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


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.

HSGEM – The Hughes GeoMobile Satellite System Story—Andy Ott

In the early 1990’s, Hughes Space and Communications Group (HSCG) teamed with Hughes Network Systems (HNS) to develop a satellite based cellular communications system.  This was to be a total end-to-end system. HSCG was responsible for the Space Segment (spacecraft, spacecraft on-orbit as well as launch operations, including the facilities, software for both spacecraft bus and payload, and launch vehicle procurement). HNS was responsible for the user and ground segments (ground hardware infrastructure, network management, gateway stations, as well as cell phones and the billing system). Project management, including overall “Big-S” Systems Engineering, was the responsibility of HSCG as the prime, requiring formation of a GeoMobile Business Unit within HSCG.

The spacecraft did not fit into either the existing HS601 product line nor the under development at the time HS701 product line, necessitating a unique spacecraft, labeled HSGEM. There were many new, unique requirements for HSGEM space segment, the following is a list of a few of the major challenges:

  1. 13 KW Spacecraft Bus with dry weight 5,500 – 7,000 lbs. A modular Xenon Ion Propulsion System (XIPS) addition, if required due to launch vehicle selection. Payload weight 3500 – 4000 lbs.
  2. A single L-Band 12.25-meter aperture antenna to provide both transmit and receive communications. The Astromesh reflector is 18 ft in length by 44 inches in diameter stowed for launch and when fully deployed is a 52.5 ft by 40 ft ellipse with a 12 ft depth. A 128-element feed array provides in excess of 200 individually controllable spot beams.
  3. Elimination of potential Passive Intermodulation Products (PIM) sources for the spacecraft bus and payload. The diplexer was a special challenge due to the single antenna and the significant difference between receive and transmit power at L-band.
  4. Digital Signal Processor (DSP) to provide channelization, routing and beamforming; all functions previously performed by analog and passive hardware. The DSP included a mobile-to-mobile switch to allow for direct routing of mobile terminal to mobile terminal calls, thereby reducing round trip delay to a single hop. The DSP utilized state of the art at the time ASICs jointly designed and qualified by Hughes and IBM and manufactured by IBM. Flexible digital beamforming was a special challenge.
  5. Common software for payload, spacecraft system test and launch plus on-orbit operations integrated from Commercial, off the shelf (COTS) products and HSCG developed DSP command and control.
  6. Unique approach to North-South station keeping using the power of the payload to perform electronic beam steering vs chemical station keeping while operating in inclined orbit.

A development vehicle and the first two spacecraft were manufactured by HSCG, the Satellite Control Center by Raytheon and the Network Control Center and ground infrastructure by HNS.  The first launch of a HSGEM spacecraft, however, occurred in the year 2000 after HSCG was bought by Boeing. Although Boeing activities are not discussed on this website, it is public information that the first HSGEM was successfully launched by Sea Launch and met or exceeded all requirements (space and ground), resulting in a very successful and happy customer. The satellite and ground systems are still operational today (2018) and revenue creating, exceeding the 12-year life requirement of the contract.

Fig I: HSGEM spacecraft in launch configuration at HSCG High BayFig 2: HSGEM On-orbit

Key to the commercial success of this project was its efficient use of very valuable and much in-demand L-Band frequency spectrum. Ability to control more than 200 individual spot beams allowed for reuse of the same frequency spectrum more than 40 times and tailoring the coverage area to meet needs of specific customers. A comprehensive article, “The Hughes Geo-Mobile Satellite System”, was co-authored by HSCG (John Alexovich and Larry Watson) and HNS (Anthony Noerpel and Dave Roos) with major support from the rest of the “Big S” Systems Team and presented at the 1997 International Mobile Satellite Conference held in Pasadena California. The article is an excellent description of the end-to end system. Some of the key points are as follows (full article appears immediately following key points).:

  1. HSGEM is sized to provide 16,000 voice circuits for 2 million subscribers, including presence of up to 10 dB of shadowing.
  2. The maximum coverage area with over 200 beams, each approximately 0.7 degrees in diameter or 450 km across, is 12 degrees as viewed from geosynchronous altitude.
  3. Dual mode terminals provide the ability to communicate with either the HSGEM or with local terrestrial cellular systems (GSM) for voice, data, facsimile, and supplementary services.
  4. The HSGEM accommodates many features that support flexibility and reconfigurability as technology further advances, which has been demonstrated over 17 years (so far).


Early Bird…..Remarkable 5-Year Record in Space Hughes News April 17, 1970

Early Bird, the world’s first commercial communications satellite and the granddaddy of the Intelsat IV now in production, celebrated its fifth birthday April 6 after logging 3 billion miles in space and a faultless performance.

The birthday coincided with the opening of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics third Communications Satellite Systems conference at the International Hotel, where a giant cake replica of the remarkable bird was cut and served to NASA, Comsat and Hughes people who collaborated to bring into the world the tiny satellite with this record.

The Significance of It All

Dick Bentley, now assistant manager of the Communications Satellite Labs in Space Systems Division who was the Early Bird Program manager, cut the cake and reminisced about the satellite’s significance.

