An Historic Trip to China–Norm Weinhouse

Those people who are old enough might remember the diplomatic trip by President Nixon to China and the marvelous live TV coverage that came to the U. S. and to the world in 1972. President Nixon is generally credited with opening up China to the world.

The satellite earth station that was used in this event was provided by the Earth Station and Satellite Test Department of S&CG, led by the fearless leader Lou Greenbaum with assistants Al Koury and Joe Angeletti. I had the title of Station Manager for this mission. Legally and contractually the Chinese government was leasing the station from Western Union Co. (who was the “International Common Carrier of the day) and Hughes was subcontracted to provide the equipment, personnel, and training of the Chinese people to operate the station.

There were many memorable incidences during the trip, but to me the most memorable one happened before we went to China. There were 10 of us that were going and we were invited to the office of Dr. “Bud” Wheelon, Vice President of Hughes and head of S&CG. Dr. Wheelon was very cordial and said that “all 25,000 employees of Hughes Aircraft wished that they could go.” He also said, “We must remember that Hughes Aircraft is a major supplier to the United States Government. Now Mr. Nixon may or may not be a vindictive man, but the equipment better not fail.”

Now that was major pressure, especially when considering the equipment. It was what could be laughingly called a transportable station. I am not sure what the gross weight was, but it filled a C-130.

• The antenna was a 7 meter fiberglass reflector with a new feed system (not fully tested for overall performance).

• Two large steel truck bodies were used to house the gear that consisted of a pair of 10 kilowatt high power amplifiers of early 1960’s design, up/down converters and baseband equipment that was put (slapped) together for this mission, and a 60 channel bank of telephone equipment.

• Two monster diesel generators for power

Despite our anxiety the equipment performed flawlessly.

Our little group was treated like royalty. We attended the official diplomatic dinners; there were two vans and two sedans with drivers at our disposal, and two interpreters to help in communication with our Chinese counterparts


Summary of Aeronautical Satellite Development, 1963-1972—Roland Boucher

My involvement began in late 1963 when I was assigned to a team at Hughes Aircraft which had been given the task of developing satellite communications applications.  Syncom 2 was in orbit and the age of satellite communication had begun.  As the junior member of the team, I was assigned mobile applications.  A brief study of the problem indicated that for truly mobile communications the user should be able to make use of a simple dipole antenna (or aircraft blade antenna) and that the optimum frequency would be in the 150 mhz to 450 mhz range. The telemetry and command system of Syncom 2 operated in the VHF band at 136 mhz and 148 mhz. this led to a proposal to use this spacecraft to demonstrate satellite-aircraft communications. The efforts of personnel at Hughes, NASA, Air Transport Association, Bendix, Pan-Am as well as the FAA and the US Weather Bureau are described herein.

Significant early contributors were Frank White (ATA); William Pulford and Harry Betsill (Bendix); Meredith Eick, Lou Greenbaum, and Roland Boucher (Hughes); Ben McLeod, Bob Bohanon and Waldo Lynch (Pan Am); Pat Corrigan and Bob Darcy (NASA Goddard) and members of the antenna department at Boeing.  Many other organizations were to become involved over the next nine years.

Receiving Tests with Syncom 2, 1963-64

This period began with a reception test on a satellite simulator in the lab followed by the reception of satellite signals on a dipole antenna and finally reception on a Pan AM 707. Potential degradation of reception due to Faraday rotation and both galactic and man-made noise were also examined. The first year also demonstrated the possibility of using the Syncom 2 command-enable audio tone for teletype communications. This was first demonstrated in the laboratory with a satellite simulator; then with a simple ground station simulating expected aircraft performance.  Ground to air communications was demonstrated on 21 November from the NASA /Hughes ground station at Camp Roberts, California to Bendix equipment and engineers aboard a Pan Am flight en route from San Francisco to Honolulu.

Two Way Communications Syncom 2 and  ATS -1 VHF Experiment, 1965

This year saw the first the two-way air-ground satellite communications. It took place on January 27, 1965 between NASA/Hughes station at Camp Roberts, California and the Bendix equipment aboard a Pan Am flight out of Hong Kong. Further tests were conducted during the year.

