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The expertise eventually gained in the combined use of these two techniques opened up the era of satellite communications. The service provided in this way usefully complements that previously provided exclusively by terrestrial networks using radio and cables. The space era started in 1957 with the launching of the first artificial satellite (Sputnik). Subsequent years have been marked by various experiments including the following: Christmas greetings from President Eisenhower broadcast by SCORE (1958), the reflecting satellite ECHO (1960), store-and-forward transmission by the COURIER satellite (1960).
The reduction in cost is the result of much effort which has led to the production of reliable launchers which can put heavier and heavier satellites into orbit (typically 5900 kg at launch in 1975, reaching 10 500 kg by Ariane 5 ECA and 13 000 kg by Delta IV in 2008). In addition, increasing expertise in microwave techniques has enabled realisation of contoured multibeam antennas whose beams adapt to the shape of continents, frequency re-use from one beam to the other and incorporation of higher power transmission amplifiers. Increased satellite capacity has led to a reduced cost per telephone channel. In addition to the reduction in the cost of communication, the most outstanding feature is the variety of services offered by satellite communications systems.