Livescience's Satellite spies gigantic 'fuzzball' clouds spreading near Australia coast says:

Actinoform clouds were first captured by NASA’s Television Infrared Observation Satellite V in 1962, but not much is known about how they form; previously, scientists saw a link between actinoform cloud formation and the use of aerosols, according to the observatory. But in this case, the clouds over Australia were found to be so far from land that it's difficult to point to aerosols as the cause, Garay said.

quoting "Michael Garay, a cloud researcher at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory".

This refers to the Television Infrared Observation Satellite(s) and that article says:

The satellite itself was stabilized in its orbit by spinning like a gyroscope. When it first separated from the rocket's third stage, it was spinning at about 136 revolutions per minute (rpm). To take unblurred photographs, a de-spin mechanism slowed the satellite down to 12 rpm after the orbit was accomplished.

The camera shutters made possible the series of still pictures which were stored and transmitted back to earth via 2-watt FM transmitters as the satellite approached one of its ground command points. After transmission, the tape was erased or cleaned and readied for more recording.

Question: How were video tape recorders adapted to work in orbit in 1962? What exactly was the tape recording device and format mentioned here?



  • 4
    $\begingroup$ I think tape recorders of 1962 to be used in satellites were able for very slow scan video only. The very first video tape recorders for home use were sold in 1965. $\endgroup$
    – Uwe
    Feb 13, 2020 at 16:15
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ VTRs existed back to the early 50s, though obviously in crude form. en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Video_tape_recorder $\endgroup$ Feb 13, 2020 at 16:49
  • $\begingroup$ @JCRM thanks, but If you'd like to post material that tends to answer the question, it would go in an answer post, not the question itself. SE works when people stick to norms and rules. If everyone stack exchanged their own way it would end up looking like the rest of the internet. $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Feb 14, 2020 at 0:00
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @uhoh I really like the new title, its better by far! $\endgroup$
    – Polygnome
    Feb 14, 2020 at 8:39
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Sure, but that’s a 1960s machine (and a real beauty). Ampex’s story from the early 50s to the late 50s was basically taking the “crude” out of “crude early VTRs.” My dad was an industrial designer at Ampex in the 60s and 70s. $\endgroup$ Mar 15, 2020 at 20:31

2 Answers 2


Were there really video tape recorders orbiting the Earth in 1962?

Yes! The first was launched in 1960 only two and a half years after Sputnik-1.

There were video reel-to-reel tape recorders in the 1960's, even for home or educational use in schools, but they did suffer from degradation and occasional tape-eating if the mechanism was not carefully and smoothly actuated.

1965. The Sony TCV-2020. The worlds 1st domestic video recorder.

above: "1965. The Sony TCV-2020. The worlds 1st domestic video recorder." One of many examples at rewindmuseum.com's page for Black & White Reel to Reel (open reel) Video Recorders.

The video TIROS-1: The Forecast Revolution Begins and screen shots from it below show the two vidicon cameras and the video tape recorder designed to work in orbit.

April 1, 1960: the world's first experimental weather satellite, TIROS-1, was launched. Within three months, TIROS-1 generated over 23,000 images of earth and its atmosphere, providing an unprecedented perspective from above and revolutionizing weather forecasting. This is an historical overview of TIROS-1 and its legacy and, ultimately, the birth of remote earth observation as we know it today.

click for full size

TIROS-1: The Forecast Revolution Begins TIROS-1: The Forecast Revolution Begins

TIROS-1: The Forecast Revolution Begins TIROS-1: The Forecast Revolution Begins

update: From http://www.ubtrue2.net/TheTIROSDMSPChp3TIROSSysDsgnRev3.htm

On TIROS1, the wide angle camera used an Elgeet lens and narrow angle camera used a Tegea lens (f1.5 and f 1.8 respectively) and were carried facing through the sides [baseplate], which would take 16 pictures per orbit each 32 to 128 seconds apart. Each camera was connected to an on-board tape recorder, which were able to store up to 48 pictures out of range of the ground stations.

http://centaur.sstl.co.uk/SSHP/mini/mini60s.html (dead link at the moment)

RCA CamdenPioneer in Recording and Communications Systems of the US Space Program:

With the advent of the Space Age, the pioneers of RCA Camden applied their talents and experience in communications and recording systems to produce many important systems for the US space program.

TIROS-1 video recorder

Excerpt from The Age of Computers and Space Exploration (1956-1967) published in "His Masters Voice" in America. "

More information at https://ethw.org/Milestones:TIROS-1_Television_Infrared_Observation_Satellite,_1960

  • $\begingroup$ It's complementary to the other answer, and it contains a video and screen shot of the device in question. It's okay for SE questions to have multiple answers, since degrees and ratios of perceived utility can vary substantially between users. It's a heterogeneous group! $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Feb 14, 2020 at 8:41
  • $\begingroup$ note: the phrase "the other answer" in these old comments refers to a now-deleted answer and not the current "other answer". $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Jul 1, 2020 at 10:36

Video recorders weren't adapted to work in orbit in 1962. Video recorders are characterised by recoding tracks across the tape, typically with helical scan heads, recording line and framing synchronisation information, and audio. Their prime function is to playback the information they record in the same order and rate it was received, although later models have the additional ability to playback at faster, slower and even negative speeds.

TIROS used a linear magnetic tape recorder to store an analogue signal that happened to come from vidicon tubes, taking two seconds to record one image, with a second of nul data before each image, then it played it back (in reverse) to the ground station. further details are available To describe this as being an adapted video recorder is like calling a slide projector an adapted movie projector.

At the time, RCA were playing catch up, being second to market with a (helical scan) video recorder for television broadcasters, and were actively pushing the "television" aspect of the satellites in their advertisements, presumably to create a link in the readers mind between RCA and space-age television technology.

  • $\begingroup$ Continuing to research I've found this video youtu.be/EEQnAfo_XIA?t=280 which was "Produced in the early 1960s by R.C.A., this NASA film shows the TIROS satellite program." and says "A series of individual pictures can be transmitted directly to TIROS ground stations, or the pictures can be stored on two video tape recorders in the satellite." which is obviously not conclusive but highlights the ambiguity which is still necessary to resolve. $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Jun 24, 2020 at 0:23
  • $\begingroup$ Okay I've updated the linked question How did the TIROS video tape recorders record and playback images rather than audio; how were the signals modulated? to reflect that, and I think you have the answer to that one as well now! $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Jun 24, 2020 at 10:52

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