Morelos uses new design Hughes News December 21, 1984 Transcribed by Faith MacPherson

A new antenna design introduced on an HS 376 satellite for Mexico may have a far-reaching impact on future spacecraft. Mexico’s Morelos communications satellite, designed and built by Space and Communications Group, is the first commercial spacecraft that uses a streamlined antenna design, consisting of a single reflector system to operate in both C- and K-band frequencies.

All SCG commercial spacecraft, with the exception on Intelsat, operate in only one of the two major communications bands. The new Intelsat VI series, being built at SCG to serve a consortium of 106 countries, uses a multiple-reflector system to enable the giant satellite to operate in both bands. On Morelos, the additional reflector has been replaced with a planar array, a simple beam configuration that has been used for decades on radar systems.

On a relatively small domestic communications satellite such as Morelos, multiple-reflector systems can create potential deployment, structural, and alignment problems. The planar array, which is 1-inch thick by 1 ½-feet tall by 3-feet wide, replaces a K-band receive reflector that would have been approximately 3 feet by 6 feet.

Senior project engineer Tim Crail, originator of the new application for the old planar array technique, saved the company $1.2 million with his proposal. The idea earned him recognition as the top Cost Improvement Program participator in SCG for 1983.

Mr. Crail’s simple solution to a complex problem was a boon to the performance capabilities of Morelos, enabling clear reception in both C- and K-band frequencies. “Never to my knowledge has the planar array been used to generate a highly contoured beam that will illuminate specified land masses,” said Mr. Crail.

A patent disclosure naming Mr. Crail and staff engineer Sandy Shapiro as co-inventors of the new antenna system is pending approval in the U.S. Patent Office. “The patent could be very significant,” said Mr. Shapiro, a major contributor to the conception and development of this antenna.

“One of the advantages of the modularized phased array antenna design is that it could be reused for many applications in the same frequency band,” he explained.

The planar array will give Mexico the first satellite that has a direct- radiating antenna system.

The satellite’s high-performance capabilities also were accomplished through the design and development efforts of senior scientist Tom Hudspeth.

In appreciation of the satellite’s unique capabilities, the customer has selected the outline of the antenna system as a major part of the design for the Morelos emblem.








Roger William Clapp February 15, 1926 – March 1, 2014

This was extracted from the obituary in the LA Times.

Roger William Clapp, the son of Edson and Jean Clapp, was born on February 15, 1926 in Los Angeles, California and passed away on Saturday, March 1, 2014, surrounded by his loving family. Roger, a 55 year resident of Rolling Hills Estate, is survived by Dorothy, the love of his live and wife of 67 years; his four devoted children, Marilyn (David) Kunstler, Marcia (Steven) Block, Norma (Alan) Ankerstar, and Stephen (Man) Clapp; his brother Edson Bruce Clapp: and nine beautiful grandchildren.

Roger was raised in San Diego, California, where he developed a love of the ocean, sky and natural world. He attended Caltech as part of the Navy V-12 program. He was president of his senior class and graduated in 1946 with a B.S. in electrical engineering. After completing his military service, he began his long and distinguished career at Hughes Aircraft Company with a position in engineering development, working on antennas and later microwave technology. He advanced into aerospace, where he became a project manager developing earth-orbiting satellites and accompanying ground processing and support systems. He retired in 1985 as Group Vice President & Manager of the NASA Systems Division, Space & Communications Group of Hughes Aircraft Company.

During retirement, Roger focused on his lifelong interests in traveling, birding, astronomy, photography and woodworking. He loved the ocean and mountains and volunteered for 20 years as a docent at the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium, educating school children in the wonders of sea life. He carried with him everywhere his awe of the natural world and of God’s presence in natural beauty. He was committed to his church and enjoyed his involvement in many aspects of church life. He was devoted to his grandchildren and took the time to encourage each of them in all their endeavors. We we truly blessed with his unwavering love, kindness, compassion, integrity and wonderful sensor of humor which he shared with all.



RELAY IN THE SKY: THE SATELLITE DATA SYSTEM DWAYNE A. DAY Space Studies Board, 500 Fifth Street, NW, Washington, DC 20001, USA

Posted with the permission of the author.  Originally appeared in JBIS, Vol 59, Suppl. 1, pp. 56-62, 2006.

 One of the key developments in real-time satellite reconnaissance was the Satellite Data System, or SDS. The SDS is a constellation of communication satellites placed in highly elliptical-inclined orbits that relay imagery from low-altitude reconnaissance satellites back to the United States. The original concept for satellite data relay dates to the late 1950s, but the modern concept of the system was conceived in the mid-1960s and the satellites entered development in the early 1970s. The satellites were built by Hughes and at least a dozen of them were built and launched through the mid-1980s. They have apparently been replaced by newer and larger satellites starting in the early 1990s.


In fall 1963 Albert “Bud” Wheelon was sitting in his living room in a suburb of Washington, DC, watching a football game being played in San Francisco. At the time Wheelon was the Deputy Director for Science and Technology at the Central Intelligence Agency. He was building his directorate into a powerful research and development organization that initiated and funded aerial and space reconnaissance systems for the United States [1].

While watching the football game Wheelon had an epiphany. “lt suddenly struck me that if I could do that, the technology was available to view the Earth’s surface from orbit and to observe that scene as it was being received in the spacecraft, Wheelon said. “ln other words, to develop a near-real-time imagery system.” The next day Wheelon called one of his deputies and assigned him to work fulltime on the development of such a system. “This turned out to be one of the best decisions of my career,” Wheelon said. “We ended up creating a new class of satellite imaging systems that revolutionized intelligence collection.”

