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The Cold War

Defence and deterrence

NATO, we have lift off!

For decades, NATO operated satellites over Europe and North America to provide strategic communications in a quick and secure manner.  A total of eight satellites were launched, all using the codename ‘NATO’.  The first NATO satellite was launched on 20 March 1970 from Cape Kennedy, USA.

NATO began investigating the potential for cooperation with the United States to develop a satellite communications programme in 1966.  The SATCOM project was born the following year when NATO began using two ground terminals to communicate with a US satellite.  Seven countries initially signed the Memorandum of Understanding to sponsor the programme: Belgium, Canada, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, the UK and the US.  Ground terminals were to be installed in these countries, as well as Denmark, Greece, Norway, Portugal and Turkey.

In 1970 and 1971, SATCOM launched the first two planned satellites (PR/CP(70)2 and PR/CP(71)1) from Cape Kennedy, with then Secretary General Manlio Brosio and other ambassadors in attendance. The final two satellites, NATO IVA and NATO IVB, launched in 1991 and 1993 respectively. In the early 2000s, NATO decided to replace these satellites with a new programme called SATCOM 2000. Instead of owning and operating its own satellites, NATO would have direct access to national communications satellites from France, Italy and the UK.

The NATO satellites may no longer be operational but they are still orbiting Earth! You can track them in real time here.