Within weeks of the test of January 27 NASA asked Hughes to develop a VHF repeater experiment for the NASA/Hughes Advanced Technology Satellite ATS-1. This experiment was managed at different times by Roland Boucher and Bill Penprase of Hughes and Pat Corrigan of NASA Goddard. I am sorry that I am quite fuzzy about events at this time. When returning home January 28, I was told that my father had contacted meningitis; he died after a brief illness. The next event that I really remember was the solution to an antenna temperature problem.

The antenna for the VHF experiment had been proposed to be mounted on the microwave end of the spacecraft; NASA repositioned it to the apogee motor end. The antenna now had to withstand the heat and blast forces from the rocket exhaust.  I proposed to manufacture the dipole elements from beryllium to absorb the terrific heat without failure; NASA agreed and also decided to flame coat the completed antenna with a ceramic material to provide additional protection. Shortly after this I was named acting program manager for the VHF Experiment on ATS-1.  This program is described in the  quarterly reports (two in 1965, two in 1966, and the final report in 1966).

ATS-1 Launched:  Air-Ground Voice Communications Demonstrated, 1966

The year was spent in the development of the VHF experiment and its new eight-element beryllium deployable antenna and planning for the involvement of the airline industry to be ready for aircraft tests with ATS-1 that was to be launched in December. I presented a paper to the aviation community In July titled “Satellites for VHF Aeronautical Communications – Present and Future.” Executives from nearly a dozen major airlines from all over the world came to visit Hughes to see the progress for themselves.  When ATS-1 was launched on December 7, 1966, aircraft from all over the world were equipped with satellite compatible communication sets. As I remember Pan Am was joined by TWA, United, Quantas, and other foreign airlines.  All reported that the signal was loud and clear except for a small amount of antenna spin modulation (walking feet).  This was most apparent at the edges of coverage. It was all but eliminated in a later test on a Pan Am flight from New York to Brazil when the satellite antenna beam was pointed to the center of the flight path.

Roland Boucher and "Gus" Gustavson With the ATS Prototype.

Roland Boucher and “Gus” Gustafson With the ATS Prototype.

More ATS-1 Tests, VHF Experiment on ATS-3, Circular Polarization, 1967

In early January I decided to see if it was possible to receive FM music transmissions from ATS-1.  The FM modulation (bandwidth) was increased 10 db and the aircraft blade antenna replaced with a simple three-element Yaggi. I modified an inexpensive Sony FM portable radio and tried it . It worked. The inexpensive Sony portable had an IF bandwidth of nearly 500 khz yet it received music transmitted from ATS -1.

The year saw many airlines participate in successful communications through ATS-1. The U.S. Coast Guard became involved with communication tests on the Klamath, the Staten island, and the USCGC Glacier. Hughes authorized me set up a VHF terminal in my home which became known as ARINC Los Angeles. A large number of audio tapes of the communications test were made of both aircraft and shipboard communications.

In May I presented a paper on VHF Satellites for maritime mobile communications before the Radio Technical Commission for Maritime Services. It was well received.

The VHF Experiment on ATS-3 used linear RF amplifiers in place of the Class C amplifiers on ATS-1. Linearity was important because it greatly reduced the intermodulation distortion inherent in multi-channel transmitters. This causes users at microwave frequencies to operate their spacecraft transmitters well below peak power (transmitter back-off). The VHF transmitters were solid state and used a class A/B final stage, The DC power required was reduced 0.5 db for every 1 db of back off.  This was a very important discovery since power is a very expensive commodity on any spacecraft.

At low elevation angles multi-path can cause a significant loss in signal for short periods of time as the reflected signal alternately cancels and adds to the direct signal. Circular polarization can eliminate this problem when used by both receiver and transmitter, (field tests with Tacsat verified this in 1969) Hughes designed and tested circular polarized replacements for the dipole antenna elements on ATS-3.  Unfortunately NASA did not approve their use. Meanwhile Boeing designed a circular polarized flush mounted VHF antenna for the 747.

C. A. Petry at ARINC worked with the airlines and FAA to produce ARINC Specification No. 546.  This specification described the performance and installation properties of a new spacecraft compatible aircraft radio set. When the first Boeing 747 was delivered to Pan Am, it was equipped with and ARINC 546 communication transceiver and a circular polarized antenna. This aircraft was equipped for satellite to aircraft communications. ATS-3 was launched successfully on November 5, 1967.