It took a decade to develop the technology for such a near-real-time system, known as the KH-11 KENNAN and first launched in late 1976. The ClA helped fund work at Bell Telephone Laboratories on what eventually became charge-couple devices, or CCDS, which today are readily available in commercial digital cameras.

But there was another hurdle that they needed to overcome: getting the data back to a ground station. “This was a major issue because the optical data were so vast in each frame that we could not afford to store it on board the satellite”, Wheelon explained. “The data simply would pile up and overflow the limited available storage devices.“ In fact, an early attempt at doing this with the Samos E-1 and E-2 satellites was limited to the transmission of only a few photographs during each pass over a ground station, “We could not downlink the data as it was being collected, because it would have to be received in denied territory”. But Wheelon had a solution for that as well. “The right way to do this was to uplink the data to a relay satellite in much higher orbit, which could then pass it on to the ground station” [2].


Wheelon was not the first person to develop the idea of a data relay satellite. In August 1958 Lockheed Missile Systems Division prepared a slide depicting a “Sentry Data Relay Concept.” The slide depicted data and commands being relayed between three satellites in low Earth orbit and a ground station. This was a means of connecting a satellite with a ground station that was far below the horizon. But this method of relaying data between satellites in low Earth orbit was not practical in 1958 with satellite communications and electronics in their infancy. In fact, it was not until the late 1990s that the technology was perfected and utilized for the lridium low Earth orbit communications system.[3]

The biggest problem was that of locating another satellite to relay data through. Because all of the satellites were in low orbit and moving relatively fast to each other, no satellite would be visible to another for very long before moving below the horizon. Before the days of sophisticated computers it was impossible to compute what satellites would be in range, where they would be located, and then point an antenna at them, switching to the next available satellite when needed.

Another problem at the time was bandwidth, or the amount of information that could be sent over a data link, something hat every user of the internet is familiar with. The communications systems used with the early Samos satellites were severely limited in how much information they could transmit. lt took many minutes to transmit a single photograph.

Intelligence officials desperately wanted a near real-time reconnaissance satellite that could take pictures and relay them to the ground within a few minutes because it could be used to warn of immediate events, such as Soviet tanks about to roll into Czechoslovakia. But without a relay system, a satellite over the Soviet Union would have to travel a quarter of the way around the world or more before coming within range of an American ground station.

Wheelon’s original idea was to place the relay satellite in geosynchronous orbit above the equator. But the problem with this solution was that a single relay satellite would be insufficient to beam the data back to the United States and it would have to transmit it through another satellite or a ground station. The key was finding a way of sending the information through only a single relay satellite before sending it back to the ground.

According to Wheelon, Alexander Flax, the Director of the National Reconnaissance Office from 1965 until 1969 – after Wheelon had left the government – came up with a superior solution. Although it is not clear how Flax got the idea, it is possible that he had help from the Soviet Union [4].

In April 1965 the Soviet Union launched its first successful Molniya communications satellite [5]. The satellite was placed in a new orbit, which was soon named the Molniya orbit. lt was highly inclined to the equator, but also highly eccentric, meaning that it swung low over the Earth in the southern hemisphere before heading toward a distant apogee high over the northern hemisphere – like tossing a tennis ball high into the air, it would slow down on its way up and speed up on its way down, but appear to spend most of its time in a small area above one spot. A satellite in a 12-hour Molniya orbit would spend eight hours flying above the northern hemisphere, but only four hours flying over the southern hemisphere. From the satellite’s perch approaching apogee, it could see much of the northern hemisphere. A satellite in such an orbit could maintain a line of sight with both a reconnaissance satellite low over the Soviet Union and a ground station in the United States. The Soviet communications system required three satellites for a full day of coverage, but because the American reconnaissance system only operated during the day, only two SDS satellites would be necessary to support a reconnaissance satellite in low Earth orbit.


For the remainder of the 1960s the CIA sponsored the development of new technologies to make “near real-time” reconnaissance possible. Until the basic image creation and processing technologies were developed, there was not really a need for communications systems to relay the imagery to a distant ground station.

ln June 1971 President Richard Nixon approved the development of what was soon designated the KH-11 KENNAN reconnaissance satellite. The KH-11 was a big telescope with an image-forming electronic device at its focal point. The first KH-11s launched used light sensitive diodes, but the later ones used a linear CCD array [6]. Once the KH-11 was approved, a data relay system was also necessary.

The exact origins of the relay satellite are not currently known due to continued classification. Apparently in the early 1970s the U. S. Air Force developed a requirement for providing command and control information to nuclear forces in the Arctic where the propagation of radio waves is poor. The Air Force proposed a Data Relay Satellite System, or DRSS, which would transmit data to nuclear forces operating in the Arctic, such as Strategic Air Command B- 52s attacking the Soviet Union during a nuclear war, and also relay data from satellites over the horizon to a ground station. The early Defense Support Program missile warning satellites were proposed as candidates for this data relay mission [7].

At the same time, the CIA component of the National Reconnaissance Office required a relay satellite for its KH-11 data. This satellite, known as the Satellite Data System, or SDS, was undoubtedly approved sometime in late 1971 and it is possible that for a short period of time the American military was studying both DRSS and SDS simultaneously [8].

DRSS was formally cancelled in May 1973, but it seems likely that its missions were transferred over to the SDS by early 1972. DRSS had formally been designated “Program 313” and this designation was apparently then given to the SDS [9]. One mission that was not given to SDS was that of relaying DSP Missile warning satellite data. Instead, the Air Force continued to utilize an overseas ground station in Australia for several decades to perform the relay function.

