Surveyor Terminal Descent—Fred Hummel

A typical launch vehicle flight path starts with a vertical ascent from the launch pad. The vehicle accelerates slowly with the thrust-weight ratio somewhat greater than one for a typical liquid first stage booster. As sufficient altitude is gained a pitch maneuver in the desired downrange direction is introduced. For the remainder of the flight through the atmosphere the angle of attack is maintained at zero with the thrust vector aligned with the vehicle velocity to minimize aerodynamic loads. This is known as a gravity turn trajectory and is usually flown open loop with a preprogrammed pitch schedule. Subsequent ascent once through the atmosphere will utilize a closed-loop adaptive inertial guidance system.

The Surveyor terminal descent system introduced the concept of a gravity turn to the vertical on approach to the lunar surface. However this cannot be done open-loop as velocity and slant range to the lunar surface are required. This is provided in body coordinates by the Radar Altimeter and Doppler Velocity System (RADVS), an L-band radar, that provides the four beams required to determine range and velocity. The bulk of the lunar approach velocity is removed by a solid rocket motor. Before ignition, the vernier engines are turned on for attitude control of the spacecraft during the burn and final descent. The attitude reference for the spacecraft is provided throughout by a pair of rate integrating gyros. The attitude is changed as needed by precessing the gyros. At burnout, the vernier engines are throttled to 0.9 lunar g until the solid motor is released and separated.

When the RADVS acquires the lunar surface and range and velocity data are available, the attitude control system acts to align the vehicle thrust axis with the velocity vector. This is done by precessing the gyro attitude reference to null the transverse velocity measured by the RADVS. Thereafter the vehicle follows a parabolic profile of range versus velocity designed to bring both close to zero at the surface. The difference between the measured range and the target range is used to control the combined thrust of the vernier engines. This profile is followed until a speed of 10 ft/sec is reached at which time the thrust axis is nearly aligned with the lunar vertical. The attitude then remains fixed and a velocity of 5 ft/sec is maintained to an altitude of 13 feet where thrust is terminated and the spacecraft free falls to the lunar surface.

A novel feature of the Surveyor gravity turn in final descent is that it works over a wide range of approach angles. That’s made possible by the RADVS which provides continuous measurements of the range and velocity in body coordinates. That in turn enables the on board controller to align thrust axis to the velocity vector and bring both the velocity and range to near-zero at the surface. The parabolic range-velocity profile used for thrust control was approximated with an analog function generator. There was no digital computer on board. A gravity turn trajectory is the natural result of gravity along the vertical and retro-thrust along the velocity vector bending the flight path toward the vertical.



Greg Jarvis-Slipping the Surly Bonds of Earth—Andy Ott

Greg Jarvis began working on Leasat in 1978 when the Navy held a competition for the next generation UHF Communications Satellite Constellation to provide worldwide communications capability for their entire fleet. Although Greg was reassigned to work on classified programs during several stops and restarts of the Leasat program caused by shuttle development delays (1980 to 1982), he returned to Leasat once the program was fully restarted. Greg was the Leasat Bus Systems Engineer from early design development to time of his selection to become a Payload Specialist (June of 1984) when both F1 and F2 were undergoing System Integration and Test in the Hughes Hi-bay facilities. Please see other sections of this blog about the Payload Specialist selection process (600 Hughes applicants) and the training that Greg and the other three Hughes Payload Specialists (Bill Butterworth, John Konrad and Steve Cunningham) went through in preparation for their scheduled missions.

NASA originally assigned the Hughes Payload Specialists to fly on Discovery in March 1985 (STS 51-D) and August 1985 (STS 51-I) to launch the third and fourth Leasat Spacecraft. Greg was prime for STS 51-D, Bill was his backup and also went through the required NASA training. In addition to monitoring Leasat F3 deployment from the shuttle, Greg was to conduct experiments in fluid dynamics to illustrate fluid motion in sealed containers and their interaction with spacecraft (in this case Shuttle) maneuvers – the well known but poorly understood fuel slosh phenomena that all spacecraft propulsion systems have to operate within.

