On April 1, 1960, 60 years ago this month, Television Infra-Red Observation Satellite was launched. The U.S. Army Signal Research and Development Lab, located at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey, was part of the team, which also included NASA, the U.S. Weather Bureau, RCA, and the U.S. Naval Photographic Interpretation Center, that developed the satellite to test experimental television techniques designed to develop a worldwide meteorological satellite information system, and to test sun angle and horizon sensor systems for spacecraft orientation. Though the system operated for only 78 days, it was the first of many future TIROS missions.
TIROS was the fourth satellite worked on by the researchers and scientists from Fort Monmouth. Vanguard I and Signal Communications via Orbiting Relay Experiment were both launched in 1958. Vanguard II was launched in 1959. Building on these earlier satellites, TIROS included two television cameras, one with a wide angle and one with a narrow angle, which could be programmed to coordinate with sunlight and to take coverage at designated locations across the globe. The pictures were stored on magnetic tape and were transmitted to ground terminals on request, but a real-time TV capability was also provided. The images, which ended up numbering 22,952, were first transmitted to Fort Monmouth, and then passed on to NASA. The Signal Corps contributions were considered by some participants to have been downplayed by NASA at the time, but its responsibilities included the payload and the operation of the ground terminal.
Coinciding with the celebration of the Signal Corps’ centennial in 1960, the success of these early satellite missions cemented the Signal Corps and its laboratories at Fort Monmouth as one of the Country’s premier research and development entities. The Signal Corps Laboratories would soon transition to the Electronics Command in 1962, and other entities would take over space and satellite missions, but these programs remain a part of CECOM’s history of excellence and innovation.