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Satellite Was Mexico City’s Link With World Following Quake

September 20, 1985

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The latest communications technology, including a satellite launched only three months ago from the U.S. space shuttle, allowed TV viewers worldwide to see the earthquake devastation in Mexico City even though all telephone and telegraph links to the city had been knocked out.

Only one TV station, the government-operated Channel 13 in Mexico City, stayed on the air following Thursday morning’s quake, which demolished scores of buildings and knocked out ground communications in the Mexican capital of 18 million people.

The station’s signal apparently was relayed by microwave to a satellite earth station, then up to a Mexican government-owned domestic satellite called Morelos, which was launched from an American space shuttle in June.

Theresa Foley, consulting editor of a Washington-based newsletter, Satellite Week, said the earth station which transmits the pictures to the Morelos satellite is located 10 miles southeast of Mexico City in the Iztapalapa suburb.

Reports said that suburb apparently was spared the worst destruction from the quake, which struck at 9:18 a.m. EDT about 250 miles from the Mexican capital. The temblor measured 7.8 on the Richter scale, an open-ended measurement of ground motion.

The satellite was designed to provide advanced telecommunications, including live television pictures, to remote areas of Mexico, but because a satellite beam comes down from 23,000 miles in space, the signal covers a wide area beyond the intended receivers.

In this case, the signal was received in Miami, Nicaragua and other locations in the satellite’s ″footprint″ and relayed from there to network control rooms.

The Federal Communications Commission immediately granted temporary authority for American television networks to use portable earth stations to transmit their own material out of Mexico.

Telephone and telegraph companies in the United States reported that many satellite earth stations continued to function, but no calls were reaching them from downtown Mexico City because the telephone wires were down. In some cases, satellite links were not working because power supplies were disrupted.

Rich Wetmore, district manager at American Telephone & Telegraph Co.’s network operations center in Bedminster, N.J., said AT&T stood ready to help the Mexicans rebuild their communications network.

He said AT&T has offered to fly in a portable earth station that could give the Mexico City area as many as 24 emergency phone lines to the rest of the world. The quake knocked out telephone service from the United States to the 905 area code encompassing Mexico City, Wetmore noted.

The emergency system being offered, which looks like a row of telephone booths hooked to a satellite dish, was used in March 1982 to provide reporters with telephones when the space shuttle landed at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, miles from the nearest phone line.

Wetmore said the Defense Department had been asked to provide a C-5A transport plane to haul the unit to Mexico from Atlanta if its use was requested by the Mexicans.

″We’re offering them various types of emergency restoral equipment that we have,″ including emergency towers that could be used to transmit microwave signals from telephone switching centers to other areas still connected to the worldwide network, Wetmore said.

AT&T said it also would offer emergency power generators to restore electricity to telephone offices and ″blanket technical expertise to help them rebuild their network.″

He said that a few emergency lines were being operated to keep the Mexican government in touch with the world.

There also was a circuit being used by the U.S. government, but that link was direct to the State Department and not hooked to the normal telephone network.

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