BUT, politics trumped technology and Greg was re-assigned to Columbia (STS 61-C), the flight scheduled immediately prior to Challenger. Senator Jake Garn of Utah flew on the Discovery 51-D flight that Greg was originally assigned to in April of 1985 and was witness to all the activities when Leasat F3 failed to activate after shuttle deployment. This included constructing a “flyswatter” from on-board materials and rendezvous with the stranded on-orbit F3 Leasat. The flyswatter was mounted to the shuttle Remote Manipulator Arm and used to “swat” (actually more like a nudge) a lever protruding from the satellite, which was hypothesized to possibly be “hung-up” (very low probability but the only thing that could be done at that time). Unfortunately, as many expected, this did not work.

EVA Installing FlySwatters to Shuttle Remote Manipulator Arm

EVA Installing FlySwatters to Shuttle Remote Manipulator Arm

FlySwatter Ready to Swat Slowly Spinning LEASAT

FlySwatter Ready to Swat Slowly Spinning LEASAT

Congressman Bill Nelson of Florida was assigned to the Challenger flight scheduled for January1986. He had originally requested to be on the Columbia flight that Greg was assigned to (STS 61-C, 12/18/1985) that was scheduled to launch an RCA built spacecraft. NASA felt the Congressman needed more training so they re-assigned him to Challenger to get additional training.

There was a problem discovered in orbit with two Hughes spacecraft that was at the time considered a generic problem that could potentially affect Leasat as well. (Are there any Hughesites that remember what this problem was???). Hughes requested a short delay in the launch of Columbia so they could better analyze the in-orbit problems. Columbia was rescheduled to January 12, 1986 even though it was shortly determined by Hughes that the in-orbit problem was not a constraint to launch Leasat F3. The Columbia delay allowed Congressman Bill Nelson additional training time so Greg was bumped from Columbia onto Challenger. Challenger’s payload consisted of a Tracking and Data Relay Satellite (TDRSS B) built by TRW and the crew included Christa McAuliffe – Teacher In Space.

Challenger was originally scheduled for launch January 22, 1986 but delays in the previous mission (Columbia) caused a delay to January 23. Due to bad weather at Kennedy Space Center and then the Abort Landing Site in Senegal, launch was again scrubbed on January 24 and 25. Then two days before liftoff, due to problems with the shuttle exterior hatch, Greg had to wait another two days. Although forecasts for January 28 predicted an unusually cold morning with temperature of 28 to 30 deg F (31 deg F was the minimum NASA permitted temperature for launch) and the coldest previous shuttle launch was 53 deg F, NASA allowed actual liftoff to occur at 11:38 EST on January 28, 1986. Seventy three seconds after liftoff Challenger disintegrated and the rest is history. One can only wonder; what was going through Greg’s mind as he was going through the emotional turmoil with all of the mission re-assignments and then the delays and scrubs? The Hughes Leasat team also had a very special interest in the “ping-ponging” of Payload Specialists and multiple scrubs due to one of its own being one of them.

Art Jones, who was the Kennedy Space Center launch interface engineer for Leasat burst into the building S1 conference room where the Leasat F4 and F5 Integration and Test Team was conducting their daily system integration coordination meeting with the news that Challenger had blown up. After the initial shock, the meeting dispersed and participants went to different conference rooms to see what happened on television. Emotions ran extremely high; many broke down in tears, including several executives. The conference rooms were filled again when NASA broadcast the memorial from Johnson Space Center 3 days after the disaster; once again many tears, especially when President Reagan said “We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them…and… they slipped the surly bonds of Earth to touch the face of God” and he hugged Greg’s wife Marcia. The Hughes internal Memorial service performed in the patio area between buildings R1 and 366 a few days later was also very much appreciated and emotional.

