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Satellite communications have advanced from the realm of science fiction to the commonplace in a period of less than 40 years. The paper outlines the birth and development of this new industry which was pioneered by the United States and the Soviet Union but has since become increasingly international, with growing capabilities in Western Europe, Japan, China and India. The technological developments which have accompanied the growth of satellite communications have been both diverse and complex. To illustrate the rapid technological advance in communications, three phases have been identified which are linked by major changes in the state-of-the-art. The concept of the sky-hook, the end of the fish-warmers and the era of the hub-cap provide convenient milestones against which this dramatic advance can be calibrated.