Hughes designed a small inexpensive VHF terminal for the US Coast Guard which was installed on the icebreaker, USCGC Glacier. This ship was used to resupply the Antarctic base. That winter,1967/1968, sun spot activity a was great and HF radio was unusable for long periods of time. The $4000 Hughes satellite terminal got through every time.

Working with Comsat and the International Community, Bogota Caper 1968

Hughes supported Comsat, NASA, ARIC, and the ATA as well as members of the international community to promote air-ground satellite communications. In September Hughes submitted a proposal to Comsat for a VHF Aeronautical Satellite.

NASA contracted with Philco Ford and General Electric /Hughes for a study program to define future ATS spacecraft models (F and G). The Philco-Ford design concept was chosen for development.

In the spring Hughes was asked if it were possible to broadcast ,through satellite, the up-coming visit of the Pope Paul VI to Bogota, Columbia scheduled in August. The Early Bird satellites operated by Comsat were designed to operate with an 85 foot ground antenna . Time and cost precluded using this approach. I suggested to the group that ATS-3 could be used and that a 15 foot diameter antenna would be sufficient if the prototype 10,000 watt transmitter recently completed at Hughes Fullerton could be made available. I also suggested that the Pope’s terminal contain a VHF communication set in case the telephone service from Bogota to Hughes CA prove unsuitable. NASA agreed to make ATS-3 available, and one month before the expected arrival of the Pope in Columbia we were given the go ahead. Time was short, so I approved the purchase for immediate delivery of a 15-foot antenna from Gabriel’s Horns in New Hampshire.

We ordered immediate delivery of a modified tilt up box from a garbage truck manufacture to be used serve as the terminal structure to house the Fullerton transmitter and other equipment. The FM video modulator was a borrowed prototype of the spacecraft unit used to transmit Spin Scan Camera Video. The FM voice subcarrier was generated by a Boonton signal generator. A VHF terminal similar to the one on the Glacier was installed and a 3 element Yaggi used for transmit and receive. The station was flown to Bogota in a USAF C-130 and set up in less than one week.

At first glance one might think that we were forced to transmit blind since we could not possibly receive video on a 15 foot antenna. Fortunately the video signal has a very large amount of energy in the blanking pulse and is transmitted at the 30 hz frame rate. We tracked the ATS-3 using this narrow band signal and plotted optimum antenna pointing angles with two carpenters tape measures mounted to the antenna gimbals. Later we used the VHF link to talk directly with the NASA ground stations to verify signal saturation levels in the spacecraft. After the successful transmission of the Pope’s Bogota visit by this first mobile satellite transmitting station it went to Iran to transmit the 2500th anniversary of the Persian Empire to the world, then on February 5, 1972 a C-130 flew it to China for the historic visit by President Nixon.

Comsat Plan, CCIR Conference in Geneva, 1969

Hughes provided technical assisted to Comsat and others as requested throughout the year to support its proposal for a VHF Aeronautical Satellite. We prepared a brochure titled “ Aerosat Commercial VHF Communications via Satellite.”

That fall I was selected as a representative of the State Department to the CCIR conference on satellite communications. Thanks to the efforts of Captain Charles Dorian and others we were able to convince the group to authorize VHF aircraft communications by satellite. France led the opposition and unfortunately they played politics better than we did. As I understand it, they got NASA to oppose Aerosat by agreeing to support the Space Shuttle. In any case I received a phone call in Geneva from Hughes saying its all over as NASA pulled the plug.


Flight tests continued, presentations were made all the way up to the office of the President (Nixon). I was offered a position in the Office of The President but declined. I had spent nearly almost 10 years in the pursuit of a VHF Aeronautical Satellite to no avail. Completely independent of my employment with Hughes, I had developed the concept of an electrical powered battlefield surveillance drone and a solar-powered high altitude spy plane. It was time to accept the offer to join the Office of the President or to start a new company to pursue this new field. I left Hughes Aircraft in January 1973. The prototype electric powered battlefield drone flew that year and a proof of concept model of the spy plane flew on solar power alone in 1974

30th Anniversary Celebration Aeronautical Satellite Communications, 1995

On September 29, 1995 Ben McLeod and Bob Bohanan (both from Pan American) organized a 30th anniversary celebration in Washington DC. Personnel from ATA, ARINC, Bendix, Comsat, FAA, FCC, Hughes, NASA and or course Pan Am were in attendance. We all were all thrilled that the aging Frank White was able to attend and were sad that other important contributors from Comsat, Collins Radio, and the US Coast Guard were unavailable or deceased.

