This day in TI space: from 1958 to today


When we say that our space products are out of this world, we mean it. Our heritage in space exploration is rich, dating as far back as 1958 with the launch of the U.S.’s first satellite, Explorer I, several months before our very own Jack Kilby invented the integrated circuit. Since, then, TI semiconductors have been instrumental in a number of major space applications, missions, explorations and discoveries.

From that first satellite to the first moon landing and first comet landing to exploring the planets, TI was there. This year, we are highlighting and updating this blog post with some of the significant space missions that included TI devices in the last 60-plus years, on the anniversaries of their respective launches.

Aug. 5, 2011: Juno
Juno facts and figures:

  • Primary objective: to understand the origin and evolution of Jupiter.
  • Traveled 1.74 billion miles and arrived at Jupiter in July 2016.
  • Originally planned for a seven-year mission to end in 2018, longer orbits than expected extended the mission into 2021.
  • Named after the Greek goddess Juno, the wife of Jupiter.

After launching on Aug. 5, 2011, Juno traveled 1.74 billion miles in nearly five years, reaching Jupiter in July 2016. Its main objective is to understand the origin and evolution of Jupiter, studying its core, mapping its magnetic field, measuring the amount of water in the atmosphere and observing its auroras all with the intent to help scientists understand how giant planets form and their role in the entire solar system. The initial plan was for Juno to make one orbit of Jupiter every 14 days, but that slowed to a 53-day orbit, thus extending the mission into 2021. At the conclusion of its mission, Juno will perform a controlled deorbit and disintegrate into Jupiter’s atmosphere.

July 16, 1969: Apollo 11
Apollo 11 facts and figures:

  • An estimated 1 million spectators watched the launch from the highways and beaches in the vicinity of the launch site.
  • The launch was televised in 33 countries with an estimated 25 million viewers in the United States alone.
  • Neil Armstrong stepped onto the lunar surface six hours after Eagle landed; Buzz Aldrin joined him 19 minutes later. The two spent a little less than two-and-a-half hours outside the Eagle, collecting 47.5 pounds of lunar material.
  • Armstrong and Aldrin spent 21.5 hours on the lunar surface while Michael Collins flew the command module (Columbia) alone in lunar orbit.
  • Apollo 11 completed 30 lunar orbits before returning to Earth on July 24.

Fifty years ago on July 16, 1969, Apollo 11 launched with a mission to go where no one had gone before—the moon. It was a culmination of a goal by President John F. Kennedy made in May 1961 to perform a crewed lunar landing and return to Earth. Specific objectives included scientific exploration by the lunar module (LM) Eagle and crew, deployment of a television camera to transmit signals to Earth, gathering of samples of lunar-surface materials and photograph the lunar terrain among others. Four days after launch and with an estimated 650 million people watching live on television, Neil Armstrong uttered what is one of the most famous phrases of all time “…one small step for man; one giant leap for mankind” as he took the first steps on the moon by a human being.

July 10, 1962: Telstar
Telstar facts and figures:

  • World’s first active communications satellite.
  • First privately-sponsored space-faring mission.
  • Broadcasted the first transatlantic television signal.
  • Paved the way for modern global communications.
  • Facilitated over 400 telephone, telegraph, facsimile and television transmissions

On July 10, 1962, Telstar, the world’s first active communications satellite, launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla. An experimental satellite, Telstar was a low Earth orbit satellite, completing an elliptical orbit every two hours and 37 minutes. It had six ground stations to communicate with—one each in the United States (Andover, Maine), Canada, the United Kingdom, France, Germany and Italy. Telstar relayed its first, and non-public, television picture, a flag outside of the Andover ground station, on July 11, 1962, and on July 23, it relayed the first publicly available live transatlantic television signal. Telstar only operated for a couple of months, going out of service in November 1962, but it captured the imagination of the world and set the foundation for global communications as we know it today.

