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Sputnik 1 was a shiny metal sphere, as were it's immediate followers.

These days Earth satellites are generally rectangular prisms, either one or a few stuck together. Basically big metal chassis chock-full of electronics and instruments in rack-like structures, with solar panels and antennas as appendages, fixed or deployed.

But there have been many Earth satellites that were cylindrical in shape. ​

Many (if not most) were spin stabilized around the cylinder's axis and covered in solar cells roughly uniformly.

Question: What was the first cylindrical Earth satellite to be launched? What was the last?


Example of a cylindrical Earth satellite covered in solar cells:

View of the AUSSAT-1 satellite after deployment on STS-51-I. Australia's AUSSAT communications satellite is deployed from the payload bay of the Shuttle Discovery. A portion of the cloudy surface of the earth can be seen to the left of the frame. Date: 27 August 1985 source

View of the AUSSAT-1 (now Optus A1) satellite after deployment on STS-51-I. Australia's AUSSAT communications satellite is deployed from the payload bay of the Shuttle Discovery. A portion of the cloudy surface of the earth can be seen to the left of the frame. Date: 27 August 1985

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First U S satellite Explorer 1, launched February 1, 1958 and reentered in 1970. While the batteries lasted 4 months it was used to discover the Van Allen radiation belts. From Wikipedia: enter image description here

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  • $\begingroup$ Yes, this is definitely the answer to "first", thanks! But I feel a little sad because it doesn't look like a satellite, it's not "satellite shaped" and it's not covered in solar cells. Hopefully we can come up with one of those as well. $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Sep 12 '21 at 2:24
  • $\begingroup$ This is not the first but it's a good example spectrum.ieee.org/… $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Sep 12 '21 at 3:37
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A KH-11 Kennen spy satellite, USA-314, was launched aboard a Delta IV Heavy on April 26th, 2021. This is likely a strong contender for most recent at time of writing.

While the KH-11 remains a relatively secretive program, they are known to be closely related to the Hubble Space Telescope and are believed to be cylindrical, as Hubble (and many other things designed for the Shuttle) are.

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