Trisha Shetty (Editor)

Satcom (satellite)

Updated on
Share on FacebookTweet on TwitterShare on LinkedInShare on Reddit
Satcom (satellite)

The Satcom series was a family of communications satellites originally developed and operated by RCA American Communications (RCA Americom). Satcom was one of the early geostationary satellites; the first were the Syncom series, in 1964. The first Satcom satellite, Satcom 1, was launched on December 13, 1975. The last satellite, Satcom K2, was placed into orbit on November 27, 1985 and was de-orbited in February 2002. Satcom was first superseded and then replaced by the GE series of satellites.


Satcom (which stands for "satellite communication") is an artificial satellite that is used to help telecommunication by transmitting signals from earth to the geo-stationary satellite that receives, amplifies and relays the signals back down to Earth. It is a powerful form of radio and can cover far more distance and wider areas than most other radio technologies. It can also communicate with words, pictures and other forms of information.

The Satcom system passed to General Electric with its purchase of RCA in 1986. RCA Americom became GE American Communications (GE Americom) and the satellite construction division became GE Astro Space. GE Astro Space was sold to Martin Marietta (now Lockheed Martin Space Systems) in 1993. In 2001 GE sold GE Americom to SES Global, creating SES Americom.


Most early commercial communications satellites were built for and operated by telecommunications companies. RCA, with its own RCA Astro Electronics satellite construction business, identified a role for itself as a satellite owner/operator.

Satcom 1 was used as the launching ground for many cable TV services including HBO, Showtime, Superstation TBS, Nickelodeon, the CBN cable network (now Freeform), ESPN, and The Weather Channel. The satellite spurred the cable television industry to unprecedented heights with the assistance of HBO (who moved their programming from the competing Westar 1, where they had been since their nationwide debut in 1975, to Satcom 1 in February 1976). Cable television networks relay signals to ground-based cable television headends using satellites, which allowed cable TV to enter into the suburban and metropolitan markets, thus allowing HBO to accumulate 1.6 million subscribers by the end of 1977.

A notable legal battle involved Ted Turner suing RCA to get a Satcom 1 transponder in 1980 for the launch of CNN on June 1, 1980. CNN had been scheduled for a Satcom 3 transponder but that satellite failed to reach geosynchronous orbit upon its launch on December 7, 1979.

Shortly after its launch, Satcom 1 was the first satellite used by broadcast TV networks in the United States, the networks ABC, NBC, and CBS, then distributed their programming content to some of their local affiliate stations which had before, and at that time, relied on AT&T's terrestrial microwave & coaxial networks to distribute & relay programming (although some of NBC's local affiliates were receiving programming via the satellite on an experimental basis in the late '70s). The networks fed to both Satcom 1 and AT&T's network at the same time (for the benefit of those stations who hadn't yet been equipped with earth station equipment for reception of the satellite) up until the breakup of AT&T in 1984, when the networks switched exclusively to satellite distribution on Satcom 1 (and later satellites), due to the much lower transmission costs, as well as due to AT&T's divestiture itself.

The reason that Satcom 1 was so widely used by both cable and broadcast TV networks is that it had twice the communications capacity of the competing Westar 1 (24 transponders as opposed to Westar 1’s 12), which resulted in lower transponder usage costs in general.

Satellite fleet

All the remaining Satcom satellites were retired in the early 2000s and replaced by the GE/AMC series, originally by GE Americom, then sold to SES.


Satcom (satellite) Wikipedia