June 10, 2003: Mars Rover
Mars Rover facts and figures:

  • Launched on June 10, 2003, Spirit and Opportunity landed on Mars on January 3 and 24, 2004, respectively.
  • Both rovers went well beyond their planned 90-day missions.
  • Sprit lasted 20 times longer than its original design, and Opportunity worked for nearly 15 years until June 2018.
  • Both rovers were six-wheeled, solar-powered robots about 5 feet high, 7.5 feet wide and 5 feet long, weighing roughly 400 pounds.
  • The rovers worked together to discover evidence of past wet conditions as well as an ancient volcano.
  • The rovers received their names through a student essay competition won by a third-grade student from Arizona.

On June 10, 2003, Mars Exploration Rover Spirit launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Space Launch Complex 17. Less than a month later, Opportunity launched. The rovers landed on Mars just 21 days apart in January 2004 with a planned 90-day mission. While Spirit lasted 20 times longer than its original design, concluding its mission in 2010, Opportunity worked for nearly 15 years and traveled more than 28 miles until its last communication to Earth on June 10, 2018. The rovers worked together to discover evidence of past wet conditions on the Red Planet and that conditions could have potentially sustained life.

April 24, 1990: Hubble Space Telescope
Hubble Space Telescope facts and figures:

  • Hubble is 43.5 feet long — the length of a large school bus.
  • Hubble has made more than 1.3 million observations.
  • Hubble has circled Earth and gone more than 4 billion miles along a circular low earth orbit currently about 340 miles in altitude and at 17,000 miles per hour.
  • Hubble has the pointing accuracy to shine a laser beam on President Roosevelt’s head on a dime about 200 miles away.

On April 24, 1990, Hubble Space Telescope launched from the space shuttle Discovery. It is the first major optical telescope to be placed into space and is considered to be the most significant advancement in astronomy since Galileo's telescope. With an unobstructed view of the universe, it captured its first image less than a month after launch on May 20, the star cluster NGC 3532. Traveling at a speed of 17,000 miles per hour, Hubble orbits Earth at a low earth orbit of 340 miles in altitude and makes one orbit roughly every 95 minutes. Hubble uses two 25-foot solar panels to draw energy from the sun, generating about 5,500 W of power, and it transmits about 150 GB of raw data each week.

March 2, 2004: Rosetta and Philae
Rosetta and Philae facts and figures:

  • First spacecraft to orbit a comet.
  • First spacecraft to perform a successful soft landing on a comet.
  • First spacecraft to obtain pictures from a comet’s surface
  • Traveled nearly 5 billion total miles in nearly 13 years.

On March 2, 2004, the space probe Rosetta, along with its accompanying lander module Philae, began its 10-year fact-finding mission to the comet “67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.” Built by the European Space Agency with support from NASA and TI parts, Rosetta passed Mars in 2007 before reaching the comet and becoming the first spacecraft to orbit a comet on Aug. 6, 2014. Three months later (Nov. 12), Philae performed the first successful soft landing on a comet and obtained the first images from a comet’s surface. Rosettas’ mission concluded in September 2016 with a controlled impact onto the comet after two years of operations at the comet.

Jan. 31, 1958: Explorer I
Explorer I facts and figures:

  • First satellite launched by the United States and the first satellite to carry science instruments.
  • Designed to measure the radiation environment in Earth’s orbit.
  • Orbited Earth more than 58,000 times, averaging one orbit every 114 minutes, or 12.5 orbits per day.
  • Built in less than three months as a response to the Soviet Union’s launch of Sputnik I in October 1957.

Sixty-one years ago, Explorer I was instrumental in the discovery of the Van Allen radiation belt. Originally scheduled to launch Jan. 28, a jet-stream-related issue postponed it for three days. With an original expected lifetime of three years, Explorer I made its final transmission on May 23, 1958, but remained in orbit for more than 12 years, re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere on March 31, 1970.

Be sure to check back on July 10 when we highlight Telstar.

Upcoming anniversaries
Aug. 27: Mariner 2
Sept. 5: Voyager I and II
Oct. 1: NASA’s 61st birthday
Nov. 5: Mars orbiter mission
Nov. 20: International Space Station

Additional resources