“Early Bird has been a model in every sense of the word,” Mr. Bentlley said.  “Essentially, there have been no failures, even in the control system.”  This is testimony to the ability of the people at Hughes to build highly reliable systems.  Early Bird proved what can be done!

“Several years ago when we were forecasting this kind of reliability the promise sounded incredible.  Not today.  Most people in industry now speak of satellite lifetimes of 5 years.  Some even go as high as 7 or 10 years. Early Bird is the basis for this confidence,” he added.

Early Bird’s success as the first commercial communications satellite has led to subsequent planning and implementation of commercial satellite programs.

Things Would Be Different

 If Hughes had not won out and proved the feasibility of the synchronous altitude concept and station keeping techniques, and if Early Bird did not have the reliability exceeding that of the trans-Atlantic cables, the whole approach to communications satellites would well be drastically different today.

Probably the greatest spinoff of the Early Bird experiment, and it was just that, will be its great impact on and benefit to people everywhere.  Every place on earth can be linked to every other place by a worldwide communications network featuring satellites and low-cost ground stations.

When historians record the genesis of this network, valued at billions of dollars, Early Bird must certainly will be listed as the father of it all.


This, again, is a tribute to the contributions of the people at Hughes who had the vision, the courage of their convictions, and technical ingenuity to design and build a spacecraft that not only has met all objectives but has exceeded the contractual requirements in every way.

Operational for nearly four years, Early Bird was retired from active service by Comsat a year ago but was called into service for the Apollo 11 mission.  Two months later it again was placed on reserve status.  But it still can chirp, anytime its needed.


See “World’s First Commercial Communications Satellite at


$66 Million Contract For Satellites Placed by Comsat General– Hughes News October 12, 1972


Comsat General Corporation has awarded Hughes a $65.9 million contract for four advanced high-capacity satellites which will be operated by Comsat under a lease arrangement for the American Telephone and Telegraph Company.

Comsat General’s contract followed the Federal Communications Commission’s Sept. 12 approval of five U. S. domestic satellite systems, four of which will use satellites built by HAC’s Space and Communications Group

Immediately after the FCC action Comsat President Joseph V. Charyk executed the agreements calling for the first delivery in late 1975.  Vice President Albert D. Wheelon, S&CG executive on behalf of Allen E. Puckett, executive vice president and assistant general manager.

Anik-Type Family

A whole family of Anik-I type satellites is being built in S&CG with Western Union’s Westar for telecommunications and TV slated for service by next summer.  (Hughesnews Aug. 18, 1972).  The WU system was approved earlier by the FCC.

The General Telephone and Electronics Corporation and the American Satellite Corporation also had systems approved by the FCC in the Sept. 12 action.

ASC has ordered three Anik-type satellites (Hughesnews March 30), and expects them to be operational by the third quarter of 1974.

GTE has contracted with the Hughes subsidiary National Satellite Services for 10 leased channels on a 12-transponder satellite.  GTE plans a September operational dated on its domestic system to provide either 12,000 one-way voice-grade circuits, 10 TV channels or various combinations.

Comsat’s order for four spacecraft, each having twice the capacity of the Intelsat IVs, will result in these Hughes-built satellites covering the U. S. territorial limits for the decade following launch in 1976.

Although design life is seven years, S&CG engineers are eyeing the possibility of 10 years service for these advanced spacecraft.  With 24 channels compared to the Intelsat IV’s 12 and Intelsat IVA’s 20, the Comsat domestic birds will be bigger, standing about 18 feet high and weighing about 3200 pounds in orbit.

Three Antennas

To provide coverage over a third of the earth’s circumference the spacecraft will have three antennas.  Each satellite will be placed in geostationary orbit at 22,300 miles altitude and have a capacity for approximately 14,000 two-way high quality voice circuits.

Frequencies will be used in the presently allocated 4 and 6 Gigahertz bands.  Horizontally and vertically polarized transmit and receive antennas will be mounted atop the spin-stabilized body of each spacecraft.

Through the first-time application of the cross-polarization technique on a commercial satellite, the entire frequency band will be utilized twice by each satellite, thus doubling capacity and conserving limited spectrum space.

In addition, each satellite will carry amillimeter wave experimental package permitting tests and development of higher frequencies near 19 and 28 Gigahertz for possible future commercial satellite applications.

The contact signing was preceded by final negotiations between Comsat officers and S&CG’s Contracts Director Chuck LeFever, Program Manager Al Owens, Assistant Program Manager Dick Hemmerling, and Steve Parker senior contract negotiator.

Clell McKinney of HAC’s Corporate Marketing office in Washington DC provided assistance.

Further Notes—Jack Fisher

Comstar, with the Hughes designation HS-351, was based upon the Hughes Intelsat IV and IVA designs with a number of improvements.  Four satellites were built and launched by the Atlas Centaur—the first two in 1976 and the other two in 1978 and 1981—providing telephone service for ATT and GTE.  The Comstar program and spacecraft design are described in the Spring 1977 issue of the COMSAT Technical Review—see http://www.comara.org/legacy/ctr/CTR_V07-1_Spring_1977-Comstar.pdf

The fourth Comstar launched in 1981 has a very interesting history having been sold to the island nation of Tonga, a Pacific archipelago.  For an account of that history see Dwayne Day’s article in the Space Review.


