A (Very) Short History of the Space and Communication Activities of Hughes Aircraft Company—Steve Dorfman

Featured

On April 1st, 1961 Fred Adler was asked to form a Space Systems Division within the Hughes Aircraft Company.  At that time, only 4 years after the launch of Sputnik, several important events were taking place.  As a result of a major loss in Hughes business resulting from the cancellation of the Air Force’s F-108 interceptor, the space race beckoned. Hughes was starting a contract from JPL to build a lunar lander called Surveyor. That program was to build up a cadre of Hughes space engineers and an organizational infrastructure that ultimately served as a basis for many future space programs at Hughes.  The Air Force and CIA were initiating space programs to observe Soviet activities from space. Hughes would ultimately be a major player in those programs. Finally, a small team, led by Harold Rosen, was developing the first geostationary communication satellite called Syncom. Syncom was successfully launched in 1963 and in 1964 Syncom 3 transmitted television from the Tokyo Olympics to the USA. The successful demonstration of Syncom ended the controversy of which orbit was best for commercial communication satellites and launched a new industry which ultimately changed the world and also Hughes in a profound way. A new organization, Intelsat, was formed to provide international communication and Hughes provided their first satellite, Early Bird or Intelsat I in 1965. Many more were to follow.

Comments on the Challenger Disaster

Larry Nowak

Having watched all segments of the Netflix coverage of the Challenger disaster, I concluded that there are two basic questions being covered. The first is how did they decide to launch on such a cold day in January and how did our candidate Greg Jarvis get bumped from April 1985 to January 1986.

I was down at the Cape the previous year in January 1985 prepping our first LEASAT spacecraft for launch. There was a shuttle launch that afternoon around 3 PM; it was a very cold day. The launch was a success, but recovery of the solid motors showed major leakage around the seals and almost a total burn though.  I believe these photos were used in the Netflix documentary.

The Thiokol workers knew that the seals were a major problem and needed to be fixed.  A design change was initiated but had not been finalized and implemented for the Challenger launch.

The movie seemed to indicate that they didn’t know the cause of failure at the time of launch. With the history of seal leakage, I was surprised when they did launch on that fateful day when there were icicles hanging from the launch vehicle.

As Steve pointed out, NASA was trying to use the shuttle for all launches. Their aggressive schedule was to launch at least two per month and up to four spacecraft per launch. Any delays by one would probably bump the launch dates for all the others to later dates (my conclusion).  This would be a major cost overrun I’m sure.

Apparently, the new criteria to launch was changed from “Prove it is OK to launch” to “Prove it’s not OK to launch”.  Following the disaster, the launch schedule was delayed until the mod had been authorized and implemented. As the movie points out, there were no more rocket failures after this change had been implemented.

So how did Greg get bumped to this fateful launch date?  Greg was originally assigned to be on a launch in April 1985 along with our LEASAT F3 spacecraft.  Senator Jake Garn was assigned to a TRW spacecraft the previous month. That one had problems and was scrubbed. He then bumped Greg because the rules allowed him to do that. Greg could have been on the next launch in September with our F4 but F3, which Jake Garn took, failed to activate properly upon deployment. Subsequent meetings with NASA personal showed F3 could be saved by installing a bypass switch around the malfunctioning switch. This did not allow Greg to ride along.  

I think Greg could have taken the next flight scheduled for December but thought it would be a better choice to go with the schoolteacher, Christa McAuliffe in January and help her with her activities. I also heard a rumor that Rep Bill Nelson didn’t want to fly with Christa because she would get all the news coverage. Greg agreed to switch to the January 1986 flight and all were happy.

Netflix Challenger Documentary

Steven D. Dorfman

As head of HCI I was involved in a pitched battle between NASA and Arianne for a contract to launch 10 future Hughes spacecraft. It was important for NASA to win to demonstrate their ability to serve the commercial market. We were skeptical when the government shut down all US Expendable Launch Vehicle launches of commercial satellites but we were pressured to accept the government position. NASA and Arianne both had very aggressive (and government subsidized} bids of about $30M per launch. In the heat of the competition NASA added the sweetener of permitting Hughes employees to fly on two of our launches as Payload Specialists though it soon became clear that they wouldn’t let us have much to do with our payloads. Frankly it was a marketing ploy that couldn’t be matched by Arianne. 