Greg had finished the course work required for a Masters Degree in Business Management at West Coast University. Greg mailed a handwritten copy of his thesis to the University the day before the launch. The University had planned to award the degree while Challenger was in orbit, making Greg the first person to have his degree conferred while in space. His thesis was titled “In Search of Excellence” and described Hughes Space and Communications Group character, culture and management style. The manuscript was postdated January 29, 1986 and Greg was posthumously awarded the Masters Degree at the spring 1986 commencement Ceremony of West Coast University.

The Challenger Astronauts:  back row left to right El Onizuka, Christa McAuliffe, Greg Jarvis, Judy Resnik; front row left to right Mike Smith, Dick Scobee, and Ron McNair.

The Challenger Astronauts: back row left to right El Onizuka, Christa McAuliffe, Greg Jarvis, Judy Resnik; front row left to right Mike Smith, Dick Scobee, and Ron McNair.

The following comment was submitted by Steve Dorfman.

Andy, your input is very accurate and well written. It recalls some painful times for me since I was instrumental in arranging for Hughes employees to fly on the Shuttle. It was a good idea but had a terrible outcome. I do believe Greg died doing what he loved doing.

I draw a blank on what Hughes in orbit problems might have led to Shuttle delay. I just don’t recall any such problem. You might consider excluding that part since it isn’t important to the story. The major incident is NASA bumping Greg twice for congressmen. I was the person who had to swallow that pill though I wasn’t given any choice.

The selection process was based on strong system engineering background, not necessarily Leasat though Greg had a Leasat background. It turned out that NASA didn’t really want the Hughes payload specialist to have anything to do with Leasat and hence bumping him to a non-Leasat launch made logic from their standpoint. They viewed the Hughes payload specialist as more Shuttle marketing than Shuttle engineering. I was bitterly disappointed when that became clear.

Your effort to record history is appreciated. I wish we had more SCG people step up and make the effort to contribute.


Hughes Aircraft History 1932-1986 Transcribed by Faith MacPherson

Editor’s note: Recently I was contacted by Jon Wilkman and asked to provide some background information on Hughes Aircraft. His company, Wilkman Productions, has been tasked by an advertising agency to write a book about Hughes to publicize the old Hughes Culver City site to prospective tenants.   In my search for something to give him I found a brochure entitled “at the forefront of technology” produced by Corporate Human Resources in 1986 probably for the benefit of General Motors. I gave this to Jon, but I also thought, even though it isn’t solely concerned with Hughes space activities, that I should post it on our website. Jack Fisher

Hughes Aircraft Company was established in 1932 under the umbrella of the Hughes Tool Company to support Howard Hughes’ interest in aviation. His early success with the H-1 racer brought respect to the handful of designers and craftsmen who worked for the Company. In 1936 and 1937 Hughes Aircraft Company entered the competition for the design of an Army Air Corps interceptor and won. Since Hughes Aircraft Company had no production facilities, the production contract was ultimately awarded to Lockheed Aircraft Company.

During 1937 and ’38 the radio department of Hughes Aircraft Company was working on the equipment for Mr. Hughes’ around-the-world flight. This department, under the direction of Dave Evans, was the seed of the Company as it is now. However, at that time and for the next dozen years, Hughes Aircraft Company anticipated becoming a competing airframe manufacturer. In 1939, design started on an advanced fighter bomber made principally of plywood. Prototype versions were flown in 1943, which led to a contract to build 100 photo reconnaissance planes for the Army Air Corps – the XF-11. When the war ended two years later, the contract was cancelled and Hughes was to complete only the two experimental planes under construction.

In 1941, the Company moved from Glendale to Culver City, where it had purchased a tract of land eventually to total 1,300 acres. At that time there were about 500 employees, 100 of whom were engineers.

During World War II, a Hughes engineer developed a flexible feed chute to speed the operations of machine guns on B-17 bombers. The Company also made electric booster drives, making machine guns less likely to jam, and manufactured wing panels and other part for military planes from Duramold – the patented wood substitute for metal.

