The innovation to change my world most significantly was the ‘invention’ in 1945, by Arthur Charles Clarke, of global satellite communications from geostationary orbit. To be sure, the orbital dynamics had been worked out, half a century earlier by Tsiolkovskii, who clearly deserves credit. But it was Clarke who envisioned not just a neat trick of orbital mechanics, but an entire system for delivery of audio and video programming worldwide. In a brief paper in the British hobbyist journal Wireless World, he outlined such commsat specifics as uplink and downlink frequencies, bandwidths, and power levels to achieve global telecommunications from what we now know as the Clarke orbit.
Clarke even coined the contraction ‘comsat,’ and lived to regret not registering the trademark (believing, as he did in 1945, that the implementation of his vision lay generations in the future). Of course, the invention of the transistor just three years later, and the dawn of the Space Age nine years after that, changed the game entirely.
In the mid 1970s, as the Clarke Orbital Belt was beginning to be populated, I founded Microcomm, a Silicon Valley microwave engineering firm to exploit this emerging technology. Our first products were receivers to recover Earth images from early geosynchronous weather satellites. This led quickly to our producing the world’s first commercial home satellite TV receiver, my claim to fame and fortune. That fame is fleeting and the fortune is all spent does not diminish the impact that Clarke orbit satellites still have on our daily lives. And, that early satellite TV technology quickly found its way into backyard radio telescopes and SETI science, potentially changing forever our view of the cosmos.
In April 2007, on the thirtieth anniversary of the birth of the satellite TV industry, a handful of greying engineers will assemble in Atlanta for a Satellite Pioneers’ Dinner. Our keynote speaker, addressing us by geostationary satellite from his home in Sri Lanka, will be Sir Arthur C Clarke, father of satellite TV.
H Paul Shuch is founder and chief engineer of Microcomm - manufacturers of the world’s first commercial home satellite TV receiver, executive director emeritus, The SETI League, Inc. visiting professor of physics and astronomy, Lycoming College, Williamsport PA.