First Satellite

Updated: Oct 19

It was the first artificial satellite successfully launched and shocked the world when the former Soviet Union put the first man-made object in space. As part of the former Soviet Union, Baikonur Cosmodrome at Tyuratam in Kazakhstan was the launch site on 4th September 1957.

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In response to this event, the U.S government launched its first satellite in space to integrate space exploration programs across different agencies. Explorer-1 was launched by the Army on January 31, 1958. James Van Allen, the principal investigator of this satellite, discovered the magnetic radiation belts around the Earth. During that summer, Congress and Eisenhower created NASA, which became operational on October 1, 1958.

After the launch of Sputnik, a rivalry lasted decades and sent Americans to the moon, but ultimately collaboration and cooperation prevailed. The International Space Station is manned by astronauts from many countries, and American and Russian astronauts will work alongside it for another 60 years later.

An external radio antenna was mounted outside the polished metal sphere with a diameter of 58 cm. The 65° orbital inclination made its flight path cover virtually the entire inhabited planet, and amateur radio operators could easily detect its radio signal.

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As a result of the satellite's unanticipated success, the Sputnik crisis and the Space Race, part of the Cold War, were precipitated. As a result of the launch, a new era of political, military, technological, and scientific developments began. If interpreted in an astronomical context, the word sputnik can also refer to a spouse or traveling companion.

From Earth, scientists were able to track and study Sputnik 1. The drag on the orbit could be used to estimate the density of the upper atmosphere, and the propagation of the radio signals provided information about the ionosphere.

Sputnik 1 was launched during the International Geophysical Year from Site No.1, at the 5th Tyuratam range, in Kazakh SSR (now known as Baikonur Cosmodrome). It took 96.20 minutes for the satellite to complete each orbit, traveling at a peak speed of 8 km/s. Worldwide radio operators monitored its transmissions on 20.005 and 40.002 MHz. The signals continued for 21 days until the transmitter batteries ran out on 26 October 1957. Sputnik 1 burned up on 4 January 1958 while reentering Earth's atmosphere after three months, 1,440 completed orbits of the Earth, and a distance traveled of about 70,000,000 km.

Despite being visible from the ground at night as a first-magnitude object, the small, highly polished sphere was more challenging to observe optically at sixth magnitude. Sputnik 1 replicas can be seen in Russia and at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.

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