Hughes donated a model of the Comstar satellite to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.  Photographs of the model can be seen at https://airandspace.si.edu/collection-objects/model-communications-satellite-comstar


HGS-1 Mission – Setting the Facts Straight Chris Cutroneo

For years I struggled with talking about this story and what I knew. I was an employee of Boeing (and Dept Manager of the Mission Group) up until 2016 and I didn’t feel it was my place to discuss this on-line. Now that I am 2 years into retirement and have I seen the blog posting from Steve Dorfman regarding HGS-1 mission, I think, finally, it needs some clarification – and the full truth. I was both the lead Astrodynamacist Team leader of the Asiasat-3 mission (on console when the Proton 3rd stage failed to ignite) as well as the function manager of the Mission Analysis and Operations group (30+ engineers). Cesar Ocampo was a direct report to me.

For weeks after the launch, we struggled with Asiasat-3. We knew it did not have enough fuel to get to GEO and at the time we were baby sitting it. Not long after the failure (Dec launch) in January, I got a call from Rex Ridenour. In our discussion he described that there was an idea floating around his company that we could send Asiasat-3 using the “fuzzy boundary theory” from Bel Bruno. I took down some notes after a brief discussion and I approached Cesar Ocampo with the data that Rex had provided. Cesar (he had some “issues” but was undoubtedly super smart) found the paper, read it and did some calculations which I reviewed. He said yes, in theory sending the s/c 1,000,000 miles out (we had fuel to do this) could recover the s/c but we both felt it was highly impractical especially given the impossible comm link for controlling/monitoring the s/c once it was out that far and we needed to maneuver it. I relayed Cesar’s calculations and Rex’s information to Jerry via email, mentioning Rex’s company as well as the fuzzy boundary theory and that it was a novel theory but impractical.

Please note that Cesar was NOT part of the Asiasat-3 mission team. He had no access to what was going on there until I (and the Astro Functional Manager) brought him this info. Cesar was at that time working on the 702 XIPS orbit ascent and the difficulties of constant thrust maneuver planning.

Soon after the idea of going around the moon came up and back to the MAO group. I fully believe this was 100% Jerry Salvatore’s idea. Jerry brought Cesar into the solution process to do a lot of analysis using STK. Jerry fed him the big picture and Cesar did basically all orbital calculations and mission planning using STK and the mission planning was off and running. Please note that we did not use Bel Bruno’s idea – it was impractical but inspirational. We were directed after the Lunar Fly By idea came out to stop talking to Ridenour and Bel Bruno. But I believe we did have their idea in hand that helped us come up with the idea to do a Lunar Fly By and mimic the Apollo missions – I am nearly 100% sure of this since I was the primary relayer between them in the early days before stepping away once the HGS project took off. Ridenour and Bel Bruno claimed, at one point we “stole” their idea but we didn’t. But, I think that all Hughes path we got on would not have happened without Ridenour and Bel Bruno to get us out of or standard orbit planning thinking to come up with a solution that worked.

Final note: HGS-1 achieved only a short period of time in GEO orbit post recovery. There was a more optimum time (better Earth, Moon, Sun geometry) to pull off the recovery plan, 6 months later than when we started it. It would have achieved a much longer life span (years), orbitally, for the satellite. It was unclear to me as to why this option was not selected. There was both amazing technical accomplishments as well as incredible in-fighting going on during the HGS-1 mission – a real dichotomy. Nothing in my career (36 years at Hughes/Boeing with 34 years in mission operations) even came close. Cesar felt slighted (and in a few ways he was but not in others), Jerry felt under siege (by the Bel Bruno comments and I think lawsuit) and Bel Bruno and Ridenour felt slighted in terms of even the most limited recognition in the end. It worked but it could have been so – so much – better.

ATS Mobile Terminals—the Pope Paul VI’s Visit to Columbia, the 2500th Anniversary of the Persian Empire and President Nixon’s Visit to China—Roland Boucher

This Hughes mobile satellite ground station was designed and built in 30 days to transmit live color television coverage of Pope Paul VI’s visit to the Eucharistic Congress in Bogota, Columbia in 1968.

The Go-Ahead

In the spring of 1968 Hughes was asked if it were possible to broadcast, through a satellite, the upcoming visit of Pope Paul VI to Bogota, Columbia. The Early Bird satellites operated by Comsat were considered but they required an 85-foot ground antenna.  Time and cost precluded this approach.  We were about to say NO then I suggested to the group that ATS-3 with is high gain receiving antenna could be used allowing a much smaller 15-foot diameter antenna.  The Hughes Ground Systems Group had just completed a prototype 10,000-watt transmitter.  If it could be made available we had a chance.  I also suggested that the terminal contain a VHF communication set in case the telephone service from Bogota to Hughes California prove unsuitable.  NASA agreed to make ATS-3 available, and one month before the expected arrival of the Pope in Columbia we were given the go-ahead.