In 1942, Hughes and shipping magnate Henry Kaiser won a contract to produce three “flying boats,” the HK-1 cargo plane. Due to the wartime shortage of aluminum and steel, the flying boat was to be built with wood, using the Duramold process. The contract was reduced to one prototype for $18 million. Its gross weight was 200 tons, three times heavier than any plane then in existence. The propellers were seventeen feet in diameter, the hull thirty feet high, and the tail as tall as a five story building. It had a wingspan twenty feet longer than a football field.

A Congressional subcommittee investigation on the operations of defense contractors during World War II was conducted in 1947 and Howard Hughes was the chief target of Committee Chairman Senator Owen Brewster. The investigation focused on the HK-1. With his reputation on the line and $7 million of his own money invested in it, Hughes vowed that if it wouldn’t fly, he would leave the country and never return. Within weeks, he flew the HK-1 for one mile in Long Beach Harbor at an altitude of seventy feet. It was never flown again.

After World War II, Hughes brought in two retired Air Force Generals – Ira Eaker was made a Vice President of the Hughes Tool Company and Liaison with Hughes Aircraft Company, and Harold George as Vice President and General Manager of Hughes Aircraft Company. C.B. Thornton, a retired Air Force colonel and former executive from Ford Motor Company, was hired as Assistant to Mr. George.

In 1945, Hughes Aircraft Company was awarded an Air Force contract for guided missile development. This project soon came under the direction of Dave Evans in the Radio Department. Evans then brought in Dr. Simon Ramo, a Cal Tech graduate and manager of General Electric Company’s Research Laboratory, and Dr. Dean Wooldridge, another Cal Tech graduate who was a Vice-President at Bell Telephone Laboratories. They quickly adopted the objective of building up a Research and Development organization more competent than any other in the electronics industry, and began looking for projects thath only that level of competence could handle. They began to concentrate on electronics, or what soon became known as AVIONICS (AVIation electrONICS).

The Radio Department became the Electronics Department in 1947 and was working on studies of active and passive seekers. In 1948 Hughes Aircraft Company won an $8 million contract to build and install 200 radar units for the Lockheed F-94. Successful accomplishment of that task led to a long succession of radars and radar-based weapon control systems for interceptor aircraft. Hughes also developed the Falcon air-to-air missile, the smallest of the world’s early guided missiles. Six feet in length and weighing 130 pounds, it was part of the weapon system for numerous interceptor aircraft, culminating in the F-102 and F-1-6 supersonic interceptors.

All missile activity was incorporated into the Electronics and Guided Missile Department in 1949. Dr. Allen Puckett came to Hughes that year. In 1950, this Department became the Research and Development Laboratories. Ramo and Wooldridge were appointed Directors of the Laboratories. The following year, 1951, the Guided Missile Department became a Laboratory and the sections became departments. Ramo was appointed Director of Operations. The first guided missiles were tested that year and additional missiles were built at the newly established Manufacturing Division in Tucson in preparation for large-scale production of tactical missiles.

In 1952 Hughes Aircraft Company had 15,000 employees, with 1,000 scientists. Profits after taxes were $5.3 million, its revenues surpassing the Tool Company. At that time the Company was organized into the Aeronautical Division, which included armaments, the Flying Boat and Aeronautics; the Research and Development Laboratories, which had labs for radar, missiles, advanced electronics, electron tubes, and field engineering; Electronics Manufacturing; and the Tucson missile plant.

In 1953 the Company’s sales to the military were $180 million between Culver City and its new missile manufacturing plant in Tucson. Nonetheless, 1953 was a critical year for Hughes Aircraft Company. In the Fall of that year, Ramo and Wooldridge left the Company to form the Ramo-Wooldridge Corporation (later to become TRW). General George joined them and Thornton and Ash also left, soon to start Litton Industries. All of these men cited difficulties in working with Mr. Hughes as a major factor in their decision to leave. The disruption that these top-level departures might be expected to cause was a source of great concern to the Air Force. The Korean War was still going on and Hughes Aircraft Company was the sole supplier of Air Force all weather interceptor fire-control systems.

