Intelsat donates space artifact to Smithsonian
Early Bird launch backup will be in National Air and Space Museum
McLean-based satellite operator Intelsat Corp. has donated the launch backup of the first commercial communications satellite in geosynchronous orbit to the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum.
The company donated the ground spare of the Intelsat 1 satellite, also known as Early Bird. Intelsat 1 was launched on April 6, 1965, and is now inactive but remains in a geosynchronous orbit, meaning an orbit that matches Earth’s orbit and rotation speed to stay in the same position over the Earth. The second, identical satellite had been on display at Intelsat’s U.S. headquarters.
Intelsat 1 is credited with broadcasting the Apollo 11 moon landing to TV viewers as well as doubling the number of telephone lines between continents.
“This historic satellite’s new home commemorates its role in some of the most profound moments in human space exploration and global connectivity,” Intelsat CEO Stephen Spengler said in a statement. “Allowing people to witness the moon landing live inspired a generation of space explorers and enthusiasts.”
At the museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Smithsonian staff will prepare the satellite for exhibition. The museum will display it in an exhibition scheduled to open in 2025.
“In short, it’s a very, very important artifact,” said Smithsonian curator Jim David. “We’re very excited about getting it, and it’s a perfect fit in the communications satellite section of the new Living in the Space Age gallery.”