The first payload added to SDS was an Air Force Satellite Communications System (AFSATCOM) UHF transponder used for communicating with strategic forces in northern regions. Another payload that was added to the satellite was known as the “Mission-22 packet.” It was essentially a high data rate communications system for connecting the Air Force Satellite Control Facility at Sunnyvale, in California, and its seven remote tracking locations situated around the globe [10].

One key question about the SDS concerned whether it would be managed by the intelligence community or the Air Force now that it included both highly classified and relatively unclassified missions. This decision was inextricably entwined with the complex way that the United States managed satellite reconnaissance. The National Reconnaissance Office, or NRO, was a Department of Defense agency headed by a civilian Air Force official. That official, the Undersecretary of the Air Force, had dual responsibilities. On intelligence satellite issues he answered to the Secretary of Defense as well as the Director of Central Intelligence. But he was also responsible for purely Air Force satellite issues as well, and on these questions he reported to the Secretary of the Air Force.

The NRO was composed of three offices known as “Programs.” Program A was an Air Force office based in Los Angeles along side unclassified Air Force space offices. Program B was the CIA office based in Washington, DC, and Program C was a small Navy office, also in Washington. The CIA’s Program B managed the development of the KH-l1, which was then being built by Lockheed.

Both the AFSATCOM and Mission-22 payloads were standard Air Force missions, not an intelligence community requirement. But once they were added to the satellite they created a question and an opportunity. Should the SDS development be managed by the Air Force Program A component of the NRO, or by the Air Force’s Space and Missile Systems Organization (SAMSO)? SAMSO was normally responsible for development of Air Force satellites and was located across the street from Program A. lf the satellite was developed by SAMSO, it would provide useful cover for the classified mission. An early plan for the near-real-time system was that it could be covert. Unlike previous reconnaissance satellites, the KH-11 would never have to drop recovery vehicles containing film, thereby giving away its mission. lf the data relay system had an effective cover story, then nobody would know about its link to the highly secret imaging satellite.

There was a drawback to giving the management of SDS to SAMSO, however. SAMSO and the NRO operated under different rules and regulations. The NRO’s Program A had a simplified chain of command and a “streamlined procurement system,” meaning that it did not have to abide by the same paperwork requirements as the rest of the Air Force. In contrast, SAMSO had to obey standard procurement regulations-meaning significant red tape — and all major decisions had to be approved by various committees and senior leaders.

The original schedule was to select a contractor to build the SDS by 1 March 1972. This selection was delayed until Deputy Secretary of Defense Kenneth Rush decided who would manage the program [11]. On 3 May Rush signed the Satellite Data System Management Plan, which placed the Space and Missile Systems Office in charge of SDS development and also described streamlined management, security and public release procedures to be used in running the program. According to a cover letter, the plan “also recognizes the potential need to deviate from or waive certain Department of Defense Directives and Instructions which conflict with the requirement for streamlined procurement. In other words, although the NRO’s Program A was not formally managing SDS, SAMSO could operate much like Program A. Although the details remain classified, presumably Program A managed the intelligence communications payload for SDS [12].

A source selection board selected a contractor in early April and then briefed senior Air Force officials, but the winner was not announced until 9 May 1972. The announcement was classified at the “confidential” level-the lowest level of security classification. The formal public announcement of the award was delayed until negotiations were completed and “the program objective was realigned and the public release policy established” [13].

In June 1972 Philip Klass wrote in Aviation Week & Space Technology that the Air Force was procuring a new class of data relay satellites that would “enable search-and-find type reconnaissance satellite photos” to be transmitted directly to the U.S. for speedy analysis and the transmission of commands back to the reconnaissance satellite to take close-look pictures of targets of opportunity discovered on the earlier photos.” Klass also quoted the USAF’s prepared statement for the service’s fiscal 1973 budget request indicating that it was developing a relay satellite. He reported that TRW and Hughes were competing for the satellite contract. In reality, Hughes had already won it. Nevertheless, his article probably unnerved members of the intelligence community who were not used to seeing their missions mentioned in publicly released statements, or the pages of Aviation Week [14].

The first launch was scheduled for January 1976, followed by a second launch in March, with $17.8 million allocated immediately, and $23 million for fiscal year 1973 [15].


On 5 June 1972 Hughes Aircraft Company was given a “Letter of Intent” from the Air Force indicating that the government would formally sign a contract with the company in the near future and which allowed Hughes to begin working on satellite development. On 7 July the Air Force publicly announced the contract, worth $36 million [16]. The initial plan was to launch the first two satellites in January and March 1976.

Almost nothing is known about the technical design of these satellites other than that they were cylindrical, weighed approximately 700 kg, and were apparently based upon Hughes’ commercial Intelsat lV satellite. The Intelsat lV which weighed approximately 730 kg, was derived from an experimental comsat developed for the Air Force in the late 1960s known as Tacsat and some reports at the time stated that SDS was based upon Tacsat (Fig.1). However, Hughes had a policy of designing its commercial comsats to military specifications and the differences between Tacsat and Intelsat were not major. lt seems likely that advances incorporated into Intelsat lV were also adopted for SDS. The satellite was drum-shaped and spun in orbit. At its top was an antenna “farm” or platform that was de-spun by an electric motor so that its antennas pointed at the Earth [17].TACSAT

Because the SDS satellite operated in a considerably different orbit than Intelsat lV, it undoubtedly had numerous differences from its progenitor. Probably the most significant difference was that the SDS did not require an apogee kick motor to place it in its final orbit. The Molniya orbit that SDS operated in was similar to the initial transfer orbit that geosynchronous comsats were placed in by their upper stages. But this was the final orbit for the SDS and no powerful rocket was necessary to circularize it. The apogee kick motor had considerable mass, and eliminating it from the SDS undoubtedly had a major impact on the satellite’s design, allowing it to carry extra mass for other purposes, such as station keeping fuel.