This brief description of events almost 50 yeas ago are correct to the best of my recollection.

On the Gyrostat Road—John Neer

When Explorer 1 was launched in the 50’s, it “fell over” into a flat spin. After learning this physics lesson (“flat spin” is the lowest energy state for a prolate spinner), Syncom was designed as an oblate spinner and, therefore, stable. Ball, about the same time, introduced an oblate dual spin design for the first series of OSO satellites. Soon power and aperture growth were overly constrained by the oblate design “rule”. Along came Tony and the Gyrostat, a dual spin prolate design, to open up the design space for much higher power systems with despun platforms carrying large and multiple payloads.

In 1967 I had the good fortune to hook up with Tony Iorillo and was in charge of his laboratory dynamic model of a notional gyrostat. With the great help of John Thomas and Bernie Burns we constructed an air bearing model in Bob Telle’s lab in Building 366 (El Segundo). Here is Tony with that model:Tony

As the more astute reviewer will note, this is actually a “tri-spin” design with a doubly despun platform configuration. The solar array was unfolded and despun on the “south side” of the rotator. As the astute reviewer will also recall, this design was never implemented as 3-axis designs evolved in the 80’s to dominate the high power satellite design world.

The cut away of the lab model looked like this:Lab Model

The model was rather sophisticated and very representative of the gyrostat’s potential design flexibility. As in the case with Syncom, the Gyrostat was patented and the model was critical in demonstrating a reduction to practice criteria.

HS-308, TacSat, was the first Gyrostat and it paved the way for HS-318, HS-312, SDS and others that were developed and put into operation throughout the 70’s. TacSat’s “nutational anomaly” stirred a number of exhaustive pursuits into the mechanisms and sources of “rotor” energy dissipation. One such pursuit I personally got deeply involved with was the “fuel slosh” in the new “conispherical” tanks. That activity involved Jerry Salvatore and a scaled air bearing model set up in Culver City. Thinking that there was a “simple linear” energy dissipation formula, we set out to validate the formula’s prediction. However, when we put a closed circuit camera on the plastic tank with confetti in the liquid, reality struck. What we observed was total nonlinear flow and “churning”. From that point on we engaged in an extensive parametric test program to determine the energy dissipation rate and searched for resonances in fraction filled along with some limited inertia ratio changes. As a result of these early tests, we added an additional nutation damper to Intelsat IV before launch. While the tests were hard to conduct accurately in a 1-G field, it would be valuable to conduct an on orbit experiment validation.

HS-312, Intelsat IV, was a significant “step up” from Intelsat II and III. Here is Harold Rosen with the Intelsat IV mockup:Hal

Al Owens was the Intelsat IV program manager and led the program successfully through 8 satellite launches with one lost to a LV failure. In charge of “systems analysis” I supported the 8 launches back at the ComSat control center in DC. That was a great experience with Marty Votaw and Gene Jilg in charge of the program and operation for Intelsat’s side.

One “untold story” during the first launch: Gene Jilg and I were on “graveyard” ops shift duty and nothing was happening as we were waiting to get into the apogee motor firing orbit and position. Gene came over and asked what we might do to do something. I suggested why not perform a fuel slosh test to see how divergent the spacecraft really was in orbit and “real” 0-G. He was interested and wanted to know what we needed to do. I said we have to turn off the despun control electronics, DCE, disable the active nutational control (ANC) electronics, and let the platform spin up to centrifugally “pin” the eddy current dampers against the stops. Next we would need to pulse an axial jet to increase nutation to a measurable level via the fm accelerometer. I said we needed about one time constant to get an accurate measurement. That meant we would monitor the accelerometer and when we got to ~ ½ degree nutation, we’d send the DCE on command and enable the ANC. Gene thought a moment and said that sounds interesting and “fun”(my word)….and we did it! Those were the days when people were trusted over the process which now tries to control them (my words).

