Engadget posted a nice, short article about Telstar 1. It’s not about the song (video of it played here), which was played by the Tornados and quite popular. Both were launched in the 1960’s, the song named after the satellite. Telstar 1 looked quite a bit like a space station from a certain popular sci-fi movie.
The satellite was in a medium elliptical orbit, meaning that it was much further away from the Earth at its apogee (the point of the orbit furthest away from the Earth–in this case 3,687 miles) and significantly closer at its perigee (the point of the orbit closest to the Earth, which was 592 miles). Such an orbit was really odd for a radio and television service satellite. It meant a ground station (the part that sends and receives information from the satellite–explained more in this lesson) saw the satellite for maybe 20 minutes or so out of the satellite’s 2.5 hour orbit.
It’s one of the reasons these kind of satellites are typically launched into geo-synchronous orbit–the satellite is in view of the ground station all the time.
Telstar 1 was killed, for a little while, because of a major United States test called “Starfish Prime.” The nuclear weapons test energized the Van Allen belt (turns out there’s three of them, by the way–not the two normally talked about) with a bit more radiation than Telstar 1 could handle. It was restarted for about a month before fatal transistor failure stopped operations altogether.