After we selected the Shuttle to launch our satellites (for other reasons) we decided to accept the NASA offer knowing that it would be a thrill for many at HSC to be in space despite the danger and a good morale booster for a dedicated workforce. We decided to post the opportunity and soon had 600 applicants! We narrowed it down to 10 and then selected a prime and backup for the two missions. Greg Jarvis as prime for the first mission and Bill Butterworth backup. After a schedule was posted for Greg’s flight NASA said they would like to bump him to a future flight in order to enable Senator Jake Garn to fly on the next Shuttle mission. I protested strongly but they wanted to placate an important source of funding for NASA so Greg was moved to another flight where the same thing happened for Representative Bill Nelson. That is how Greg wound up on the Challenger flight.

I was devastated after the explosion. Sometimes you make the right decision but you have the wrong outcome. This was such a case.

Later on, the government reversed the decision they had imposed on us and instead of all launches being on Shuttle… no commercial launches would be on Shuttle! And they unilaterally canceled our contract causing us to have several years of scrambling for ELVs. We ultimately sued the government for breach of contract and many years later won a $300M settlement.

The excellent Netflix documentary brought back all these memories and reminded me how badly NASA had screwed up and caused Greg’s death. It was painful but motivated me to share my thoughts.

Kobayashi, Kenji ““Ken”

November 12, 1936—July 10, 2020

This obituary appeared in the LA Times on August 2. 2020

Ken Kobayashi, 83, of Torrance, CA passed away on July 10, 2020.  Born in LA to Tsuneyoshi and Yaeko Kobayashi, he attended Redondo Union High, proudly served in the U. S. Air Force, loved being a UCLA Bruin Alumni and retired after 35 yrs at Hughes Aircraft.  Ken is survived by his brother Eichi Kobayashi, wife Naomi Kobayashi, daughters–Tammi & Terri (Kevin) Seki, sons—Scott & Kory (Elizabeth), and grandchildren–Jason, Kyra, & Krystal, along with nieces, nephews and dear relatives.

  A private family service will be held at Green Hills Memorial Park.

William Frederick Hummel December 26, 1922–July 18, 2020

This obituary appeared in the LA Times on July, 24, 25, and 26.

William Frederick Hummel died peacefully on July 18, 2020 after 97 years, six months, and 22 days of life.  He was born in 1922 in Nanjing, China to American missionary parents along with all of his siblings and cousins.  The family returned to the United States in 1927 and settled permanently in Los Angeles. William attended Los Angeles High School commuting from the family home in eastern Hollywood aboard the Red Car.  He attended UC Berkeley, majoring initially in Astronomy, and later in Physics.

His studies were interrupted by his service in the US Navy during World War II.  The Navy sent him to midshipman school at Columbia University in New York City, and then to advanced training in the newly emerging field of microwave technology at Harvard University and MIT in Boston.  (UC Berkeley later awarded him his bachelor’s degree based on these credits.)  He served as a radar officer aboard the cruiser Boston in the Pacific Theater, traveling throughout Japan during the first year of the postwar occupation.

After separating from the Navy, he returned to California and soon met his future wife, Laurel Elizabeth Jones.  They married on July 20, 1947.  Their first child, Gregory Evan Hummel, was born in 1950, and died at the age of 17 months due to a congenital heart defect.  Their surviving children are Gwendolyn Elisa Hummel (born 1953) and Martin Edward Hummel (born 1954).