Time was short; I moved my office into Lou Greenbaum’s shop and began work.  We needed almost immediate shipment of all components needed to build the terminal.  Lou and I drove to Fullerton to inspect the transmitter; it was OK so I asked that it be shipped to Lou’s shop that week.  The first problem came up the next day when the Purchasing department announced that no military terminal structure was available in less than six weeks.  They said a garbage truck tilt up box could be made available in one week. I said buy it, and tell them to put the ribs on the inside, panel it with mahogany plywood, and provide a strong roof and a door on one end. Next, I was told that the only 15-foot antenna available for immediate delivery was from Gabriel’s Horns in New Hampshire. I remember saying, “BUY IT!  God must be on our side”.

Testing Everything

Tom Hudspeth loaned us a prototype ATS spacecraft up and down frequency converter and the FM video modulator used to transmit Spin Scan Camera video. I borrowed a Boonton signal generator from the equipment pool to provide the FM voice subcarrier.  We borrowed the prototype of the VHF terminal installed on the Coast Guard Ice Breaker Glacier and built a 3-element Yaggi antenna to talk to Hughes from Bogota in case the phone lines were not reliable.  When the Fullerton transmitter was installed it would trip off in seconds after turning on.  This went on for about a week then I asked the technician Fullerton sent to install the transmitter, “What did you do different — it was working in Fullerton”.  He told me that nothing was changed except the directional couplers use in Fullerton had been borrowed so he installed new ones. I asked if he was careful to get the directional arrows on the directional couplers pointing in the right direction and he replied “what arrows?”  In ten minutes the transmitter was working again.  We tested the station, tracking the satellite, which was not perfectly stationary.

At first glance, one might think that we were forced to transmit blind since we could not possibly receive video on a 15-foot antenna.  Fortunately, the video signal has a very large amount of energy in the blanking pulse and this is transmitted at the 30-hertz frame rate.  We tracked the ATS-3 using this narrow band signal and plotted optimum antenna pointing angles with two carpenters tape measures mounted to the antenna gimbals.  Later in Bogota we used the VHF link to talk directly with the NASA ground stations to verify signal saturation levels in the spacecraft.  The station was flown to Bogota in a USAF C-130 and set up in less than one week.  Figures 3 and 4 show the terminal in operation in Bogota, Columbia.

The 15-foot antenna was dropped and dented during assembly in Bogota. We found a great body man who “made it all smooth again”.  He was right and it worked.

Operations in Columbia

Comsat insisted that Hughes had no license to transmit television signals through a satellite and that we should lease the terminal to them for the Pope’s visit.  I had adjusted the Boonton signal generator to provide voice signal levels about 1/10 the normal Comsat levels.  Their man on site in Bogota complained, also he also could not understand how we could possibly know when we were pointing our antenna at the spacecraft.  I knew the Comsat voice levels were unnecessary for acceptable quality and refused saying I wanted to make sure we had excellent quality video of the Pope. As to the antenna pointing, we had tracked the spacecraft for weeks, if the carpenter tape measures read correctly we were pointing at the satellite.  I knew NASA tested the VHF link every day so I could pick up the mike on our VHF terminal and ask for the microwave signal saturation level.  For the next 20 years satellite television quality was compared to BEST or “Bogotá Quality”

The Italian cameramen who accompanied the Pope had set up their control trailer next to our terminal. Early test using their video signal showed a troublesome amount of 60-cycle hum.  When this was pointed out, the Italian technical guy suggested that we tie both trailer and terminal together and drive a stake in the ground between them establishing a common ground. He also suggested that we disconnect the ground at the local power distribution transformer establishing the stake between our stations as the only ground. It worked.

After the successful transmission of the visit of the Pope to Bogota the first mobile satellite transmitting station went to Persia to transmit the 2500th anniversary of the Persian Empire in October 1971 to the world, then on February 5, 1972, a C-130 flew it to China for the historic visit by President Nixon .

I would like to thank The Bogota team which included Al Koury, Jim Burns, Jack Clarkson and Bernie Burns as well as those nameless others in Lou Greenbaum’s Satellite Command and Control Department who were vital in completing the terminal in 30 days.

I would also like to thank Howard Ozaki who provided the tunnel diode low noise receiver amplifier, Clovis Bordeaux Hughes Fullerton who provided the 10-kilowatt Transmitter, and especially Tom Hudspeth for his many valuable suggestions and “Loans”.







In early 1963 as a young 31-year-old engineer I was assigned the task of developing a method for mobile users to communicate through a synchronous satellite.  A brief study of the problem indicated that for truly mobile communications the user should be able to use a simple dipole antenna. This led to a company funded effort to demonstrate the reception of the one-half watt Syncom 2 VHF telemetry signal on a simple dipole antenna. On 21 February, the one-half watt Syncom2 VHF telemetry signal was successfully received on a dipole antenna. Three months later, on 8 May 1964, a teletype message was repeated through Syncom 2 telemetry and command system to a ground transmitter with a power of 19 watts using 12 and 14 db. gain Yagi antennas.

When news of these tests reached Frank White of the Air Transport Association he set in motion a series of events that led NASA to fund the ATS VHF Experiment.  His plan was to demonstrate two-way communication between a Pan-Am jet leaving Hong Kong with the NASA ground station at Camp Roberts California via the Syncom telemetry and command system.  On Jan 27 1964, these tests were successful and within weeks NASA funded the ATS VHF experiment.

