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An artist impression of the Olympus satellite in orbit

Olympus and Artemis

ESA has been working on satellite communications since the 1970s. As early as 1980, its Orbital Test Satellite was being used for video links between groups in Germany and the UK. It also passed on emergency telephone calls after a fire destroyed the ground system in Lyons.

Soon after, a satellite called Marecs provided a breakthrough in mobile telecommunications. Instead of using unreliable short wave radio, people could use satellite phones to call from ship to land.
During the late 1980s and 1990s, four ECS satellites were launched. Each one could handle 12,000 telephone links and 10 TV channels across Europe.
Advances in direct broadcasting from satellite to rooftop dishes came with ESA’s Olympus satellite in 1989. Olympus was also used for the first data transfer between two satellites.
Artemis - Artist impression
The latest advances have come from a satellite called Artemis. On 30 November 2001, it was used for the first-ever transmission of pictures using a laser beam. Perfect images were sent from the SPOT 4 satellite, orbiting at 832 km, to Artemis, 31 000 km above the Earth.

Today, Artemis is being used to send images and huge amounts of data from Envisat to the ESA centre near Rome.
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