William embarked on a long and distinguished career in the aerospace industry, which was then rapidly growing in Southern California.  He simultaneously pursued graduate studies in Electrical Engineering at USC earning his MSEE in 1957.  He worked at Hughes Aircraft Company for 35 years, retiring as Chief Scientist of the Controls Systems Laboratory.  One accomplishment in which he took great pride was designing the control system for the Surveyor series of unmanned spacecraft, which successfully soft-landed on the Moon, proving the feasibility and paving the way for the astronauts of the Apollo program.  In connection with his work, he also returned to China, and lived in Munich, Germany during an extended assignment to partner with an aerospace company there.

He and Laurel enjoyed traveling extensively throughout Europe, Hawaii, and the Caribbean.  His many other interests included gardening, candid photography, personal computers, and dogs.  He was an ardent lover of classical music and made sure his children were initiated into a love of music.  After he retired from Hughes he bought a van and traveled extensively along the back roads of California, accompanied by his beloved Labrador Danny Boy.

In later years he pursued his deep interest in economics and monetary systems developing an acclaimed website and publishing a book, “Money—What It Is and How It Works.”  He also founded an online Google discussion forum called Understanding Money, which still continues.  After his beloved wife Laurel died in 2005, in her memory he endowed the Laurel Hummel Scholarships for international students at UCLA Extension.  He will be mourned and greatly missed by all who knew him.

Hughes Aircraft Collections

This post updates and replaces the following: Hughes Aircraft Bibliography posted on 2/12/19 and Uplink–Hughes Communications Newsletter 1994-1998 posted on 6/23/20

University of Nevada Las Vegas

The UNLV Library has a significant collection of Hughes Aircraft documents and other material that are referenced at https://www.library.unlv.edu/speccol/finding-aids/MS-00485.pdf

Books About Howard Hughes 

Hughes:  The Private Diaries, Memos and Letters.  Richard Hack. New Millennium Press, 2001.

Howard Hughes Aviator. George J Marrett.  Naval Institute Press, 2004.

Howard Hughes H-4 “Hercules.”  Northrop Institute of Technology, Aviation History Library.  Historical Airplanes, 1962.  Many photos of the aircraft being transported from Culver City to Long Beach.

Howard Hughes and His Flying Boat.  Charles Barton.  Self published, revised edition 1998.

Howard Hughes, His Life and Madness. Donald L. Barlett & James B. Steele.  W. W. Norton & Company, 1979.

Seduction:  Sex, Lies and Stardom in Howard Hughes Hollywood. Karina Longworth.  Custom House, 2018.

Books Relating To Hughes Aircraft

As I Remember:  A Walk Through My Years at Hughes Aircraft 1951-1997.  Scott Walker.  Hawthorne Publishing, 2010.

Call Me Pat:  The Autobiography of the Man Howard Hughes Chose to Lead Hughes Aircraft, Downing Company, 1993.

Hughes After Howard:  The Story of Hughes Aircraft Company.  D. Kenneth Richardson.  Sea-Hill Press, 2011.

The Origins of Satellite Communications. David J Whalen.  Smithsonian Institute Press, 2002.  Excellent account of Syncom development.

Something New Under the Sun:  Satellites and the Beginning of the Space Age.  Helen Gavaghan.  Copernicus, 1998.  Detailed account of the Syncom development.

The Rise and Fall of Comsat.  David J. Whalen.  Palgrave Macmillan, 2014.  Open Skies, Anik, COMSTAR and SBS.

NASA and the Space Industry.  Joan Lisa Bromberg.  Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999.  Covers Syncom and the NASA Ka-band satellite controversy.

Paving the Way for Apollo 11.  David M. Harland.  Springer Praxis Publishing, 2009.  Surveyor I description and mission.

To Reach the High Frontier, A History of U. S. Launch Vehicles.  Roger Launius, Dennis R Jenkins Editors University Press of Kentucky, 2002.  Great source of historical data on launch vehicles.

Communication Satellites Fourth Edition.  Donald H. Martin, Aerospace Press AIAA 2000.  Hughes satellite data from Syncom to HS-601.

Mission to Jupiter:  A History of the Galileo Project NASA SP 2007-4231.  Michael Meltzer 2007.  

Mission Jupiter, The Spectacular Journey of the Galileo Spacecraft.  Daniel Fischer Copernicus Books 2001.

