Telstar Communication Satellite

Oral Answers to Questions — Post Office – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 31st July 1962.

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Photo of Mr William Williams Mr William Williams , Manchester Openshaw 12:00 am, 31st July 1962

asked the Postmaster-General what financial contribution the British General Post Office has made to the development and launching of the Telstar communication satellite.

Photo of Mr Reginald Bevins Mr Reginald Bevins , Liverpool Toxteth

The development and launching of the Telstar satellite was entirely an American project, and was paid for by the American Telephone and Telegraph Company.

Photo of Mr William Williams Mr William Williams , Manchester Openshaw

Does that reply mean that we have no direct interest at all in this modern miraculous venture? Is not that rather surprising, in view of the fact that in all other technical telephonic developments this country has been in the forefront?

Photo of Mr Reginald Bevins Mr Reginald Bevins , Liverpool Toxteth

No, I do not think that it is surprising when we compare the relative resources of the United States and this country. This development was planned and put into operation by the American Telegraph and Telephone Company, which is a private American concern, at a capital cost of about £20 million, which is rather more than the Post Office could afford from its own resources. But it does not follow from that that this country will have no stake in future developments.

Photo of Mr William Williams Mr William Williams , Manchester Openshaw

Would it be true to say that some years ago some of our leading industrialists and scientists placed before the British Government a very detailed plan of possibilities in this direction, and that they were able to prove that, with a comparatively small outlay, there could be reasonable returns of profit within a fairly short period? Why did the British Government not do something then?

Photo of Mr Reginald Bevins Mr Reginald Bevins , Liverpool Toxteth

With respect to the hon. Member, I do not think that that is so. It was certainly not the case when I first assumed my rôle as Postmaster-General. Indeed, two years ago there were widely conflicting views amongst British scientists as to the feasibility of satellite communications.

Photo of Mr Roy Mason Mr Roy Mason , Barnsley

asked the Postmaster-General if he will now make a statement on the plans to use Telstar by the General Post Office during the satellite's useful life, particularly regarding future public television transmissions and telephonic experiments.

Photo of Mr Reginald Bevins Mr Reginald Bevins , Liverpool Toxteth

The object of the Telstar experiment is to gain technical knowledge, and its main use will, therefore, be for technical tests. I would not envisage anything except occasional use for television and public demonstrations once the initial phase is over. But this is a question we are about to discuss with the American Telephone and Telegraph Company, and the French Posts and Telecommunications Department.

Photo of Mr Roy Mason Mr Roy Mason , Barnsley

I am much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for that reply. Do I understand, first, that we use Telstar rent-free from the Americans? Secondly, will this situation continue in respect of the next satellites that the Americans are about to launch into space in this series of experiments? Thirdly, in view of the fact that high rents will be demanded by the Americans from the G.P.O. if they perfect this satellite space communication system, what is our G.P.O. doing in a positive fashion, either with Europe or the Commonwealth, to develop our own satellite relay system?

Photo of Mr Reginald Bevins Mr Reginald Bevins , Liverpool Toxteth

The answer to the first two supplementary questions, is "Yes". The answer to the third one is that, so far, this country has limited its active co-operation to the construction of a ground station in Cornwall. Our scientists and engineers in the Post Office have been very active, especially during the past twelve months, working out ideas for a British satellite, but we cannot have a British satellite system unless we first have a launcher.

Photo of Mr Roy Mason Mr Roy Mason , Barnsley

The right hon. Gentleman is surely aware that only a few weeks ago we had in London a special Commonwealth conference to discuss the future of the Commonwealth effort? Has not he anything yet to reveal to the House about the extent to which we are satisfied that there can be a Commonwealth venture in this respect?

Photo of Mr Reginald Bevins Mr Reginald Bevins , Liverpool Toxteth

Following the Commonwealth conference, talks have been arranged between Canada, the United Kingdom and the American authorities, and other talks between this country, Australia and the countries of Western Europe. After these discussions have been completed we shall have a much clearer picture of the possible participation that this country can have in satellite operation.

Photo of Mr Fenner Brockway Mr Fenner Brockway , Eton and Slough

Is it true that the Americans are now planning three stationary satellites on the Equator, revolving at the speed of the earth but in an opposite direction? Is it not desirable that these tremendous space experiments in communications should be under some international authority, rather than under the control of any one nation?

Photo of Mr Reginald Bevins Mr Reginald Bevins , Liverpool Toxteth

I do not think that that question arises out of the Question on the Order Paper. I can assure the hon. Member that Hear Majesty's Government are fully alive to the possibilities of satellite communications, and when it comes to an operational system we shall not be left out in the cold.

Photo of Mr Robert Cooke Mr Robert Cooke , Bristol West

asked the Postmaster-General whether, in view of the success of the Telstar communication satellite, he has considered to what extent satellites can be used in future for international telecommunications and for television relaying; and if he will make a statement.

Photo of Mr Reginald Bevins Mr Reginald Bevins , Liverpool Toxteth

My hon. Friend will, I am sure, share my satisfaction at the striking success of Telstar. This is, however, only the first stage in a series of experiments with communication satellites designed to provide several hundred telephone and telegraph circuits, and a television channel. These experiments will, I hope, give the technical information which is essential for the design of a satellite communication system suitable for commercial operation.

Telstar can be used only for relatively short periods each day, and I understand that the Americans do not plan to keep it in service for more than two years.

Clearly, the prospects for a commercial satellite system must depend on its continuous use for international telegraph and telephone services rather than for television relaying. Many technical, operational, organisational and financial problems need to be studied before a decision is taken to establish such a system.

Photo of Mr Robert Cooke Mr Robert Cooke , Bristol West

Can my right hon. Friend tell us a little more about Britain's possible share in future activities of this sort?

Photo of Mr Reginald Bevins Mr Reginald Bevins , Liverpool Toxteth

As I have already told the House, so far our participation has been limited to the ground station. But it seems almost certain now that there will be at least one system of satellite communication within the next seven to ten years in which we hope to participate. It may well be that in time there will be a second system in which, perhaps, a larger participation on our part might be justified.

Photo of Mr Henry Hynd Mr Henry Hynd , Accrington

Can the Postmaster-General give an assurance that future Telstar programmes will not be used, as was the case last night, for putting over blatent Conservative political propaganda?

Photo of Sir Harry Hylton-Foster Sir Harry Hylton-Foster , Cities of London and Westminster

Order. That supplementary question is a long way from the Question on the Order Paper.

Photo of Mr Roy Mason Mr Roy Mason , Barnsley

Is the Minister aware that the British Space Development Company presented the Government with the outline of a system of global telecommunication nearly a year ago? Can he tell the House what has happened to this plan? If it has not been shelved, what encouragement has been given to the company?

Photo of Mr Reginald Bevins Mr Reginald Bevins , Liverpool Toxteth

Those proposals were discussed with the company at some length about six to nine months ago. But, of course, it is one thing to put forward proposals in this sphere. It is quite another to find the huge capital expenditure to finance them.