Another major change was that SDS operated in an orbit that repeatedly took it in and out of the Van Allen Radiation Belts, which regularly cooked its electronics. This required extra radiation hardening.

But undoubtedly the most important change in the satellite from its commercial predecessor was the communications package. The KH-11 KENNAN’s designers wanted to make the satellite as covert as possible and one means of accomplishing this was to prevent its transmissions over the Soviet Union from reaching the ground. The way they achieved this was to use an uplink transmitter that operated at 58 GHz, a frequency which was absorbed by the oxygen in Earth’s atmosphere and could not reach the ground. The KH-11 would transmit up to the SDS satellite at this frequency and the SDS would then retransmit the information down to a ground station at 22 GHz [18]. Because the SDS was already being used to transmit KH-11 imagery, which would have taken much bandwidth, it probably was also used for less bandwidth-intensive telemetry, command and control, relaying commands and satellite health data back and forth to a ground station. In addition, all of this information would have to be encrypted [19].


Although little is known about the technical design of the SDS satellite, more is known about its early administrative history. In the second half of 1972 the launch dates for the first two satellites were slipped to June and August 1976, with the system achieving operational availability by November. Funding was also realigned as better cost estimates became available. The Air Force had initially allocated $49.1 million for fiscal year 1974, but reduced this to $43 million and then to $40 million [20]. But $1.9 million was later added back to the budget [21]. However although these numbers were declassified, it is highly likely that additional money was also provided through classified channels to support the development of the communications package devoted to the intelligence mission.

The communications subsystems Critical Design Reviews (CDRs), an intensive review of all aspects of the communications payload, were conducted in November and December 1973 [22].

Hughes initially started work on two satellites. The first, designated X-1, was a structural model, designed to prove that the spacecraft structure was sound during launch. The second, Y-1, was the qualification model, which was equipped with most of the electronic systems and intended to demonstrate that the satellite could perform the functions it was designed for. The system CDR was accomplished in March 1974 [23].

The initial plan was apparently to procure four flight spacecraft plus to refurbish Y-1 to serve as a flight qualified spare if any of the production spacecraft was destroyed.

Early in 1974 the production schedule for the spacecraft was revised to accommodate delays experienced in the delivery of some equipment as well as increased manufacturing and testing costs. Delivery of the first flight vehicle was slipped from November 1975 to February l976 [24].

The Air Force also initiated a study to upgrade the satellites for Survivable Satellite Communications, known as SURVSATCOM. Although the specifics are unknown, this probably involved nuclear hardening of the electronics and other systems [25].

In the second half of 1974 refurbishment of the Y-1 spacecraft as a flight spare was slipped from fiscal year 1976 to 1977. The first flight spacecraft, designated F-1, was under construction, with F-2 starting construction and F-3 scheduled to start in fiscal year 1975 (26).

In the first half of 1975 testing of X-1 was completed, assembly of Y-1 was completed and testing was started, and fabrication and assembly of F-1 continued. During this period the budgets were increased slightly due to increased costs for the booster and some increases in the costs of F-2 and F-3 (27).

In August 1974 the Secretary of the Air Force approved a change in spacecraft to “augment” the polar coverage of the Atomic Energy Detection System which warned of nuclear explosions in the atmosphere. The F-3 and F-4 spacecraft were to be retrofitted with nuclear detection (or NUDET) devices known as “bhangmeters.” NUDET was already carried aboard DSP missile warning satellites by this time [28].

By late 1975 system level qualification testing on the Y-1 spacecraft was completed, with all critical specifications met or exceeded and the overall design validated. Assembly of the first flight spacecraft was also completed and final acceptance testing was started [29].

ln November of 1975 the Secretary of the Air Force for Research and Development approved a plan to procure two additional spacecraft, F-5 and F- 6 in fiscal 1978 and 1979 respectively. These spacecraft were to be modified to be compatible with Space Shuttle launch. In addition, their anti-jamming protection features and other aspects of their AFSATCOM payload were also to be improved. Funding also included Space Shuttle launch support through fiscal year 1982 [30].


The first two satellites were launched on schedule in June and August 1976 from Vandenberg Air Force Base atop Titan lllB Agena D launch vehicles. The first KH-11 KENNAN was launched in December 1976 and was operational by January 1977. Satellite F-3 was launched in August 1978. The fourth and fifth satellites were delivered in May and October 1980. Satellite Y-l, the configuration test model,was apparently redesignated as F-5A and delivered in May 1980 [31].

The launch dates of the satellites after F-3 are not accurately known because the National Reconnaissance Otfice launched a classified signals intelligence satellite known as JUMPSEAT into the same orbit. There were six classified American launches into Molniya orbit during the 1980s. In 1981 the Air Force proposed buying an additional SDS satellite, F-7. This meant that the Air Force had a total of four SDS satellites, plus the F-5A spare to launch during the 1980s, although it is not clear how many of those five satellites were actually launched during this period.

Two different sources have indicated that the early operations of the data-relay system were troubled. Apparently the KH-11 KENNAN satellites had problems with the Travelling Wave Tubes that generated the 58 GHz signal used to send data to the SDS satellites. The KH-11 TWTS burned out earlier than expected [32]. Another problem was that the SDS satellites were apparently not in their proper positions when the KH-11s were uplinking data. This ultimately resulted in the NRO taking over management of the SDS system by 1983. Apparently it was Program B, the CIA component of the NRO and not the Air Force component, that took over management authority from SAMSO.