Other Documents

Dynamic Analysis and Design of the Synchronous Communication Satellite, D. D. Williams. Engineering Division Hughes Aircraft Company TM-649 May 1960.

SYNCOM Engineering Report Volume I, NASA TR R-233. Syncom Projects Office Goddard Space Flight Center.  March 1966. Syncom II description and mission.

SYNCOM Engineering Report Volume II, NASA TR R-252. Syncom Projects Office Goddard Space Flight Center.  April 1967. Syncom III description and mission.

NASA Compendium of Satellite Communications Programs, NASA TM X-751-73-178.  Goddard Space Flight Center, June 1973.

Analyses Related to the Hughes Gyrostat System, A. J. Iorillo https://www.nro.gov/Portals/65/documents/foia/declass/Sunshine2019/SC-2018-00001_C05105855.pdf

Fuel Slosh Energy Dissipation On a Spinning Body.  John T. Neer,  Jerome O. Salvatore.  Hughes Aircraft Report SCG 20027R February 1972.

Pioneer Venus.  NASA SP-461.  Richard Fimmel, Lawrence Colin, Eric Burgess, 1983.

Galileo:  Exploration of Jupiter’s System, NASA SP-479.  C. M. Yeates, et al, 1985.

U. S. National Security and Military/Commercial Concerns With the People’s Republic of China. Volume II Satellite Launches in the PRC:  Hughes. Report of the Select Committee on U. S. National Security and Military/Commercial Concerns With the Peoples Republic of China, May 1999. (https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/GPO-CRPT-105hrpt851/pdf/GPO-CRPT-105hrpt851-1-2.pdf)

COMSAT Technical Review 1971-1995 (http://www.comsatlegacy.com/CTR.html)

The Intelsat IV Spacecraft. Launch and Orbital Injection of Intelsat IV Satellites.  The Intelsat IV Communications System. Volume 2 No 2 Fall 1972. 

Intelsat IVA Transmission System Design J. Dicks, M. Brown Jr. Volume 5 No 1 Spring 1975

The COMSTAR Program.  The COMSTAR Satellite System.  Volume 7 No 1 Spring 1977

MARISAT A Maritime Satellite Communications System. Volume 7 No. 2 Fall 1977.

Intelsat IV In-Orbit Liquid Slosh Tests and Problems In the Theoretical Analysis of the Data V. J. Slabinski Volume 8 No. 1 Spring 1978.

Summary of the SBS Satellite Communications Performance Specifications G. G. Churan, W. E. Leavitt.  Notes Volume 11 No. 2 Fall 1981.

Intelsat VI The Communications System. Volume 20 No. 2 Fall 1990

Intelsat VI Spacecraft Design.  Volume 21 No. 1 Spring 1991. 

INTELSAT VI From Spacecraft to Satellite Operations.  Volume 21 No. 2 Fall 1991.

INTELSAT VI:  System and Applications.  Volume 22 No. 1 Spring 1992

INTELSAT 603 Reboost.  S. B. Bennett Volume 22 No. 1 Spring 1992. 

SSTDMA in the INTELSAT VI System.  Volume 22 No. 2 Fall 1992.  

Websites

Hughes Industrial Historic District (http://www.hugheshistoricdistrict.com/howard-hughes/Includes history of Hughes Aircraft, visual tour of remaining buildings, timeline of life of Howard Hughes, Hughes H-1 Flying Boat (Spruce Goose) including video of flight, Historical Development Photos, and a bibliography

Abandoned and Little-Known Airfields: California, Western Los Angeles Area, PaulFreeman (http://members.tripod.com/airfields_freeman/CA/Airfields_CA_LA_W.htm#hughes) Many photos and information about the Hughes Culver City Airfield.

Historic American Engineering Record Hughes Aircraft Company HAER CA-174 (https://cdn.loc.gov/master/pnp/habshaer/ca/ca2100/ca2172/data/ca2172data.pdf)  Document describing Hughes Culver City facility including development of facility, history of Hughes Aircraft.

