The 1963 Extraordinary Administrative Radio Conference

Also known as the Space Conference, the 1963 Extraordinary Administrative Radio Conference was the first conference on space radiocommunications (according to Article 1.8 of the International Telecommunication Union’s Radio Regulations (RR), space radiocommunication is defined as “any radiocommunication involving the use of one or more space stations or the use of one or more reflecting satellites or other objects in space”) called by ITU. It took place at a time when the first communication satellite successes and the first launchings of manned space vehicles were making serious international co-operation more and more necessary.

The Extraordinary Administrative Radio Conference on Space Communications convened by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) to allocate frequency bands for space communication purposes began on Monday, October the 7th, 1963, in the Bâtiment électoral, Geneva, and lasted five weeks. More than four hundred delegates from seventy countries took part.

The International Telecommunication Union

Since 1865, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) has been at the centre of advances in communications – from telegraphy through to the modern world of satellites, mobile phones and the Internet. The International Telecommunication Union or ITU (French Union Internationale des Télécommunications), originally the International Telegraph Union (French Union Télégraphique Internationale), is a specialized agency of the United Nations that is responsible for issues that concern information and communication technologies, an extensional term for information technology (IT) that stresses the role of unified communications and the integration of telecommunications (telephone lines and wireless signals) and computers, as well as necessary enterprise software, middleware, storage, and audiovisual systems, that enable users to access, store, transmit, and manipulate information. It is the oldest among all the fifteen specialised agencies of the United Nations.

Based in Geneva, Switzerland, the ITU coordinates the shared global use of the radio spectrum, promotes international cooperation in assigning satellite orbits, works to improve telecommunication infrastructure in the developing world, and assists in the development and coordination of worldwide technical standards. The ITU is active in areas including broadband Internet, latest-generation wireless technologies, aeronautical and maritime navigation, radio astronomy, satellite-based meteorology, convergence in fixed-mobile phone, Internet access, data, voice, TV broadcasting, and next-generation networks.

Outer space and satellites

The Space Age began on October 4, 1957 with the launch by the Soviet Union of the world’s first artificial satellite, Sputnik 1. Not long after, satellites became used for telecommunications. The passive Echo 1 was launched in 1960 by the United States of America, followed in 1962 by Telstar 1 (a joint French-UK-US project), the first communications satellite. The motion of these satellites had to be tracked as they crossed the sky; a more efficient and economical idea was that of the geostationary communications satellite, first proposed by writer Arthur C. Clarke in 1945. In 1964, following experiments with geosynchronous satellites, the first geostationary satellite was launched.

Like radio-frequency spectrum, the geostationary orbit around Earth is a limited natural resource; both need to be shared fairly and in a way that avoids interference. In 1963, ITU held an Extraordinary Administrative Conference for space communications, which allocated frequencies to the various services. Later conferences made further allocations and put in place regulations governing satellites’ use of orbital slots. As well as linking broadcasting and wired telephone systems, and providing navigation services, satellites are also used in mobile communications. Satellite phones, for example, can be vital in emergencies, or for areas without access to alternative networks. And in 1992, ITU made spectrum allocations for the first time to serve the needs of Global Mobile Personal Communications by Satellite (GMPCS).

The 1963 Extraordinary Administrative Radio Conference

The “PARTIAL REVISION OF THE RADIO REGULATIONS, GENEVA, 1959” (preamble) states the following: “Recommendation No. 36 of the Ordinary Administrative Radio Conference, Geneva, 1959, recommended that the Administrative Council of the Union should consider the convening, in the latter part of 1963, of an Extraordinary Administrative Radio Conference to allocate frequency bands for Space Radiocommunication Purposes”. “The Administrative Council considered this question during its annual session, in 1962, and, at its session in 1963, adopted Resolution No: 524, which, with the prior concurrence of a majority of the Members of the Union, determined the Agenda of the Conference and decided that it should be convened in Geneva on 7th October 1963”. “The Extraordinary Administrative Radio Conference accordingly convened on the appointed date, and, in accordance with the provisions of Nos. 60 and 61 of the Convention, revised the relevant portions of the Radio Regulations, Geneva, 1959”.