The Secretary of the Air Force, Harold Talbott, issued an ultimatum – Mr. Hughes had ninety days to reorganize the Company in such a way that he, personally, would not be actively involved in its management, or the Air Force would cancel all its contracts. On the 90th day of that period Mr. Hughes announced the establishment of the electronics portion of Hughes Aircraft Company as a separate corporation (taking with it the name Hughes Aircraft Company) and gave sole ownership of that corporation to the newly founded Howard Hughes Medical Institute. Mr. Hughes had, since his youth, intended to leave the bulk of his estate to medical research; he carried out that intention as a way of satisfying the Air Force ultimatum. The new Medical Institute was to become the most heavily endowed institution of its kind in the world. Following 1953, Howard Hughes essentially divorced himself from the operation of the Hughes Aircraft Company. By the end of 1953, Hughes Aircraft Company ranked 22nd on the DoD contract dollar list.

The aeronautics and armament activities of the Tool Company’s Aircraft Division remained as a subsidiary of the Hughes Tool Company when the new Hughes Aircraft Company was incorporated. In 1955 a two-seat helicopter was designed, put into production in 1960, and received an Army contract in 1964. From 1964 to 1969 Hughes Helicopters delivered 793 such aircraft for use in the Vietnam War.

Lawrence A. (Pat) Hyland from Bendix was appointed Vice President and General Manager of Hughes Aircraft Company in 1954. During the previous twenty-five years Mr. Hyland had established a reputation as a well respected scientist and technical manager. He remained General Manager of Hughes Aircraft Company for the next twenty-two years. He became President of Hughes Aircraft Company after Mr. Hughes died, and then became the CEO.

Mr. Hyland decided to follow the business approach that had been successful for the Company in the past – emphasize the development of integrated avionics for jet interceptors, build an ever-increasing backlog of sales, increase the number of employees and facilities, and increase profits.

One of Mr. Hyland’s major contributions to Hughes Aircraft Company was to decentralize its operations and make those in charge of those operations totally responsible – including responsibility for their own operating budget. They reported to a corporate organization that Mr. Hyland deliberately kept small. He wanted maximum decentralization so that product decisions could be made at level of management as close to the operating level as possible. He also emphasized synergy among the Groups, whereby research developments from one organization would find application in other organizations and product lines.

By 1958, the R&D Labs had split into Research Laboratories and three operating groups, Airborne Systems Group; the largest, consisted of several operating divisions: flight test, field service and support, communications, the Tucson (missiles) and El Segundo (electronics) manufacturing plants, and system development (headed by Dr. Puckett). The second major Group (the first to be designated a “Group”) was Ground Systems (GSG), located in Fullerton. The third operating group was Hughes Products, a component-oriented outgrowth of the Research Laboratories. Santa Barbara Research Center, which had been started by Dave Evans when he left Hughes Aircraft, had been acquired two years earlier as a subsidiary. In 1959, Hughes International was established.

By 1959, HAC had become the eleventh largest defense contractor, had contracts for $350 million and employed over 20,000 people. The Company occupied one million square feet of plant space. That was the year that the world’s first operating laser was build at the Research Labs at Malibu and the 30,000th Falcon missile was delivered to the Air Force.

At this time in our nation’s defense, a large effort was being invested in the development of Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs). In 1959 the Air Force suddenly cancelled its requirement for the new F-108 long-range interceptor, which would have incorporated the Hughes ASG-18 fire-control system and GAR-9 missile. It was a major blow for the Company. Production runs of the MG-13 and MA-1 systems also came to an end in 1962 and the Company had to lay off about 20% of its employees. That was a particularly painful experience for an organization that had always taken pride in looking out for its employees.   Of all the large aerospace contractors, Hughes Aircraft has, to this day, enjoyed the reputation of being the most stable employer.

Times were hard for the next six years. Mr. Hyland vowed never again to allow the Company to become overly dependent on a single product line. Despite the reduced sales level, he sharply increased the independent research and development budget. He pushed the Company to develop exclusive expertise in a number of exotic, but important areas of defense electronics with long range potential for the future. This resulted in the broad diversification of products for which Hughes is now famous. In 1986, no single program accounts for more tha 6 percent of the Company’s business and the ten largest programs account for about 40 percent.