Hughes Aircraft Company, 6775 Centinela Avenue, Los Angeles, Los Angeles County, CA Photos From Survey HAER CA-174. (https://www.loc.gov/resource/hhh.ca2172.photos?st=gallery&c=40)

Santa Barbara Research Center History https://sbrc-sbrs.com

Newsletters

Uplink Hughes Communications Newsletter 1994-1998

https://web.archive.org/web/19990129052113/http://www.hcisat.com/uplink/archive/archive.html

TACSAT Preview—Tony Iorillo

Recently I contacted Tony and asked about the preliminaries that led up to the TACSAT contract.  He responded and covered a lot more ground.  I thought his response merited posting on our website.  Jack Fisher

As I recall, TACSAT was like any other SAMSO program.  They put out pre-RFP notice in 1966 that they were interested in buying a satellite with the specs which Dick described1.  Our Space Division marketing team followed the development of TACSAT specs very carefully.  There was another contemporaneous procurement SAMSO was working on that we also followed carefully—the DSP ballistic missile early warning satellite.
Ultimately, we had to decide which program to go after because we did not have the resources to compete vigorously for both.  Having recently failed to beat TRW for both Intelsat III and a classified program for the NRO, we needed a win.

Paul Visher, our assistant division manager and Bud Franklin, our manager of Advanced Projects, chose TACSAT as the target.  As Dick Brandes wrote1, they believed that the TACSAT satellite configuration was more representative of future program targets than the peculiar DSP configuration.  Paul foresaw the HS318 ( our “green” program ) and the  Intelsat IV programs which were to evolve shortly after the start of TACSAT in 1967.  So, TRW won the DSP contract.  We won TACSAT.  In 1967 and 1968, even before TACSAT was launched, we used the TACSAT win as our relevant related experience. 


With a large satellite configuration in hand, we beat TRW, and others, for the HS-318 and Intelsat IV contracts.  These wins came just in time to prevent having to lay off the Surveyor and Intelsat II teams whose programs were ending.  Even TACSAT was to end in a year.  Thanks to Mr, Hyland’s foresight and faith, the bulk of these people were carried for many months entirely on company funding
   
Bob Roney became our new Space Division manager shortly before the wins were announced in 1968.  At an all hands meeting, the day he took over, Bob informed us that our division had but a 60-day backlog.  Dick Brandes and I still recall the tension felt by all in the room.

In 1970, with both programs underway, we then had enough stable business to finally become a Group, and Bud Wheelon joined us as Group Executive.  The rest is history pretty much as Steve Dorfman wrote2.  He, too, was limited by security restrictions to paint a complete picture.  For the record, in 1972, we beat TRW again for the SDS relay satellite contract.
Twenty years later, with our new HS 601 design, we were to beat TRW and GE for the AUSSAT and Navy UHF Follow-on contracts.

During the TACSAT years. In 1964, Paul Visher allocated IR&D funds for me to complete the analytical work deriving the stability rules for dual-spin satellites, Hughes Gyrostats.  The next year, Bernie Burns and I built some small spinning models which were enough to convince management that the analyses were correct. Fortunately, Doctors Puckett, Roney and Adler were steeped enough in spin dynamics to agree.So, when TACSAT came along my task was to build demonstration models elaborate enough to convince SAMSO and Aerospace management.  John Neer wrote about this work3.

     We also hired UCLA Professor Peter Likens, to study my analyses, and to work with Dr. Tino Mingori of Aerospace to promulgate the results. When we submitted our proposal, the novelty of the design was not an issue with the technical evaluators.  And, as Dick Brandes wrote, our proposal was very cost competitive because we valued the future prospects1.  Peter went on to become President of Lehigh university and, later, the University of Arizona.

