Satellite Transmission Experiment Linking Laboratories

STELLA was the first European satellite computer network, able to transmit data at very high speeds (2Mbps already in 1978!) between CERN in Geneva and the main European high-energy physics laboratories.

Aerial view of the OTS antenna installed in the CNUCE courtyard

In Italy the project was possible thanks to the financing of the INFN (National Institute of Nuclear Physics). Not only did this important scientific institution make the necessary funds available, but it also persuaded Telespazio to install, in the courtyard of the CNUCE of Pisa (a ancient building in the heart of the historical center, a few steps from the Tower of Pisa), a 4 meter diameter satellite dish pointed at the OTS (Orbital Test Satellite) of ESA (European Space Agency). It was a bulky infrastructure, but essential to give substance to this important project.

The high energy physics experiments carried out at CERN normally involve the collection of huge amounts of data that are processed by groups of physicists located in various European countries. The absence of a very high speed data transmission service between CERN and these laboratories considerably complicated the processing of experimental data. In those years, in fact, the data produced at CERN were stored on magnetic tapes and subsequently transported to individual national laboratories using conventional methods (car, train, plane, etc.). It was wasteful and incredibly slow, which certainly did not favor the progress of scientific research.

The physics laboratories involved in the STELLA project

For this reason CERN showed great interest in ESA’s proposal to use the OTS to implement a high-speed data service between CERN (Switzerland) and the laboratories of five European countries: Italy, England, Germany, Ireland and Austria. In addition to the transfer of large files, with STELLA the “Remote Control Room” was created. This enabled researchers from remote laboratories to follow the evolution, in real time, of the experiment in progress, just like their colleagues at CERN. STELLA represented the European version of the US satellite network SATNET through which, starting from the end of the 1970s, the Internet was extended to four European nations, including Italy.


CNUCE/CNR – Italia
Antonio Blasco Bonito
Nedo Celandroni
Erina Ferro
Luciano Lenzini
Elia Perotto

IAS/CNR – Italia
Massimo Pallotta

INFN – Italia
S. Catà
Francesco Celani
Riccardo Fantechi
Giuseppe Pierazzini
Riccardo Fantechi

Antonio Marzoli
Sebastiano Tirrò

CERN – Switzerland
Mervyn Hine
Benjamin M. Segal
Knut So(dieresi)eren Olofsson

Rutherford Laboratory – UK
Chistofer J. Adams
John Burren

Technical University of Graz – Austria
Otto Koudelka
Thomas Waibel

Visting researchers
Malik Ramic, IRIS – Energoinvest, Sarajevo – Iugoslavia
Jacques Loquet, EURATOM – Ispra