The ATS-1 is the first of a series of five spacecraft built for NASA Goddard Space Flight Center by the Hughes Aircraft Company. The objectives of the VHF repeater are as follows:

• Demonstrate feasibility of providing continuous voice communications link between a ground control station and aircraft anywhere within the area covered by the satellite

• Demonstrate feasibility of providing a network in which data from small- unmanned stations or buoys are collected via satellite and disseminated

• Evaluate feasibility of VHF navigational systems

• Evaluate airborne and ground stations required in the above ­ mentioned networks

A fifth objective area was later added to demonstrate two-way voice and teletype communications from ships at sea anywhere in the satellite coverage area.

The VHF communications experiment is a frequency ­translation limiting (Class C) repeater receiving at a frequency of 149 Mhz and transmitting at 135 Mhz. The repeater both receives and transmits through an eight-element, phased-array antenna; Table 1 presents the repeater characteristics.

Operation of the repeater is as follows: incoming-signals at 149 mHz arereceived on each dipole element, routed through diplexers, amplified by a low-noise receiver, and shifted in phase to compensate for the relative position of each dipole antenna. The electronically controlled phase shifter in the receiver unit, driven by the waveform generators, causes the output s of each receiver to be in phase only for those signals originating from the earth. Reference sinusoids used to drive the waveform generator s are obtained from the same phased-array control electronics used to position the microwave beam toward the earth. The eight receiver outputs are summed together, filtered, down­ converted to an intermediate frequency (IF) of 29 megacycles, amplified, and passed through a crystal filter to limit the receiver bandwidth.

The IF is then amplified, up converted to 135 mHz, further amplified, and divided into eight equal parts. Each of the eight signals is routed to a transmitter where it is amplified, phase-shifted, and further amplified to a power level of 5 watts. Each transmitter output is routed through its respective diplexer to one of the antenna elements.

The transmitter phase shift is controlled by the waveform generator, which causes the signals from each antenna to reinforce in the direction of the earth. Provision is made to operate only odd or even sets of four transmitters, if desired, to reduce the DC power required.

It is also possible to drive the waveform generator from either the redundant Phased Array Control Electronics or to shut down this unit entirely creating a pancake antenna pattern, approximately 60 x 360 degrees that will encompass the earth during most parts of the launch trajectory and at all times after satellite reorientation.

The ATS spacecraft power supply and thermal design allow for continuous operation of the VHF experiment except during periods of eclipse. The repeater elements are supplied with -24volt and 23.4-volt regulated power. Switches are provided that allow operation of the equipment according to commands from the ground stations. Telemetered outputs are also provided which can be transmitted to earth either by the VHF or microwave telemetry systems.

The repeater is made up of nine subassemblies: eight units containing one transmitter, receiver, and diplexer; and one unit containing an up converter, down converter, waveform generator, and two voltage regulators. These units are shown in Figures 3 and 4.


1) The first VHF phased array in orbit

2) The first phased array to operate on both transmit and receive frequencies

3) The first deployable antenna on a spinning spacecraft

4) The first spacecraft repeater to use separate receivers and transmitters for each antenna element

The VHF antenna consists of eight full-wave dipoles arranged in a circle of one wavelength diameter (86 inches). Volume limitations in the Atlas-Agene shroud dictated the use of a deployable antenna. The eight-dipole elements were mounted on a radial arm attached to the forward solar panel and pivoted to place the antennas in a three-foot circle directly over the apogee motor nozzle during launch.

At separation from the Agena, the spacecraft is spun up; centrifugal force causes the antennas to deploy to the 86-inch diameter at 50 rpm. Deployment takes place during the normal spin up of the spacecraft without the use of ground commands.  When the spacecraft apogee motor is fired, the antennas are subjected to high Mach numbers and high heat fluxes. The rocket motor in the center of the array contains 750 pounds of propellant and burns for 40 seconds increasing the spacecraft’s apogee velocity by 6000 fps.

To withstand the severe thermal environment, the antenna elements were constructed of beryllium, flame-sprayed with aluminum oxide, and further covered with a Teflon ablative material. The high heat capacity of the ablative material and of the beryllium itself maintains the antenna temperatures below the unprotected equilibrium temperature of 3000° F.


The following report is taken from a presentation given in May 1967 at a meeting of the RTCM in Las Vegas Nevada by Roland Boucher.

ATS-1 was launched into orbit on 6 December 1966.  The VHF repeater was first operated 3 days later. Since then, it has been used to successfully communicate voice and data between NASA ground stations at Rosman, North Carolina; Mojave, California; and Kooby Creek Australia. It has sent weather facsimile pictures and has been used to determine propagation properties of the ionosphere.

Simplex air to ground communication tests have been conducted with aircraft operated by Pan American, Eastern, TWA, United, American, and Qantas airlines as well as those operated by the FAA and the U.S. Air Force. Both simplex and duplex communications were successful with a shipboard terminal   constructed by Hughes. This terminal was leased to the U. S. Coast Guard and has operated successfully on the Coast Guard Cutter, Klamath at Ocean Station November in the Pacific Ocean which was described by a member of the U.S. Coast Guard.  In May 1967, the VHF repeater experiment had operated successfully for over 5 months with no signs of degradation.