Bottomline: Divergence was faster than the scaled slosh tests predicted so we added another nutation damper on subsequent builds. The result of the test made it clear that the ground tests were not good when scaling to inertia ratio since our test was with the apogee motor and in the transfer orbit mass/inertia state. This led to much more parametric ground testing to better map the fraction filled condition against the inertia ratio. In the end this became a very important finding from a test on orbit that was unplanned and probably not one that would have been approved prior to launch.

As a historical note of some more importance of using an Intelsat IV to conduct a fuel slosh test, Intelsat IV was used to carry the video from Beijing when President Nixon unexpectedly visited there in February 1972. Our colleague, Bernie Burns, went over to China to help set up the ground terminal needed for the relay back to CONUS.

Many of our colleagues realize how rapidly we did things is design, developing and deploying satellite systems which today take 2-3+ times as long yet whose mission success is not significantly improved over what we did in 3-5 years back then. We were fortunate to be at the right place at the right time-a view from the NeerSide…

Thanks to all the colleagues and associates who helped invent the future in the 60’s and 70’s.


The Surveyor Proposal Team—Jack Fisher

When I wrote the post, “Surveyor: Study, Proposal, and Program Initiation,” I tried very hard to find out who was on the study and proposal team consulting a number of sources.  However, it’s been more than 50 years since Hughes captured this program and memories have faded.  I was very pleased to find this article from the Hughes News on February 3, 1961 that provided some information on the Surveyor team.

Hard Work, Long Hours Earn Pact

Outstanding individual efforts by nearly a score of Hughesites earned HAC the key role in the development of the Surveyor spacecraft, one of the nation’s “most meaningful” space programs.

The program has been termed “most meaningful” because Surveyor will answer questions about the moon that have been on men’s minds since the beginning of time.

For the first time we’ll know what the moon’s landscape really looks like. We’ll get an analysis of the soil; a determination of its “atmosphere” and its geophysical characteristics.

The Surveyor program was one of the most sought-after space programs. A total of 38 of the nation’s leading aircraft and electronic firms were in the initial competition vying for one of the four five-month contracts. Hughes was one of the four selected.

Enormous Effort

“ Each of these four companies put forth an enormous effort, not only because of the money involved, but because of the prestige factor,” said Dr. Leo Stoolman, HAC’s Surveyor project manager.

HAC’s effort was prodigious. The men assigned to the project worked 12 hours a day six days a week for seven months, and at one period worked 28 straight days.

Heading this technical team were Dr. Stoolman, R. E. Sears, assistant project manager, and R. K. Roney, technical director, R&D Laboratories, who provided technical direction for our entire Surveyor program.

Individuals Cited

Other key personnel involved were: P. G. Ackerman, scientific instruments; J. M. Bozajian, thermal control and flight mechanisms; J. D. Cloud, systems analysis; R. G. Colbert, vehicle design; T. F. Coleman, vehicle design; J. S. Green, missions operations; R. C. Hamilton, electrical power system; W. F. Hummel, guidance and control; L. G. Ludwig, missions operations; D. A. Mahaffy, propulsion; Max Mason, systems analysis; H. K. Redd, scientific instrument integration; S. C. Shallon, telecommunications; E. E. St. John, telecommunications; C. R. Telle, mechanisms; and A. T. Vall, reliability assurance and test.


Leasat Beginnings and Significance–Boris Subbotin

The genesis of the Leasat program, about forty years ago, is not well known. The culmination of our efforts was the award to the Hughes Aircraft Company of the Leasat contract in September 1978 by the U. S. Navy. The significance of this program, I believe, was to move the company’s course further in new directions—in management, in pricing of products, in risk-taking, and in new business structures. This was all made possible by the earlier innovative technology developments and complexity and the more sophisticated satellite production, test, launch, and operations in the Space and Communications Group (S&CG) in the 1960’s and early 1970’s. A successive number of synchronous communication satellites (including the Leasat precursor, Tacsat) were built for various customers in that period.

The Defense Division of S&CG was responsible for all military and classified satellite programs. Robert Sears was the Division Manager during this time. Reporting to him was a small group called Advanced Programs concerned with developing new business, staffing and managing proposals, and interacting with potential customers and marketing. By the early 1970’s, it seemed apparent that, subsequent to the successful TACSAT program, Hughes had not been very successful in winning any of a series of military satellite procurements such as IDCSP (DSCS-I), DSCS-II, NATO-1 SATCOM, and later DSCS-III. One reason put forth was that the cost estimates from the many S&CG performing areas might have inflated the total cost in our bids causing the customer to choose another supplier. This may have been caused by the very detailed and complex military specifications. The customers usually add requirements to successive procurement specifications to avoid known problems incurred by previous satellite contractors.