The main task of the Conference, which was attended by more than four hundred delegates from seventy ITU Member States, was the allocation of radio frequencies for outer space activities and the consequent revision of the Table of Frequency Allocations. Since the Geneva Radio Conference of 1959, the allocation of an adequate number of frequencies for outer space had become an urgent task due to the rapid growth of activity in outer space. The Conference finally allocated, on a shared or exclusive basis, frequencies totalling 6076.462 Mc/s for the various kinds of space services and for radio astronomy, 2800 Mc/s of which were for communication satellites on a shared basis with other services. Thus, while at the 1959 Conference only about one percent of the Table of Frequency Allocations was made available for outer space, about fifteen percent had now been made available.

The Conference also adopted a number of revisions and additions to other parts of the Radio Regulations, mainly concerned with general rules for the assignment and use of frequencies; notification and recording of frequencies in the Master International Frequency Register; the identification of stations; service documents; terms and definitions; and special rules relating to particular services. These revisions and additions were necessitated to make provision for the space services. In addition, the Conference adopted a number of important Resolutions and Recommendations with an eye to future developments in the use of outer space. For example, it recommended that Members and Associate Members of the Union make data available to the appropriate permanent organs of the ITU; that the Administrative Council should annually review the progress of Administrations in space radiocommunications and should, in the light of this review, recommend the convening of an Extraordinary Administrative Conference at a future date to work out further agreements for the international regulation of the use of the frequency bands allocated by the present Conference; and that notification and registration of frequency assignments to space services shall, until revised by a future Conference, be effected in accordance with the procedures adopted by the present Conference.

In addition, considering that the number of flights by space vehicles or manned satellites was likely to increase, one of the most important Resolutions dealt with space vehicles in distress or emergency, noting that the frequency of 20 007 kc/s had been set aside by the Conference for this purpose and resolving that the conventional distress signal used by ships or aircraft (SOS in radiotelegraphy and MAYDAY in radiotelephony) should also be used by spacecraft: “The frequency 20 007 kc/s may also be used, in emergency, in the search for, and rescue of, astronauts and space vehicles”.

Another Recommendation was addressed to the International Radio Consultative Committee (CCIR) pointing out that “the use of satellite transmissions for direct reception by the general public of sound and television broadcasts may be possible in the future” and urged the CCIR to expedite its studies on the technical feasibility of broadcasting from satellites (“that the C.C.I.R. expedite its studies and make early recommendations on Question 241 (IV), Geneva, 1963, in particular, regarding those parts of the question relating to the technical feasibility of broadcasting from satellites, the optimum technical characteristics of the systems to be used, what bands would be technically suitable and whether and under what conditions those bands could be shared between the broadcasting-satellite and terrestrial services”). Thus, an important step was taken towards the future possibility of the general public being able to receive radio and television programmes in their own homes direct from satellites.

A further Recommendation called on the upcoming 1964 ITU Aeronautical Conference to provide high frequency channels for communications for the routine flight of transport airspace vehicles flying between points of the earth surface both within and beyond the major part of the atmosphere: “that frequencies in the HF bands (between 2 850 and 22 000 kc/s) are technically suitable for such communications as well as those frequencies above 100 Mc/s now available to the aeronautical mobile (R) service”.

Finally, a Recommendation was adopted recognizing “that all Members and Associate Members of the Union have an interest in and right to an equitable and rational use of frequency bands allocated for space communications” and recommending to all ITU Members and Associate Member States “that the utilization and exploitation of the frequency spectrum for space communications be subject to international agreements based on principles of justice and equity permitting the use and sharing of allocated frequency bands in the mutual interest of all nations”.

In addition to the work of the Conference, a special meeting was held on October 9 where a direct exchange of live televised messages took place via the United States communication-satellite Telstar.