Prior to the launch of ATS-1, there was considerable skepticism as to the feasibility of VHF satellite communications in mobile service despite the fact that nearly every satellite to date had used the VHF band for its primary mode of telemetry and weather photo video transmission.


The uneven diffractive properties of a disturbed ionosphere can cause deep fades at VHF frequencies. These fades are normally of a very brief nature lasting typically from 8 to 30 seconds. Examination of this phenomenon by Hughes Aircraft Company under NASA contract NAS-510 174 indicated that fades of greater than 6 db. depth could be expected 0.002 percent of the time in the mid-Pacific area, Tests with ATS – 1 during the first 5 months in orbit have failed to yield any statistically significant data on scintillation fades. The rarity of their occurrence makes it almost impossible to detect them in a normal push-to-talk circuit. They do not present a serious problem to this type of communications.


Mobile terminal noise was also cited by some as a nearly insurmountable problem as late as a few months before the ATS-1 launch. Tests on aircraft and on the cutter Klamath have shown this problem can be cleared up by normal RFI practices.


Multi-path fades were held up as an obstacle to VHF mobile communications with fades up to 30 db predicted. Tests with the ATS-1 to date have shown multi-path propagation not to be a serious threat. In examining the records of many hours of shipboard and aircraft communication, no clear evidence of multi-path propagation fades could be found. This despite the fact that Hughes intended to use the evidence of such fades as a requirement for the development of a new type antenna for the NASA/Hughes ATS C. The fades were not found. The antenna was not funded.


Earth-noise temperature was cited as a possible deterrent to VHF satellite communications. The proponents of this concept reasoned that many spurious emissions from the large number of earth transmitters would form a noise blanket which would jam the satellites receivers.

Measurements taken in late 1966 by Boeing Aircraft to determine receiver noise temperatures in flight from a commercial aircraft indicated that cities could be found quite easily by the noise they created. This noise was seldom evident more than 10 or 20 miles from the city centers. Noise temperatures even at relatively low altitudes seldom were in excess of 20 db. with a 10-db-background level being more nearly an average figure.

A simple calculation involving the area of the world covered by cities indicated that this noise would not be a serious problem at synchronous altitude. Corroborating evidence was the fact that most satellite command systems operate in the VHF band. Any serious problems in the uplink would certainly have been discovered before 1966.

The launch of ATS-1 proved this point. Up-link receiver sensitivity of the ATS-1 spacecraft is essentially that measured in the laboratories.


The ATS uplink is in the land mobile band. In the early phases of the in-orbit test program, strong signals were heard in the satellite s passband. Many of these were conversations in English from what appeared to be military personnel. The conversations contained description of maintenance operations on jet aircraft indicating that a ground terminal used to communicate with mobile airport vehicles was transmitting to the spacecraft. Other signals in the spacecraft ‘s pass band that have been annoying at times have contained considerable 60 cycle modulation, indicating they originate from an earth borne transmitter.

None of these emissions proved detrimental to the test program after December 12. On that day, the severity of the jamming indicated that up link ERPs in excess of 2 kilowatts were present

A number of interested parties, through the cooperation of NASA and Aeronautical Radio listened for a one-week period in an effort to determine the origin of these strong signals. They were not present during this one-week period and have not returned. In the first 5 months as equipment and operating procedures have improved both in the aircraft and shipborne tests, this problem, which seemed so serious on 12 December, has been nearly forgotten.  Today VHF communications via satellite have been shown to be feasible for aircraft and maritime mobile application.


Spacecraft operating at microwave frequencies operate their transmitters well below peak power (transmitter Back-Off).  The VHF Experiment on ATS-3 Replaced the Class C RF amplifiers used on ATS-1 with linear RF amplifiers. This was important because it greatly reduced the inter-modulation distortion inherent in multi-channel transmitters. These transmitters were solid state and used a class A/B final stage; The DC power required was reduced 1/2 db. for every 1 db. of back off. This was a very important discovery since power is a very expensive commodity on any Spacecraft.

At low elevation angles multipath can cause a significant loss in signal for short periods of time as the reflected signal alternately cancels and adds to the direct signal. Circular polarization can eliminate this problem when used by receiver and transmitter that was later verified in field tests with TACSAT in 1969.

Hughes designed and tested circular polarized replacements for the dipole antenna elements on ATS-3.  Unfortunately, NASA did not approve their use.  Meanwhile Boeing designed a circular polarized flush mounted VHF antenna for the 747 aircraft.  C.A. Petry at ARINC worked with the airlines and FAA to produce a spacecraft compatible aircraft radio set in ARINC Specification 546.

When the first Boeing 747 was delivered to Pan Am, it was equipped with and ARINC 546 communication transceiver and a circular polarized antenna. This aircraft was equipped for satellite to aircraft communications.

ATS-3 was launched successfully on November 5, 1967, and positioned over the Pacific Ocean. Together with ATS-1 nearly global communications were possible at VHF frequencies.

Hughes designed a small inexpensive VHF terminal for the US Coast Guard that was installed on the USS Glacier, the ship used to resupply the Antarctic Base.  Sun spot activity was heavy during the 1967-68 winter, and HF radio was unusable for long periods of time.  The $4000 Hughes satellite terminal got through every time.