      After we won TACSAT, I worked on both the HS318 “green” program and Intelsat IV proposals.  Bill Bakemeyer was the “green” proposal manager and Al Owens was the Intelsat IV proposal manager.  I was in charge of the Technical Volumes and Executive Summaries for both.  The proposals were sequential, with brief overlaps, so that I could do both.  I used many of the same staff.  For example, Al Wittman was the principal Design Integration leader for both.  The “green” program was much more demanding.  It was our first entry into the operational world of satellite reconnaissance.  And it was not a geostationary orbit mission.  The satellite was a multi-mission vehicle carrying an electro-optical precision pointed payload and a very wide band ELINT payload with large steerable receive and downlink antennas.  We also designed and built the elaborate ground data processing segments for both payloads along with the satellite command and control station.  The Surveyor guys were perfect for the job.

Jim Cloud was the program manager, aided by Bill Bakemeyer, Shel Shallon, Warren Nichols, Frank Wolf and many other Surveyor veterans. Their contract performance was spectacular. The satellites and the ground segments worked as planned and it was done on schedule and pretty close to our budget.  The program was still going when I retired.  Intelsat IV was a relatively straightforward next generation Comsat.  I then went on to manage the SDS relay satellite proposal, our “yellow” program.  This time I stayed on as deputy to Roger Clapp until the first launch.

Reference 1. TACSAT, Dick Brandes

Reference 2.  A (Very) Short History of the Space and Communication Activities of Hughes Aircraft Company–Steve Dorfman

Reference 3. On the Gyrostat Road, John Neer

TACSAT, Jolly Giant Built by HAC, in Orbit and Operating Well—Hughes News February 14, 1969

The world’s largest and most powerful communications satellite, built by HAC for the Department of Defense and launched Sunday from Cape Kennedy by the Air Force aboard a Titan-3C booster, now is in synchronous orbit over the Pacific.

         HAC Program Manager Tom Mattis and other Hughesites who witnessed the launch described it as “beautiful, beautiful, adding “it was a glorious day for it.”

         All the tests scheduled to be completed by Wednesday had been accomplished and all systems were operating well.

         The 1600-pound experimental tactical communications satellite (TACSAT), two stories high and more than 8 feet in diameter, carries a cluster of antenna systems capable of radiating signals that can be received by all types of ground terminals including those with antennas as small as 1-foot in diameter.

         Construction of the spin-stabilized spacecraft, built under a USAF contract totaling $30 million, was directed by the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Organization (SAMSO).

         The giant satellite will be used by the Army, Navy and Air Force to test the feasibility of suing synchronous satellites for tactical communications with small mobile ground stations, aircraft, and ships at sea.

         Mr. Mattis said the tests will determine whether hundreds of small mobile terminals with varying power levels can be used effectively with a single satellite.  Another objective of the mission will be to determine the best frequency bands to be used for tactical service.  The tests will be in the ultra high frequency (UHF) and the super high frequency (SHF) ranges.

         The satellite’s communication antennas are mechanically “despun” to keep them pointed toward earth.

         “The new satellite,” Mr. Mattis said, “will test for the first time in space a new Hughes concept of stabilization called “Gyrostat” which defies the theory that all spin-stabilized satellites must be “short and squat” and look like over-sized hat boxes.”

         Heretofore, satellites have been designed for the inertia characteristics of a disc rather than a rod.  The Gyrostat principle, however, is designed to permit stabilization of long slender bodies.

         Some Parts Spin

         The new principle holds that satellites can spin around their minor axes and permit some parts to spin while other parts remain stationary, with never a wobble in the spacecraft, he explained.

         The concept not only permits variations in the length configuration of communications satellites, thus allowing full utilization of the booster shroud, but it also enable important payloads, such as antennas or telescopes to remain stationary so that they may be precisely pointed in any direction.

The Tortuous History of the Williams Patent–Jack Fisher

Don Williams was thought of by many people at Hughes Aircraft as an engineering genius.  He was revered for his role in the design of SYNCOM and his patent that enabled attitude and orbital position control of a spin stabilized satellite.  The patent that Don Williams obtained, assigned to Hughes Aircraft, was the keystone for the development of spin stabilized communications satellites built by Hughes over the 30 years following the patent application on August 21, 1964.  Williams stunned his friends and colleagues at Hughes by taking his own life on February 21, 1966.

