AT&T Tech Channel

About this video

The story of Project Echo, the first communications satellite (that was actually a huge mylar balloon), launched in 1960.

This documentary film is the on-the-spot report on Project Echo--the space communications experiments conducted in 1960 between scientists at Bell Labs in NJ, and the Jet Propulsion Labs in California, sponsored by NASA.

Project Echo was a 100-foot-diameter mylar balloon used as a satellite to reflect transcontinental and intercontinental telephone, radio, and television signals and microwave transmissions. It was nicknamed the "satelloon", and was solar-powered.

The film shows the two principal experiments: the first telephone conversation ever carried by bouncing signals off of a man-made satellite, and the sending and receiving, via satellite, of a tape-recorded message by the President of the U.S. The voice signals were bounced off of the 100-foot aluminized plastic balloon as it passed over the U.S., 1,000 miles in the air.

Shown in live footage and animation is the act of launching this balloon into the atmosphere by missile at Cape Canaveral, the balloon's release and the operation of the communications system.

Balloon Echo 1A burned up on reentering the earth's atmosphere in 1968, but it paved the way for the satellite technologies we rely on today. There are more than 900 active satellites in orbit around the earth in 2011, and more than half of these are used for communications.

A Jerry Fairbanks Production

Footage courtesy of AT&T Archives and History Center, Warren, NJ

Release date: 03/16/2011