At least by the early 1970’s, the process of building a series of commercial communications satellites at S&CG was well in hand and the risks considered moderate. We asked ourselves, how might we take advantage of this commercial experience in the winning of future military contracts? There were not many significant technology differences in the satellites themselves except for the frequencies of operation. The subject arose of our not selling a satellite to the military, but instead providing long-term communication services by long term leasing not unlike a telephone company. In this way our experience in the commercial satellite business would be applied to the military. Our internal specifications and procedures for satellite construction, test, launch, and operation would be used. Obviously, this novel idea needed more detailed study and both our and Navy management would need to be convinced. What kind of contract would you enter? What Government approvals would be required? How would authorization of the operating frequencies be arranged? Who would control the satellites and from where? What forms of leasing are possible? If we were to be a common carrier where the FCC must know your costs and rates, how does privately owned Hughes handle that? What part of Hughes would be the lessor?

Earlier, the role the DOD gave to the U. S. Air Force was for the procurement and technical direction of satellite, boost vehicles, and space systems and contractors. However the U. S. Navy had its own special naval space missions, communications and system requirements. They used the Applied Physics Laboratory of Johns Hopkins University as their think tank and technology organization. The Navy had a desire to be independent of other DOD branches for space. This undoubtedly influenced the Navy’s acceptance and internal promotion of communications leasing. Their technical personnel were very supportive of our lease concept and provided assistance to us while developing their communications system specifications.

As new leasing idea grew, Ken Renshaw, in the Advanced Programs group and a strategic thinker, had this as his primary assignment. Some answers to the myriad marketing, contracts, and legal investigations questions were addressed. The legal, financial, and organizational issues involved seemed more complex than the technical ones. At a management offsite presentation in 1974 or 1975, Jim Dunlap, head of S&CG Contracts and Legal, and I presented the concepts to all attendees. A separate wholly owned subsidiary would be formed that ultimately became Hughes Communications Incorporated (HCI). It would contract services with the Navy and operate the system. In this way, our books could be open to the FCC and be separate from Hughes. HCI could contract for products, analyses, services, and support with our parent, the Hughes Aircraft Company.

Many marketing and technical meetings were subsequently held with the government. By late 1977, it seemed that the concept of Navy satellite service leasing was understood and underway. It was time for Hughes to do a detailed design of our product. I formed a separate design team. Al Wittman’s ideas of a “Frisbee” deployment of a maximum diameter drum satellite from the bay of the Space Shuttle were incorporated. Two separate transmit and receive helical UHF antennas were incorporated and the difficult passive inter-modulation product suppression technology was addressed. By the time the Navy request for proposal (RFP) arrived in early 1978, we had completed the design. Another bidder, Comsat Corporation, a satellite communications carrier, also wished to bid and came to Hughes with a bid request. Dave Braverman ran that effort entirely separate from our own Hughes bid. Both competing proprietary proposals were totally independent from each other, even though the overall designs may have been very similar. Since the HCI satellite design had been completed before the RFP, the Comsat proposal work was less effort. We carefully avoided any possible conflict of interest as we were competing with one of our good customers.

HCI was awarded the Leasat contract in September 1978. S&CG began the design and construction of the space and ground facilities. A separate building was leased in El Segundo at the southwest corner of Continental and Grand Avenue as HCI headquarters. I was asked to be the first employee of HCI as Technical Director. Ralph Rhoads was second in Contracts and Jacque Johnson was next for Marketing. In January 1979, Tom Whitehead joined and became President of HCI.

It was a very stimulating time period for all. In reflecting on the Leasat program significance, I believe that it opened the door for Hughes to utilize its technology skills in commercial business in a novel and rewarding way. At HCI, the later Galaxy program sold individual satellite transponders at market prices to TV cable and network providers. HCI would just operate the satellite, insure, and warranty the services. It was followed by DirecTV, a satellite system that was financed, developed, and deployed before there were any customers for the service. These stepping stones of technology, risk taking, financing, and marketing led to the space communications accomplishments of Hughes that are unique in the world.