The next two decades were an exciting period in the history of the Company: the world’s first synchronous orbit satellite was launched; the TOW antitank missile was developed; the Surveyor soft landed on the moon; the ATS III transmitted the first color photographs of Earth; the Maverick TV-guided air-to-ground missile was built; the laser was developed for use in range-finders for tanks, in airborne fire-control systems, and as an industrial cutting tool.

In 1961, Airborne Systems Group became the Aerospace Group, and Hughes Products Group became Hughes Components Group. Allen Puckett and John Richardson (formerly Vice President of Marketing) joined Roy Wendahl as Vice President and Assistant Group Executives of the Aerospace Group. In 1965, Allen Puckett was made an Executive Vice President of Hughes Aircraft Company and in 1969, he was pointed Assistant General Manager to Pat Hyland. That same year, Hughes Components Group became the Industrial Electronics Group (IEG).

In 1971, those who had been working on satellites and communications systems were spilt off from Aerospace to form the Space and Communications Group (SCG). Soon the Aerospace Group became Aerospace Groups consisting of Electro-Optical and Data Systems Group (EDSG), Missile Systems Group (MSG). Radar Avionics—soon to become Radar Systems Group (RSG), and Supports Systems. In 1978, Missile Systems Group was established independent of Aerospace Groups. By 1981 Radar Systems and Electro-Optical and Data Systems became independent Groups.

The current organization consists of the six operating groups—Electro-Optical and Data Systems, Industrial Electronics, Missile Systems, Radar Systems, and Space and Communications. Support Systems provides field engineering support to the latter three operating Groups. The Research Laboratories, as it has for the past four decades, develops new technological areas and as these find applications in product line, those scientists and that technology move into one or more of the operating Groups. Santa Barbara Research Center is a major subsidiary. Hughes International markets Hughes products throughout the free world. By the time Mr. Hughes died in 1976, there were 32 subsidiaries and 12 affiliates throughout the country and the world. Hughes Communications Inc. markets most of the satellites purchased by large companies and other countries for their communications networks.

The Department of Defense (DoD) also changed with the times. Whereas a DoD contractor was previously paid for the cost of efforts or products plus a profit calculated as a percentage of the originally estimated cost, DoD now demanded fixed price contracts. At one time, a contractor that designed a product could expect to be the manufacturer. Now, the design could be given to separate contractors. The design of a product tends to be more costly to the company, while the profit is in production. So competitors who can’t out-design Hughes Aircraft Company, can underbid us on the manufacturing contracts and using Hughes drawings, take away the more profitable end of Hughes business.

Therefore, the management team of Pat Hyland (Chairman and Chief Executive Officer), Allen Puckett (President) and John Richardson (Executive Vice President) decided to modernize our manufacturing facilities to enhance their productivity and competitiveness. In 1977 they embarked upon a five-year $1 billion building program to give the company new facilities and equipment’ in which products could be designed and manufactured more cost effectively.

In 1979 Mr. Hyland retired from the Chairmanship of Hughes. Dr. Allen Puckett, a graduate of Caltech and a Hughes employee for thirty years, became the new Chairman and CEO. John Richardson was appointed as President. Subsequent to Mr. Richardson’s death, Donald White was named to that position.

The defense procurement marketplace had changed drastically and required a new direction in leadership. Dr. Puckett was prepared for the challenge. The Department of Defense (DoD) had tightened up the performance specifications in their contracts, insisting on much greater emphasis on system reliability and demanding vigorous compliance with an ever-increasing volume of detailed contract requirements. High performance. Low cost, schedule deadlines, and detailed compliance had to be met simultaneously. In-plant inspections, random teardown and detailed inspection of hardware, as well as field audits were increased to ensure consistency between written procedures and work practices.

Dr. Puckett’s response was a formal commitment to Total Quality—to create and provide affordable products of superior quality, reliability, and performance, and to allow no operating decision to impact negatively on the quality of our products and operations.

