressure was predicted to cause the needles to deorbit after around three years, keeping them from becoming a long-term orbital debris hazard. Three test launches were conducted between 1961 and 1963, and some of the needles failed to disperse as intended, remaining in clumps larger than 10 cm. As of April, 2023, 44 such clumps are still in orbit.

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