In the fall of 1969 I was selected as a representative of the State Department to the CCIR Conference on satellite communications.  Captain Charles Dorian and I were able to persuade the Russian delegate to support the US position to authorize VHF aircraft communications by satellite.  France led the opposition. The Russians brought along the eastern bloc, even Havana supported us. The French opposition was defeated – WE WON

Unfortunately, France played politics better than we did. As I understand it, they got NASA to oppose Aerosat in exchange for France support of the Space Shuttle. In any case, I received a phone call in Geneva from Hughes saying NASA pulled the plug – ITS ALL OVER.  I had spent nearly almost 10 years in the pursuit of a VHF Aeronautical Satellite to no avail.

At least the military did not have to play these politics.  Both Russia and the US adopted VHF communications (TACSAT).  The Syncom and ATS experiments produced at least two winners.

Completely independent of my employment with Hughes, I had developed the concept of an electrical powered battlefield surveillance drone and a Solar Powered high altitude spy plane. Dr. Bob Roney told me Hughes was not interested.

I left Hughes Aircraft in January 1973 and successfully proposed both aircraft to DARPA. The prototype electric powered battlefield drone flew that year and was shown on Los Angeles television. The 32-foot span proof of concept model of the spy plane flew on solar power alone in 1974.  A patent for the electric powered aircraft was granted on May 18, 1976.


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


As remembered by Roland Boucher November, 2017

My involvement began in late 1963 when I was assigned to a team at Hughes Aircraft, that had been given the task of developing satellite communications applications. Syncom 2 was in orbit and the age of satellite communication had begun. As the junior member of the team, I was assigned mobile applications. A brief study of the problem indicated that for truly mobile communications the user should be able to make use of a simple dipole antenna (or aircraft blade antenna) and that the optimum frequency would be in the 150 MHz to 450 MHz range. The telemetry and command system of Syncom 2 operated in the VHF band at 136 MHz and 148 MHz this led to the proposal to use this spacecraft to demonstrate satellite to aircraft communications.

This document describes the efforts by personnel at Hughes, NASA, Air Transport Association, Bendix, Pan Am as well as the FAA and the US Weather Bureau.  Significant early contributors were Frank White (ATA), William Pulford and Harry Betsill (Bendix), Meredith Eick, Lou Greenbaum and Roland Boucher (Hughes), Ben McLeod, Bob Bohanon and Waldo Lynch (Pan Am), Pat Corrigan and Bob Darcy (NASA Goddard) and members of the antenna department at Boeing.  Many other organizations were to become involved over the next nine years.

In early 1964, a simple test program was initiated to obtain first-hand information on the properties of VHF satellite communication. On 21 February, the one-half watt Syncom 2 VHF telemetry signal was successfully received on a dipole antenna, thus demonstrating the successful reception of very weak (-142 dbm) signals by a standard telemetry receiver.

On 8 May 1964, the first teletype message was repeated through Syncom 2 at VHF frequencies, the ground transmitter had a power of 19 watts and the receiver a noise figure of 3.5-db, transmitter and receiver antennas were 12 and 14-db Yagi’s.  During the interval between these tests, two Boeing engineers received Syncom 2 telemetry while gliding over Puget Sound in a light aircraft (Aeronca Champion).

News of these tests reached the airline community, Frank White of the Air Transport Association set in motion a series of events, which eventually led to the ATS-1 VHF experiment on 27 July 1964.

Mr. White called the kickoff meeting of what he called The Interim Communication Satellite Committee. representatives of the Air Transport Association, FCC, FAA, NASA, Pan American World Airways, Bendix Radio, Boeing Aircraft, Comsat, and Hughes participated.  Mr. White’s plan was simple — demonstrate two-way digital communications between a Pan American jet aircraft in commercial service over the Pacific Ocean and the NASA-Hughes ground terminal at Camp Roberts California via the Syncom 3 satellite. The program moved swiftly.

On 19 August, 3 weeks after the program began, a modified Bendix aircraft receiver picked up the Syncom 3 telemetry signal as the spacecraft rose from Cape Kennedy in the first successful launch of a geostationary satellite.

On 21 September, 5 weeks later, the Syncom 3 telemetry was received aboard a PAA Boeing 707 enroute from San Francisco to Honolulu. The first digital message transmitted from a synchronous satellite to a commercial aircraft was demonstrated on that day.

On 27 January, exactly 6 months from the beginning of this ambitious program, the first two-way digital communication link between a ground station and aircraft via a synchronous satellite was established.

The first flight test took place over the Pacific Ocean in a Pan AM 707 aircraft. Those on board were Waldo Lynch a vice president of Pan American Airways, engineers Harry Betsill and Bill Pulford of Bendix Radio, and Roland Boucher of Hughes.

Operational tests were conducted that day during a flight from San Francisco to Honolulu, Harry Betsill remained on board conducting 3 hours of two-way communications between the aircraft and the NASA ground station at Camp Roberts California. NASA at both its Australian and Alaskan tracking stations monitored these transmissions. The aircraft with Harry continued on to Hong Kong.  On the return flight, it transmitted nearly perfect teletype copy at 60 wpm to the Camp Roberts terminal.