Williams was involved with the geostationary satellite design effort from the very beginning in early 1959.  He was very concerned that Hughes Aircraft would retain any patent rights evolving from this design effort.  In November 1959 he traveled to NASA Headquarters in Washington DC to brief NASA executives on the Hughes design activities.  He began his briefing by stating that Hughes wished to retain all patent rights with his discussion of the Hughes design.  NASA personnel agreed to this premise.

By early 1960 Hughes had a satellite design in place that was clearly prototypical for the yet-to-come SYNCOM.  The mission plan utilized the four-stage NASA-developed SCOUT launch vehicle with an Altair solid motor as the spin stabilized unguided fourth stage.  A fifth stage solid rocket added to SCOUT would boost the satellite into a geosynchronous transfer orbit.  The satellite included a solid rocket motor to attain the final geostationary orbit.  The mission plan included launch from the near-equatorial Jarvis Island about 1600 miles south of Hawaii.  

In Reference 1, published in early 1960, Williams describes the mission plan and his control system.  The system consists of a sun sensor with two slits at a 350 angle, used to determine satellite attitude relative to the sun and spin rate, and two jets, one parallel to and one normal to the satellite spin axis, used to precess the spin axis and control orbital velocity.  These features are described a patent application dated April 18, 1960.  Williams determined that jet performance for the selected valves was a thrust of 1.3 pounds and a specific impulse (ISP) of about 60 seconds for a system pressurized with 3000 dry nitrogen.   At this time Williams had tested a lab model that would allow a claim for reduction to practice for his control system.  

With the NASA contract received by Hughes in August 1961 the mission ground rules were modified to utilize a launch from Florida with the Delta launch vehicle.  NASA adopted the name SYNCOM for this mission.  A successful geostationary orbit was achieved with the launch of SYNCOM III on July 26, 1964.

On August 21, 1964 Williams reapplied for a patent on his control system. He states in this application, “This is a continuation in part of my prior co-pending application Ser. No. 22,733, filed Apr. 18, 1960 now abandoned.  In order to disallow any NASA claims of rights to the patent the application describes in detail the satellite and mission as of the 1960 design prior to the NASA contract of August 1961. The application includes the sun sensor and jets of the control system as well as a nutation damper.

In 1966 the U. S. Patent Office allowed Hughes patent claim.  However, NASA requested that the patent be issued to NASA as it was first used on NASA satellite.  The Court of Customs and Appeals ruled Hughes owned the patent and the U. S. Patent 3758051 Velocity Control and Orientation of a Spin Stabilized Body, was granted on September 11, 1973.  The first page of the patent is shown below.

In November 1973 Hughes filed suit in U. S. Court of Claims charging that the government had used the patent without authority and sought compensation.  The first trial in 1976-77 ended when the judge was disqualified.  The next trial in 1979 ruled for NASA. This was appealed and the appeals court ruled that the judge had erred and returned the case to the lower court.  In 1982 the court ruled in Hughes favor but limited royalties only to those satellites that were under control from the ground.  This was appealed by Hughes and in 1983 the Appeals Court ruled that the patent also applied to satellites that controlled by onboard computers.  This expanded the royalties claim to military as well as NASA satellites. 

In February 1988 a trial in the U. S. Court of Claims, under Judge James Turner began to determine royalty payments to Hughes.  To be determined:  what satellites infringed the patent, what are reasonable royalties, and what is the interest on the unpaid royalties going back as far as 1963.  Hughes asks for royalties of 15% for a total of $1.2 billion on 100 satellites.  Early in the trial Judge Turner, court clerks, attorneys, and reporters made a visit to the Hughes high bay in El Segundo.  After donning the obligatory smocks they heard Dr, Albert Wheelon, Hughes CEO, describe in detail the satellite assembly process and the operations required to maintain a satellite in orbit.