From 1980 to 1986 employment grew from 56,000 to 80,000, one third of whom were scientists and engineers. Floor space totaled a staggering 22 million square feet, more than twice the amount just six years previously. Sales reached the $6.2 billion, with a backlog of $10.7 billion. Almost half a billion dollars was spent on capital expenditures in 1985 alone. At the same time the Company’s long term debt was reduced to under $100 million. The challenges had been met and the commitment to excellence continued. Since 1980, Hughes Aircraft Company has been one of the top tne defense contractors in the country and the leading electronics Contractor. It is California’s largest manufacturing employer.

After Howard Hughes died in 1976 the state of Delaware, in which both the Hughes Aircraft Company and its sole owner, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI), were incorporated, contested the trusteeship of the Institute. The bylaws contained no provision for naming trustees to succeed Mr. Hughes.

The court charged that the Howard Hughes Medical Institute was not effectively discharging its fiduciary responsibility by owning only one asset, Hughes Aircraft Company, which paid a relatively small dividend, considering the valuable assets and sales of the Company. By selling the Company, HHMI could invest in a broader portfolio producing more income for medical research.

In June 1985 HHMI accepted an offer to sell Hughes Aircraft Company to General Motors for $5.2 billion. The GM-Hughes Electronics Corporation was established as a wholly owned subsidiary of GM and itself has two subsidiaries: Hughes Aircraft Company and Delco Electronics Corporation. With this acquisition General Motors became the largest corporation in the world. The basic mission of General Motors-Hughes Electronics is to accelerate the use of advanced electronics in GM products and production environments and, at the same time, to maintain our leadership in the arenas of defense and space.

Pre-Syncom Communications Satellite Studies–Dr. Boris T. Subbotin, Jack Fisher

All who have worked at the Hughes Space and Communications Group know of the Syncom development by Dr. Harold Rosen and his key team members, Don Williams, Tom Hudspeth and Dr. John Mendel. There is however, a somewhat earlier company activity in communications satellites that remains relatively unknown. A study was performed by the Communications Systems Laboratory (CSL) of the Aeronautical Systems Group under the direction of Dr. Samuel G Lutz. Dr. Lutz, the laboratory manager, was well known to Hughes management. In 1956 and 1957 he had formulated his thoughts on satellite communications and presented them to Hughes management. In late 1957 a Space Communications Group was formed within CSL devoted to satellite communication study and research. Except for a subcontract with Lockheed for the WS117L project this group was supported by Hughes general research funds.

Dr. Lutz obtained his PhD at Purdue University and was professor and chairman of the electrical engineering department at New York University from 1945 to 1951 before he joined Hughes. He directed Hughes communications engineering from 1951 to 1958. In 1958 he become a senior scientist at the Hughes Research Labs where he directed studies of satellite communications and regularly consulted with Harold Rosen. In 1962 he was named chief scientist at the Research Labs. He worked, lectured, and published numerous papers and articles on communications and satellites. He focused on future issues such as applications, technologies, frequencies of operation, sharing of orbital locations, methods of increasing communication capacities, earth antenna sizes, modulations, link noise allocations, government policies, and international CCIR and CCITT regulations and coordination. In December 1960 at the California Academy of Science conference in San Francisco, he envisioned 360 geosynchronous satellites hovering 1º apart “enough to satisfy the worlds long-range communications for several centuries”. In July 1961 he published an IEEE paper on broadcasting by satellites directly to home television receivers, perhaps the first time that this possibility was recognized. In 1973 Dr. Lutz was honored by the IEEE Communications Society, along with Claude Shannon, with the Edwin Armstrong Achievement Award.

In the few years just following the launching of Sputnik in October of 1957, this country was in turmoil. Many activities were initiated in reaction to the USSR “threat”. The Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) was founded in 1958 and many space projects were being considered. The first ARPA project was SCORE, an Atlas missile launched into a 32 degree inclined elliptical orbit with a communications payload that could receive, record, and transmit messages. Score was launched on December 18, 1958 and its batteries lasted 12 days.