The success of this test program and the potential it demonstrated for mobile satellite communications led to the decision by NASA to Fund the first VHF repeater experiment on the ATS satellite.

Within weeks of the test of January 27 NASA asked Hughes to develop a VHF repeater experiment for the NASA/Hughes Advanced Technology Satellite ATS-1.  This experiment was managed by at first Bill Penprase then by Roland Boucher at Hughes. Pat Corrigan at the Goddard Spaceflight center was NASA program manager.

I am sorry that I am quite fuzzy about events at this time.  When returning home from the flight tests on January 28, I was told that my father had contacted meningitis at his home in Connecticut.  He died after a brief illness. The next event, which I really remember, was the solution to an ATS antenna temperature problem.


INTELSAT VI and the COMSAT Technical Review—Jack Fisher

Comsat was created by the Communications Satellite Act of 1962 and led an interesting and tortuous life until 2000 when it merged with Lockheed Martin Global Telecommunications (LMGT).  LMGT shut down operations in December 2001. COMSAT’s story is well told in David J. Whalen’s book “The Rise and Fall of COMSAT” published in 2014.

From 1971 through 1992 COMSAT published semiannually a technical journal that contains a number of articles concerning various Hughes satellites.  These journals are available online and can be accessed at http://www.comsatlegacy.com/CTR.html  From 1990 to 1992 COMSAT devoted five journals to a description of the Hughes INTELSAT VI satellite and it operations.  These are summarized below and can be found at the link indicated above.

COMSAT TECHNICAL REVIEW Volume 20 Number 2 Fall 1990

INTELSAT VI:  The Communications System (This issue is particularly interesting as it describes the INTELSAT procurement process and the evaluation of the Hughes and Lockheed INTELSAT VI proposals.


INTELSAT VI Spacecraft Bus Design

COMSAT TECHNICAL REVIEW Volume 21 Number 2, Fall 1991

INTELSAT VI: From Spacecraft to Satellite Operation

COMSAT TECHNICAL REVIEW Volume 22 Number 1, Spring 1992

INTELSAT VI: System and Applications

INTELSAT 603 Reboost

COMSAT TECHNICAL REVIEW Volume 22 Number 2, Fall 1992



Robert K Roney–August 5, 1922 to August 4, 2017

This obituary was written by Bob’s son and daughter, Stephen Roney and Karen Dahl.

Robert K. Roney passed away in Irvine, California, on August 4, 2017, just eight hours shy of his 95th birthday. Bob was born in 1922 on a farm in Iowa, the youngest of four children. The family moved to Missouri in 1929, where he spent the rest of his childhood. He attended the University of Missouri, and received a BS in Electrical Engineering in 1944. He served in WWII in the U.S. Navy, where he worked in the radar department on the battleship, USS Washington, at the battle Okinawa. At the end of the war, he took part in his ship’s transportation of American soldiers home from Europe.

After the war, he used the GI Bill to go to the California Institute of Technology, where he received his Master’s in Electrical Engineering in 1947, and his Ph.D. in Physics in 1950. From there, he joined the Guided Missile division at Hughes, starting a thirty-eightyear career. He soon met Alice Mann of the Radar Reports group in the Radar Division at Hughes. They were married in 1951, and remained together until her death in May of 2013.  They raised their family (son and daughter) and lived in the same house in Santa Monica, California, for 53 years.

He advanced to Head of Systems Analysis and Aerodynamics department at Hughes, and then the Systems Analysis Laboratory. He was the Technical Director for the R&D Labs of the Engineering Division when they won the proposal for the Surveyor program.  He was involved in both the Surveyor and Syncom development, along with the subsequent communications satellites, made by Hughes. He became manager of the Space & Communication Division in 1968 and a company vice president in 1973. He retired in 1988 as Senior Vice-President, Corporate.

Bob also served as president of the Santa Monica Symphony Orchestra, from 1970 to 1992, and spent some time on the board of the Cal Tech Associates. Bob and Alice enjoyed traveling all over the world during their retirement years. In 2011, they moved to Regents Point in Irvine, a continuing care facility. Bob cared for Alice, who had Alzheimer’s, as they lived independently in their own villa. After Alice’s death, he continued to live independently until shortly before his own death.  Bob is survived by two children: Stephen Roney (Susan), and Karen Dahl (Wayne); five grandchildren: Sharla Hinkey (Sean), Brian Roney (Heather), Robert Dahl (Elizabeth), Jim Dahl (Jessica), and Ryan Dahl; and five great-grandchildren.

Bob is most remembered for his extraordinary intelligence and problem-solving abilities, high level of integrity, quick wit, caring heart, and loyalty. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that contributions be made to the American Cancer Society or the Alzheimer’s Association of America.

The following comment has been added by Steve Dorfman.

Bob Roney had several distinctive characteristics that made him a remarkable man: he was a brilliant scientist/engineer,  he was a sensitive and inspirational leader, he operated at the highest level of ethics and he had a great sense of humor.

Together with Bud Wheelon and Harold Rosen he helped lead the Space and Communications Group to enormous success.  Alas they are all gone now but we are all indebted to the contributions they made to our lives.