Instead of procuring a new batch of identical satellites, in the early 1980s the Air Force chose to develop a new and more capable “SDS-B” class of satellites based upon the larger Intelsat Vl commercial satellites. Congress appropriated money for a “shuttle-compatible” SDS satellite in the fiscal 1984 budget. The first launch of this bigger satellite took place aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia on STS-28 in August 1989. Two satellites were placed in Molniya orbit, although a third was placed into geosynchronous orbit [33]. That class of satellites was probably replaced by a new class of satellites beginning in 2001. lt remains to be seen if further information about the early years of this program will be released by the National Reconnaissance Office, or whether they will remain partially obscured in the remaining shadows of the Cold War [34].SDStable


  1. “Albert D. Wheelon”, in Robert A. McDonald. ed., Beyond Expectations–Building an American National Reconnaissance Capability, American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing, 2003, p.333.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Lockheed Missile Systems Division [Slide], “Sentry Data Relay Concept”,’19 August 1958. [declassified in response to NRO FOIA request] The name Sentry was changed to Samos only a few months later.
  4. “Albert D. Wheelon,” Robert A. McDonald, ed., Beyond Expectations-Building an American National Reconnaissance Capability, American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing, 2003, p.333
  5. Bart Hendricks, “The Early Years of the Molniya Program.”Ouest 6, pp. 28-36, t998.
  1. Jeffrey T, Richelson, The Wizards of Langley, Westview Press, 2001, p.199.
  2. “DMS Market Intelligence Report, Satellite Data System,” Greenwich, CT,1979, p.1.
  3. See: Jeffrey T Richelson, “The Satellite Data System”, JBIS, 37, pp. 226-224, 1984.
  4. “DMS Market Intelligence Report, Satellite Data System,” Greenwich, CT,1979,p.1.
  5. Both the AFSATCOM and Mission-22 payloads were publicly acknowledged in congressional budget documents. See: Jeffrey T. Richelson, “The Satellite Data System”, JBIS, 37, pp.226-228,1984. This article contains many contemporary citations concerning the openly acknowledged missions.
  6. “Semi-Annual History of the Directorate of Space, 1 January 1972-30 June 1972”, [declassified excerpt], Air Force Historical Research Agency, Maxwell Air Force Base [hereafter AFHRA], pp.18-19.
  1. Kenneth Rush, Memorandum for the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Comptroller) et al, “Satellite Data System (SDS) Management Plan”, 3 May 1972. [declassified in response to FOIA request to the Department of Defense. The SDS Management Plan is currently under declassification review and has not been released as of July 2006.]
  2. “Semi-Annual History of the Directorate of Space, January 1972-30 June 1972”, [declassified excerpt], AFHRA, pp.19-20.
  3. Philip J. Klass, “USAF Plans Data Relay Satellite”, Aviation Week & Space Technology, l9 June 1972, p.12.
  4. “Semi-Annual History of the Directorate of Space, 1 January 1972-30 June 1972”, [declassified excerpt], AFHRA, pp.19-20.
  5. “Hughes to Develop USAF Data Relay Syslem”, Aviation Week & Space Technology, 17 July 1972, p.14.
  6. USAF Brigadier General Henry B. Stalling testified before the House Armed Services committee that the SDS would be based upon Tacsat. “Two Spacecraft Planned for USAF Satcom Syslem”, Aviation Week & Space Technology, 6 August 1973, p.16.
  7. Comments of a former intelligence official.
  8. These radio crosslinks had apparently been proposed for the Defense Support Program satellites in the 1980s, but the DSP program office selected a laser-based crosslink instead, which proved impossible to develop at that time. See: Jeffrey T.Richelson, Ameica’s Space Sentinels, University Press of Kansas, 1999, pp. 278-279, fn. 55.
  9. “Semi-Annual History of the Directorate of Space, 1 January 1972-30 June 1972”, [declassified excerpt], AFHRA, pp.19-20; the operational date is from “Two Spacecraft Planned for USAF Satcom Syslem”, Aviation Week & Space Technology, 6 August 1973, p.16.
  10. “Semi-Annual History of the Directorate of Space, 1 July 1972-31 December 1972”, [declassified excerpt], AFHRA. p.31.
  11. “Semi-Annual History of the Directorate of Space, July 1973-31 December 1973”, [declassified excerpt], AFHRA, p.41.
  12. “Semi-Annual History of the Directorate of Space, 1 January 1974-30 June 1974”, [declassified excerpt], AFHRA, p.40.
  13. lbid.. p.41.
  14. lbid., p.42.
  15. “Semi-Annual History of the Directorate of Space, 1 July 1974-3’l December 1974”, [declassified excerpt], AFHRA. p. 30.
  16. “Semi-Annual History of the Directorate of Space, 1 January 1975-30June ‘1975”, [declassified excerpt], AFHRA, p.37.
  17. Ibid., p.38.
  18. “Semi-Annual History of the Directorate of Space, 1 July 1975-31 December 1975”, [declassified excerpt], AFHRA. p.37.
  19. lbid., pp,37-38. One document lists as a “milestone” the upgrade of vehicle #6 in September 1978, but this was long before the delivery of the fourth vehicle.
  20. The launch dates for the first three satellites are from: “Satellite Data System (SDS)”, C3l Program Management Structure and Major Programs, USDR&E (ASD/C3l), 10 December1980.
  21. The KH-11s had another problem as well. Their Control Moment Gyros, which were used not only to point the satellites but to slew the satellite in order to remove image smear from the photographs, burned out earlier than expected. Comments of a former intelligence official.

33, Dwayne A. Day, “Out of the Shadows: The Shuttle’s Secret Payloads”, Spacellight, 41, pp 78-84, 1999.

  1. Craig Covault, “Launch Surge Begins for Secret NRO Missions”. Aviation Week & Space Technology, 10 September 2001, p.43; Craig Covault, “Secret Relay Satetlite Launched as USAF Weighs Surge Options,” Aviation Week & Space Technology, 15 October 2001, p.44.