During the trial it was revealed that in 1974 Hughes offered licenses for the use of the Williams patent to Philco-Ford, TRW and Messerschmitt-Bolkow-Blohn for 2 to 5% of the satellite cost.  Hughes at the time had filed suit against Philco-Ford for patent infringement. This suit was settled out-of-court with a payment rumored to be $75 million.  This seriously undermined Hughes claim for a 15% royalty.

Patent rights expire in 17 years or September 1990 for the Williams patent.  It was rumored that some government satellite programs might be delayed past this date to avoid any patent royalty liability.  

Judge Turner finally ruled that 81 satellites violated the patent and had a value of $3.6 billion with a royalty rate of 1% or $36 million. Added to this is $118 million for delay compensation for loss of unpaid royalties for a total of $154 million.  The 81 satellites were all government and about 75% were military.

 Hughes appealed the judgment of the United States Court of Federal Claims awarding Hughes compensation based on a 1% royalty rate.  On June 19, 1996 the U. S. Court of Appeals affirmed that a 1% royalty was the court determined that a royalty rate of 1% would be reasonable.

On March 1, 1999 the U. S. Supreme Court denied a government petition to review Judge Turner’s decision for Hughes.  Federal Claims Court entered judgment for Hughes on March 12,1999.  Payment of $154 million was made to Hughes on March 30, 1999.  

Final note: patent royalties are taxable as ordinary income less, of course, litigation expenses.

Note:  I cannot attribute the facts in this paper to any particular source.  All of the references listed below were necessary to establish my understanding of this history.  The only exception is Reference 1 that provides Don Williams description of his system as patented.

References

  1. Dynamic Analysis and Design of the Synchronous Communication Satellite, D. D. Williams. Engineering Division Hughes Aircraft Company TM-649 May 1960.
  2. U S Patent 3758051 Velocity Control and Orientation of a Spin-Stabilized Body Donald D Williams
  3. The Origins of Satellite Communications 1945-1965.  David J. Whalen.  Smithsonian Institution Press, 2002.
  4. NASA Announces Project SYNCOM NASA Press Release No. 61-178 August 11, 1961
  5. SYNCOM Design and Operation NASA Press Release No. 61-223.
  6. The Syncom III Launch NASA TN D-3377 Forest H. Wainscott,  April 1966
  7. Hughes Case Could Send Patent Claims Into Orbit, Evelyn Richards.  The Washington Post August 13, 1989.
  8. Hughes Awarded Judgment in Long Running Case Defense-Aerospace.com source Hughes Electronics March 1999
  9. Patent Case May Cost U. S. Billions Edmund L. Andrews New York Times April 22, 1989.
  10. 10.HAC Receives Basic Patent On Spin-Stabilized Satellites—Hughes News September 14, 1973.
  11. Hughes Aircraft Asks 1$ Billion From U.S. Over Satellite Patent Ralph Vartabedian Los Angeles Times February 3. 1988
  12. Judge in $1.2 Billion Case Sees How Satellite Are Built—Hughes Aircraft Patent Suit Shifts to Plant.  Ralph Vartabedian, Los Angeles Time February 6, 1988.
  13. Legal Blunder May Be Costly to Hughes Aircraft Could Lose $270 Million Claim; Judge In Patent Case Cite Error By Lawyers. Ralph Vartabedian Los Angeles Times February 6, 1988.
  14. U. S, in Last-Ditch Effort to Thwart Suit by Hughes Aerospace:  The Pentagon Allegedly Stole Satellite Technology.  A Judgement of up to $1.2 Billion is Expected in 23-Year Case.  Ralph Vartabedian Los Angeles Times May 23, 1994.
  15. Hughes Wins $114 Million In Patent Case Technology:  It Is the Largest Such Award Ever Against U. S. Government, But It Falls Far Short of the Company’s Expectations.  Ralph Vartabedian, Los Angeles Times June 18, 1994.
  16. Death Ends Work of Satellite Star Donald Williams. Hughes News February 25,1966.
  17. United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.  Hughes Aircraft Company, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. The United States, Defendant/Cross Appellant June 19, 1996.