Political Challenges Were Greater Than Technology Challenges in Creating Geostationary Satellites

(p. A13) After the Soviet Union launched Sputnik 1, the world’s first satellite, in 1957, a 31-year-old Rosen was inspired to build “a lightweight satellite that, when launched into a high orbit above the equator, would mimic the Earth’s rotation and retain its relative position, like a spoke on a wheel.” Mr. Amelinckx goes on: “This geostationary satellite would provide twenty-four-hour global communications, something never before attempted. Rosen was excited.”

Indeed he was. Rosen was a brilliant electrical engineer who worked at Hughes Aircraft in California. His tenacity enabled him to surmount, over the following years, the seemingly endless number of infuriating obstacles that stood between him and his goal. There was the multitude of technical problems to be solved—from the satellite’s weight to its spin, antenna, solar panels and more. There were the questions from NASA, Congress, the Pentagon and aerospace companies about whether the U.S. should prefer low-orbit satellites or geostationary ones. (The latter would possess greater transmitting and receiving versatility, but many scientists were convinced that geostationary satellites, which orbit at much higher altitudes, were impractical and would “take years to develop.”)

Mr. Amelinckx notes that solving the political challenges proved more difficult than creating the necessary technologies. Fortunately for Rosen, President Kennedy was keen on communications satellites. And so in 1961, NASA began funding Hughes to create Rosen’s vision.

For the full review, see:

Howard Schneider. “BOOKSHELF; How ‘Early Bird’ Got the Worm.” The Wall Street Journal (Friday, April 14, 2023): A13.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date April 13, 2023, and has the title “BOOKSHELF; ‘Satellite Boy’ Review: How ‘Early Bird’ Got the Worm.”)

The book under review is:

Amelinckx, Andrew. Satellite Boy: The International Manhunt for a Master Thief That Launched the Modern Communication Age. Berkeley: Counterpoint, 2023.

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