The Story of Surveyor I—Jack Fisher

This past week saw on Tuesday, June 2, the 49th anniversary of the landing on the moon of Surveyor I. This was a momentous milestone in the history of the space achievements of the Hughes Aircraft Company. Note: the landing occurred at 11:17 PM PDT on June 1; this however was 7:17 AM GMT so that the official landing date is June 2. The program had been a troubled one with cost overruns, test failures, Centaur development problems and significant issues at Hughes, JPL and General Dynamics. The odds against a successful mission seemed enormous. In fact, Bob Roderick, the Hughes program manager, when queried by the press was quoted as saying the odds were 1000 to one against a successful landing. This appeared in many newspapers much to the consternation of Hughes management. And the mission was being broadcast live on TV so that those interested in the space program were glued to their TVs, not only in the U. S. but also in Europe.

There are conflicting accounts of what transpired before, during, and after the landing including how the Hughes Surveyor contract was modified immediately prior to the launch. Here are several for your enjoyment. Add your own memories if you were a part of the Surveyor team.

Robert Seamans in his autobiography, Project Apollo: The Tough Decisions, published in 2005, relates his account of Surveyor I: “Keith Glennan’s last official act at NASA was to select Hughes Aircraft for the development of Surveyor. Initially conceived for unmanned exploration, the craft had become essential to accom- plishing the lunar landing. But progress at Hughes was slow and a matter of deepening concern. It was decided that I should bait the bear and visit Pat Hyland, Hughes’ chief executive officer.

In early 1966, I invited him to breakfast at a hotel near the Los Angeles International Airport. I came armed with two alternatives. One was a contract amendment that provided an incentive fee for Hughes. If they achieved a successful lunar landing prior to a given date, there was a bonus, and if there was a delay, there was a penalty that was increasingly stiff as the weeks increased. I also had a letter that laid out, in detail, specific errors in omission and commission by Hughes in the management of the Surveyor program. After pleasantries and a plate of scrambled eggs, I showed Pat the letter and the contract amendment and asked him which he’d like to receive (or like least to receive). He said he’d be happy to sign the contract document.

I was at Mission Control in Houston for the launching of Gemini 9. When the Agena failed, Gemini 9’s launch was scrubbed because Agena would not be available for rendezvous and docking. So I headed for JPL in Pasadena, California.

In the early morning (2:00 a.m.) of 2 June 1966, I was seated on the balcony of Mission Control at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, anticipating the landing of Surveyor. Pat Hyland was several rows behind. The atmosphere was palpable. Surveyor appeared healthy, responding correctly to instructions. Finally it made its landing, to great cheering; then it took the first photograph from the Moon, inspiring protracted cheering. And I heard Pat say over the din, “How’s that for a crippled program?” And at last, we had the answer from the returning photographs. There was dust on the lunar surface, perhaps an inch deep. It appeared that the lunar surface would support a manned lunar landing.

Surveyor’s 850-pound weight, was lifted into Earth’s orbit by an Atlas-Agena. There were two more lunar landings, each in a designated area. The data from Surveyor were essential to the design of the Apollo lander, challenging to geophysicists, and awe-inspiring to the public.” (Note there are several errors in this paragraph: The Surveyor weight at launch was 2194 pounds, the weight at landing was 652 pounds, the launch vehicle was the Atlas-Centaur and there were four more Surveyor landings on the moon of the six remaining missions.)

Erasmus H. Kolman in a NASA funded study entitled Unmanned Space Project Management: Surveyor and Lunar Orbiter Source published as NASA SP-4901 in 1972 relates that:  “The Surveyor spacecraft systems contract was awarded on the basis of a source evaluation by JPL, and JPL negotiated the contract with Hughes. The contract was written as the cost-plus-fixed-fee (CPFF) type, and was converted to an incentive basis quite late in the program-on the day before the launch of the first Surveyor spacecraft. JPL’s administration of the CPFF contract failed to keep pace with the many change orders and modifications, and fell far behind in its accounting of the financial status of the project. About a year of intensive work in the Surveyor contract office was needed to upgrade contract records. At about the same time, JPL, in response to Headquarters direction, began efforts to persuade Hughes to convert to an incentive contract. Although Hughes at first resisted, strong Headquarters insistence induced Hughes management to accept the new contract. When the project was completed, the company earned fees totaling several million dollars more than their minimal expectations under the CPFF contract.”

L. A. Hyland’s autobiography, “Call Me Pat,” published in 1993 covers the Surveyor program in just several pages. He mentions that Alan Puckett conducted the contract negotiations that were concluded just minutes before the touchdown of Surveyor 1. At this time Hyland was in the visitor’s gallery watching the mission unfold. He speaks of being really concerned as the future of the company was in doubt.

Mr. Hyland does relate that a NASA official did make offensive criticisms of him, Hughes Aircraft and the companies technical capability. He vowed to call him after the first successful moon landing. He did call that person, but didn’t indicate the nature of their conversation.

Clayton R. Koppes’ book, “JPL and the American Space Program,” published in 1982, is a history of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory from the beginnings in 1936 through the Viking mission in 1976. Koppes, a professor of history at Oberlin College in Ohio, presents a well-documented account of the Surveyor contract modification that is different than the previous accounts. Encouraged by NASA Headquarters Caltech appointed retired Air Force General Alvin Luedecke as deputy director of JPL in August 1964 much to the consternation of William Pickering, JPL Director. General Luedecke assumed responsibility for Surveyor and took on the task of revising the out-of-date contract that had many unincorporated change orders against it. With the contract updated, General Luedecke turned his attention to converting the CPFF contract to an incentive contract. Hughes at first resisted but eventually Dr. Puckett became convinced that Hughes should take this risk. Luedecke flew to Houston shortly before the first Surveyor launch to confer with Edgar Cortright, director of space sciences and applications regarding last-minute contract details. The contract was sent to Puckett’s home for his signature early in the morning on day before the first Surveyor launch.

Surveyor First Photo

This is the historic first picture from the moon transmitted to earth by the Hughes Aircraft Company-built Surveyor I after a perfect soft-landing on the moon at 11:17 p.m. Pacific Daylight Time on June 1, 1966. The 200-scan line picture, showing various parts of the spacecraft, was transmitted to earth 35 minutes after Surveyor landed and before any camera adjustments were made. The exposure was set for the spacecraft itself so that the lunar surface appears dark. Later pictures, using a 600-scan line system, showed markedly improved detail. Easily identified in the photo are one of the three landing legs, its footpad (#3), an omni-directional antenna boom and, at lower right, the top of a helium container.FirstPhoto

The Remainder of the Mission

The landing took place about 57 hours into the lunar day (of about 14 earth days) and with 5 hours remaining of Goldstone tracking station visibility. The first 200 scan line picture transmitted was 35 minutes after landing. A total of 133 600 scan line pictures were transmitted during the first Goldstone pass and over 10000 pictures were received during the first lunar day. Surveyor I was dormant during the lunar night and was reactivated on July 6. The mission was terminated on July 14.

The Surveyor Reunion

To celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Surveyor I mission, a dinner affair was held at the Proud Bird restaurant on July 15, 1986. After dinner speakers included Bob Roney, Kermit Watkins (JPL), Howard Haglund (JPL), Bob Roderick, Shel Shallon, Leo Stoolman, Pat Hyland, and William Pickering, former JPL director. The ceremonies were video taped. Note: I had forgotten about this tape until I recently discovered it amongst a number of other Surveyor mementos.

Shel Shallon, Surveyor project scientist at Hughes, related the story of the American flag that was placed onboard Surveyor I. Shallon purchased the flag at a Savon drugstore on Sepulveda Blvd. immediately prior to his travel to Florida and about a week before the launch. The cost was 24 cents. Since there were spacecraft sterilization requirements he had the flag properly cleaned before a technician placed it within a structural tube on the vehicle. When the story surfaced after launch it became a sensation. And of course there were repercussions from NASA and JPL. Hughes was ordered not to do this again. Also Hughes was directed to purchase two identical flags and repeat the cleaning process so that the extent of possible contamination could be determined. Shallon expressed his opinion that the flag was probably the cleanest item on the spacecraft. One final note: Shallon was later contacted by Walgreen’s hoping that they provided the flag. He had to disappoint them.

Comment by Larry Nowak.

I was a member of the SPAC team at JPL the night Surveyor 1 landed. The team was responsible for monitoring spacecraft health and executing maneuvers generated by the FPAC team. The final descent was all automatic with thruster firing terminated at the sensed 14 foot mark. The spacecraft then free falls to the moon’s surface. A safe landing area was picked for the first landing, but no one knew exactly what the specific spot might be like. In fact a few nights before a scientist on national TV said it was going to land in soot and sink out of sight. To make his point he blew soot all over the announcer’s face, like the thrusters would do. If that was the case, the Apollo program would have to be discontinued. I know there was a large incentive to take a picture of the landing pods for this very reason. When the spacecraft landed, everyone was anxious for that first picture. It was an incredible long time before the camera got turned on. Having taken six test runs to successfully pass the solar thermal vacuum tests perhaps there were some who didn’t think it possible to complete this complex mission on the first try. When that first picture did come through there was this loud cheer to show that surface was more like beach sand and our design had worked flawlessly. With world wide attention, it was the highlight of my career to have participated in this spectacular program.

Comment by Blaine Shull:

Surveyor Memories:  Mr Hyland walking the factory after the landing with the broadest, happiest smile I ever saw on him.  He was certainly proud!  Even with his so-extensive career, this was a big, big deal for him.

Comment by Jim Peirce

I was at Goldstone for the first landing as a data analyst. We saw the image on the screen and took a Polaroid picture of it. All photos and negatives were sent to JPL. I went to Madrid for number two and back to Goldstone for number 3. For number 4 thru 7 I was at the Hartbeespoort station north of Johannesburg, South Africa.

Comment by Dick (C. R.) Johnson

Thanks for the illuminating post. I was not witting of Hyland’s acceptance of this “last minute” Surveyor contract amendment. Good for Mr Hyland and for HAC! That display of confidence in the technical & management integrity of this very challenging, first-of-a-kind program and the willingness to back that confidence with the acceptance of significant financial risk/reward is characteristic of Hughes in the company’s “Glory Days”.

I do remember the night of Surveyor I’s landing. Tony Iorillo & I were working (temporarily) in Building 110 on Century Blvd. We headed out the door together at ~9:00 PM and Tony suggested we have a late dinner at a local watering hole & watch the culmination of the Surveyor I saga. At the time we were both on the younger side of 30, working long hours and were only peripherally aware of the significance of this historic event. When the success of the mission became apparent, we raised our glasses, finished dinner and went home to our (sleeping) families.