Echo was a 100-foot diameter Mylar balloon originally devised by NASA Langley to study the effect of atmospheric drag and solar pressure on satellite orbits. John Pierce at Bell Labs realized that Echo might serve as a passive communications satellite by reflecting microwave signals from and back to the Earth. Echo was launched August 12, 1960 by a Thor Delta and successfully relayed messages and data across the U. S. The Hughes Communications Division later designed and built the Passive Satellite Research Terminal (PSRT) AN/FRC-40 60-foot experimental ground station for Echo and installed it in 1963 at the Rome Air Development Center in New York.

The Hughes study, “Satellite Communications, An Initial System for Global Communication Via Satellite Relaying,” is documented in a brochure written by the Communications Systems Laboratory personnel and Dr. Lutz. One key contributor was Donald Miller, who later in the 1960’s worked with Dr. Rosen’s group. The brochure is undated but apparently completed in early 1958. It described a system of satellite communications that could have been provided with 1958 technology. This pre-Syncom study was an attempt to indicate to the U. S. government and military that Hughes had the interest, resources, and technical breadth to conduct the analysis, design, and construction of communication satellites.

The orbit selected for this study maintains the satellite apogee (maximum altitude) of an elliptical orbit continuously over the northern hemisphere to maximize time available for communications for the most populous regions. This type of orbit was later selected for the first USSR domestic communications satellite, Molniya, launched in 1965, and thus became known as a Molniya orbit. By selecting an orbital inclination at 63.4 degrees the apogee would remain fixed over the northern hemisphere and with a period of 12-hours the Molniya satellite could provide 8 hours of communications service.

The Hughes 1958 study adopted a Molniya-type orbit with a period of 4.8 hours, an apogee of 9500 miles, and a perigee of 500 miles as limited by the launch vehicle capability of that time. With a modest initial investment, it was projected that the satellite could be placed in service within one year. Available launch vehicles limited the satellite to 125 pounds. The selected VHF frequencies were 143 MHz uplink and 133 MHz downlink within a government allocated band. Downlink performance was based upon the 10 watt transmitter and a 0 db gain omni satellite antenna. The bandwidth of 100 KHz would be comparable to the capacity of TAT-1, the new transatlantic cable of 1956. The result was a simple straightforward system with readily available components for both the satellite and ground elements. The launch vehicle selected was a Thor ballistic missile, launched from Vandenberg AFB, with a second stage of six Aerojet 890-pound solid rockets. The third stage was a single Aerojet rocket and would remain integral with the satellite when expended. The satellite was spin stabilized, with no onboard propulsion capability so that the accuracy of the achieved orbit was entirely dependent upon the launch vehicle guidance. The solar power was 36 watts average with a 25 pound nickel-cadmium battery pack.

The system included three satellites and four ground stations, each with a 60-foot parabolic tracking antenna. The estimated total cost was $6.4 million including the launch vehicles and four launch attempts. The launch facilities at Vandenberg AFB were assumed to be government furnished.

The study also identified the ultimate synchronous orbit system with fixed ground antennas. It recognized that a single geosynchronous satellite and fixed ground antennas could be simpler and superior for global coverage. Such would have to await technology developments and launch vehicle capability improvements.

The Syncom development in 1959 under Dr. Harold Rosen was progressing independently. Before Hughes invested corporate funds in its development, Dr. Andrew V. Haeff, Vice President of Research, formed an independent task force to evaluate the Syncom design with Dr. Lutz as chairman. The other members were Donald Miller, Ed Felkel, Dr. Harold Rosen, and J. H. Striebel. The task force report in October 1959 was unanimous that the Syncom development was feasible. In 2008 Dr. Rosen stated “The resulting Lutz report enthusiastically made the case for the communication satellite venture that would be funded and operated by Hughes.” Hughes subsequently funded the Syncom development. Further satellite studies by the Communications Division of ASG were discontinued.