Telstar was the first active communications satellite. Belonging to AT&T as part of a a multi-national agreements between AT&T, Bell Telephone Laboratories, NASA, the British Post Office, and the French National PPT (Post Office.) to develop satellite communication. It was launched by NASA from Cape Canaveral on July 10, 1962, the first privately sponsored space launch. Telstar was placed in an elliptical orbit (completed once every 2 hours and 37 minutes), rotating at a 45 degree angle above the equator.
It relayed its first television pictures (of a flag outside its ground station in Andover, Maine) on the same day. During that evening it also dealt with the first telephone call transmitted through space and successfully transmitted faxes, data, and both live and taped television, including the first live transmission of television across an ocean (to Pleumeur-Bodou, France). President John F. Kennedy gave a live transatlantic pres conference via Telstar.
The satellite was built by a team at Bell Telephone Laboratories. It was 34 1/2-inches long and weighed 170-pounds, its dimensions were limited by what would fit in a NASA's Delta rocket. Telstar would receive microwave signals from a ground station, amplify them and rebroadcast them. The team calculated the orbital path and located the U.S. ground station accordingly in Maine.
Telstar was just an experiment however. It went out of service on February 21, 1963. Experiments continued and by 1964, two Telstars, two Relays (from RCA), and two Syncoms (from Hughes Aircraft Company) had operated successfully in space.
The name Telstar is used to this day for a number of television broadcasting satellites.