Comment by Len Davids

Before a successful automated powered descent to the Lunar surface could be begin, we in Systems Engineering had to run several computer programs to generate the final required spacecraft commands. In the months leading up to the Surveyor 1 mission we had spent long hours and days checking and double checking the accuracy of these programs. Even given the extreme care taken in this validation process, we lived with the dark thought that somewhere hidden in the computer code an undetected error that could cause complete mission failure. The three programs consisted of the orbit determination program, the program that computed the final attitude maneuvers that aligned the SC thrust vector with the approach velocity vector (determined by the orbit determination program) and the powered phase computer simulation that calculated the time delay between the 60 mile marking radar signal and the main retro ignition. Fortunately by this time in the mission the orbit determination program had been validated by the initial orbit analysis calculating the launch injection errors and subsequent mid-course correction of those errors. In addition, the attitude maneuvers required to support the mid-course correction partially validated the terminal phase attitude maneuvers because of the similarity in software used. Unfortunately, software simulating the powered descent was now about to be tested for the first time in the actual Lunar environment. This software simulation was also the same software that was used to compute the required main retro propellant loading for this specific landing location.

You can imagine the thoughts going through our heads as we stared at the telemetry data readouts during those final minutes knowing that one small software error could cause mission failure. When the marking radar signal came in at approximately the predicted time we gave a big sigh of relief knowing that at least we had pointed the spacecraft in the approximate right direction. The next big event is when the range and velocity data started coming back at main retro burnout and those numbers were close to predictions. At that point the final descent was flawless, and confirmed that the dedication and effort by all the scientists and engineers had built a perfect Surveyor!!!

One final thought. I will always remember driving home in the middle of the night after staying to watch that first picture come back and seeing that big moon up in the dark sky and still not quite believing that the Surveyor Team had really pulled off a perfect mission on the first try.

NASA Gives Group Go-Ahead To Build More Weather Satellites SCG Journal August 1982 transcribed by Faith MacPherson

A sole-source letter contract has been signed by officials of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md., and SCG management for follow-on meteorological spacecraft for the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES) program.

Under the $11.3 million agreement, Group scientists and engineers will begin the design and development of two satellites, designated GOES G and H. The contract also contains an option for a third similar metsat, GOES I. SCG had already begun to procure high reliability parts for the space vehicles’ imager/sounder payload before the agreement was reached and has started negotiations with firms which will act as subcontractors on the program. Meanwhile, personnel from NASA Systems Division are meeting with Division 41 engineers and Division 45 procurement and manufacturing specialists to discuss plans and schedules.

SCG management has said that it expects negotiations on the final GOES follow-up contract to be completed before the year’s end.

The additional GOES spacecraft will be identical to GOES D, E and F, which Space and Comm built previously. GOES D was launched in September 1980, and GOES E was boosted into space in May 1981. GOES F was completed last year and then stored. GOES F will become a member of the orbiting constellation in 1983.

NASA is procuring the follow-on satellites for the U.S. Government’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). This agency operates spacecraft built by SCG and other firms as part of its National Environmental Satellite System (NESS).

The stars of NESS are SCG’s GOES 4 and 5, perched in orbit on the equator, and two RCA-built spacecraft, NOAA-6 and -7, which pass over the earth in low polar orbits. Four older, partially operating geosynchronous satellites back up GOES 4 and 5. These “senior citizens” function mainly as orbiting relay stations, collecting data from automatic weather platforms and relaying weather images from one ground station to another.

The main payload carried by SCG-built GOES spacecraft is the visible spin-scan radiometer/atmospheric sounder (VAS) – a sophisticated device built by Hughes Santa Barbara Research Center. In space, VAS records visible and infrared “full disc” images every 30 minutes, day and night, of the constantly changing weather picture over North and South America and the Pacific Ocean. The atmospheric sounding portion of VAS also measures air temperatures and moisture at different altitudes.

The combined imagery and sounding data from GOES give meteorologists a 3-D view of the weather, allowing them to “see” what conditions are like within different cloud layers and storm systems.

GOES vehicles also receive information from a complement of land-based and oceanographic data collection platforms (DCP), and relay this DCP data, along with VAS measurements and images, between ground weather centrals.

NASA plans to launch GOES G and H in 1986. By next May, the space agency will decide whether to pick up the contract option for GOES I. If GOES I is built, it will fly in 1987.

Galileo Probe Model Takes the Plunge,By Jupiter SCG Journal August 1982 Transcribed by Faith MacPherson

From 18 Miles High

What goes up must come down – the right way, especially in Jupiter’s powerful gravity. To assure a proper descent, an all-out simulation of the Galileo probe’s separation mechanisms’ operation and parachute deployment was conducted the morning of July 17 at the U.S. Army’s test range at White Sands, N.M. In this test, an exact duplicate of the probe, made of the same materials, was carried 18 miles up by a huge helium balloon and then released.

Everything worked. The main parachute deployed more slowly than expected, but that didn’t interfere with the separation sequence of the forward heatshield and the orange-and-white-checkered descent module. Offsetting the significance of the deployment anomaly is the fact that it’s possible to adjust the descent sequence somewhat. Still, to play it safe, Group scientists are working to predict the effect if the same thing should happen during the mission and to determine whether additional testing may be desirable.

Here in El Segundo, Group engineers and technicians have installed probe subsystem units and integrated five of the flight probe’s six science instruments. The sixth, the neutral mass spectrometer, will arrive soon from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. The probe’s instruments will study Jupiter’s atmosphere, clouds, and energy.

The integrated instruments are engineering models; they will be exchanged for flight models early next year. The reason? Some of the actual instruments would be damaged by necessary test procedures. For example, the helium abundance detector has two diaphragms that are designed to be sequentially ruptured by increasing pressure when the probe descends into the thick, turbulent atmosphere of the solar system’s largest planet. Obviously, the diaphragms must be intact at launch.

SCG has designed and developed the probe portion of the two-part Project Galileo mission for NASA’s Ames Research Center. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory is building the orbiter and is responsible for overall management of the joint JPL/NASA Ames project. Galileo’s launch on the space shuttle is currently planned for May 1986.