March 4, 2024

This Week in Amateur Radio

North America's Premiere Amateur Radio News Magazine


How Amateur Radio Fanatics Launched the World’s First Private Communications Satellite

THERE ARE MORE than 1,600 CubeSats in orbit around the Earth, with more than 1,000 of those launching in 2020 alone. But while these inexpensive small satellites have made space more accessible to university classes, small companies, and more, their forerunners stretch back to the beginning of the Space Age.

Meet OSCAR 1 — the first small private satellite in space.

Groups like the Radio Amateur Satellite Corporation (AMSAT), an international confederation of ham radio operators, have been flying small private satellites for years, well before the first CubeSats flew in 2003.

“CubeSats actually started with AMSAT, but they didn’t get a lot of credit for it, unfortunately,” former Lockheed satellite technician and ham radio enthusiast Lance Ginner tells Inverse.

Ginner would know. He was there at the very beginning, 60 years ago, for the design and launch of OSCAR 1, which was history-making in a few ways. It was:

  • The first smallsat
  • The first private, non-government spacecraft
  • The first spacecraft to hitch a ride on another launch

It took a while, entire professional lifetimes, but virtually everything that enabled the commercial small satellite industry of the 2020s was there in an embryonic form on a Vandenberg Air Force Base launch pad on December 12, 1961.

Read more – Inverse: