2. Space Exploration Opportunities 1965-1975–Will Turk and Jack Fisher

In the early 1960’s the Hughes Space Systems Division (SSD) was organized around the NASA JPL Surveyor Program led by Dr. Stoolman and the NASA GSFC Syncom/ATS Programs under the leadership of Dr. Rosen and his key managers Al Owens, Bill Bakemeyer and Ed Marriott. As the Syncom and ATS Programs matured, their new business teams continued the process of identifying opportunities within both the Intelsat organization and NASA.

The Surveyor spacecraft was being developed for the NASA JPL in support of the lunar exploration program.     Dr. Rosen’s team was focused on completing the development of the first ATS 1-3 spacecraft which was successfully placed in orbit in December of 1966. Ed Marriott was responsible for the evolving opportunities within the scientific community including the NASA Goddard (GSFC) scientific, meteorological and earth resources programs. The Division was also responsible for the evolving operational weather satellites in planning at the NOAA, the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Japanese Space Agency NASDA.

Both Steve Dorfman and Steve Petrucci joined Ed Marriott in the search for new business, tracking opportunities in planetary and earth exploration, meteorology and earth resources procurements. The business plan laid out by Ed Marriott called for the focusing on the meteorological opportunities evolving from the ATS 1-3 successes.   Winning the Synchronous Meteorological Satellite ½ and plans to compete for the follow-on for the future first Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES A,B,C) was given high priority.

With the formation of the Space and Communications Group (S&CG) in 1970 Dr. Bud Wheelon moved from his corporate position as Vice President of Engineering to take the leadership role with Dr. Roney and Paul Visher as his deputies.

2.1 Campaigns 1965 – 1967

The Synchronous Meteorological Satellites

The NASA/NOAA, ESA, and the Japanese Space Agency were developing plans to place meteorological satellites into synchronous orbit to provide complete cloud coverage of the Earth. Two key opportunities were available to Hughes. First the SMS follow-on to the ATS on orbit experiments and second the Japanese Geostationary Meteorological Satellite (GMS). Steve Dorfman and Pat Dougherty focused on the SMS that was the first competition.   Steve Petrucci was responsible for the competition for the GMS in the 1967/8 time period.

European Space Agency Earth Science Mission

The European Space Agency (ESA) was conducting a competition for an Earth based scientific mission ‘Thor Delta 1/2” in the summer of 1966 . Two major competitors were vying for the ESA contract. The Hughes SSD was teamed with British Aircraft Corporation (BAC).   The primary proposal was formulated in a proposal bullpen located in a high rise behind the International Hotel on Century Blvd. After a four week effort a smaller team flew to Europe and met at BAC to complete the proposal. this proposal team was led by Steve Dorfman and Steve Pilcher. We jointly designed a 3-axis stabilized scientific satellite with our European team from BAC and with Messershmitt Boelkow (MMB) responsible for the attitude control subsystem. Overseeing the control systems engineering was an exciting opportunity technically and the opportunity to spend several weeks in Munich with MMB and at BAC in Stevenage, England was quite an experience.   The team that Steve Dorfman brought to England also included Andy McClellan, Virginia Norwood and Will Turk. Probably one the most memorable events during the stay which occurred over the July 4th period was the Colonial Day Cricket match inspired by both Dorfman and Pilcher. The whole team participated in a wonderful international exchange.

While the competition was spirited, several months later BAC informed us that our team had not been selected.

Introduction to NASA Science Missions

In 1967 Steve Petrucci led a team to bid on the GSFC Atmosphere Explorer (AE) Program follow-on. An objective of the AE Satellite was to dip down into the Earth’s ionosphere and magnetopause to take critical scientific measurements. The spacecraft was despun to align the scientific instruments along the satellite’s velocity vector for the short period of time as the satellite passed through the magnetosphere at the perigee of a highly elliptic sun synchronous orbit. This was an opportunity to apply our spin stabilization technology derived from Syncom to a special scientific mission   We won one of the two competitive studies and Perry Ackerman was chosen to lead the effort to unseat RCA for the follow on Program. Members of the team included Will Turk and John Stivers in Systems Engineering, Jim Wensley heading thermal design, Bob Meese overseeing the propulsion, and John Radecki in charge of the power subsystem. This was a fascinating mission incorporating a Delta class spin stabilized satellite with a unique set of requirements. While we fell short on our bid for the development program SSD gained a considerable amount of experience in dealing with both low altitude missions and the GSFC scientific satellite management as our bid for the Orbiting Solar Observatory overlapped the AE competition.

        Winning a competitive study from GSFC was rewarding for all who participated….losing the development program in 1968 was a surprise to many.

2.2 A New Chapter—The Space and Communications Group (S&CG)

Organization Structure Changes

With the creation of S&CG under Dr. Wheelon in 1970 the prime business centers became the Defense Systems, Commercial Systems and NASA Systems Divisions.

The NASA Systems Division, managed by Ed Marriott and later by Harvey Palmer and Steve Dorfman, saw continual evolving opportunities in Earth Resources, Meteorological and Scientific Satellites as well as planetary sciences and missions at the Ames Research Center (ARC) and Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL). Ed Marriott and Steve Dorfman initially saw NASA GSFC as a major focus. Building on the excellent customer experiences with the Synchronous Communications Satellite (Syncom) and the Applications Technology Satellite (ATS) the programs such as Atmosphere Explorer (AE), Orbiting Solar Observatory (OSO), Synchronous Meteorological Satellite (SMS), and the Landsat (formerly called Earth Resources Technology Satellite) were all viable targets for Hughes technology and expertise. The planetary exploration programs overseen by Ames Research Center and the Jet Propulsion Labs also provided significant opportunities.

2.3 Key Campaigns 1968 – 1974

Planetary Exploration and Pioneer Venus

With the formation of the NASA Division under Ed Marriott in 1970 Steve Dorfman assumed responsibility for new business activities. A very interesting opportunity arose with JPL’s efforts for a mission called the Grand Tour. A Caltech graduate student, Gary Flandro, working at JPL had discovered that a particular alignment of the outer planets in the late 1970s would allow a spacecraft to fly by Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto, in turn, using the JPL-discovered technique of “gravity assist.” That this alignment occurred only every 175 years lent a degree of urgency to the mission. JPL was promoting this mission to be flown with a Thermoelectric Outer Planets Spacecraft, TOPS, and was seeking industry involvement in the design and construction of this spacecraft. Steve initiated an effort to track this activity to prepare for an eventual proposal effort.

Jack Fisher joined Steve’s activity and conducted preliminary analyses of spacecraft requirements including data storage, power and RF link assessments. He also traveled to JPL a number of times to meet with Ron Draper, JPL’s prospective systems engineer, to better understand JPL’s plans. This mission was to be included in NASA’s 1973 budget, however the priority at the time was the Shuttle, so TOPS didn’t make the cut. It was later resurrected as Mariner Jupiter Saturn with two JPL-built spacecraft launched in 1977 that successfully completed flybys of the planets Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune.

Fortuitously another planetary mission appeared on the Hughes horizon just at this time. Due to science interest in the planet Venus NASA Goddard Space Flight Center instigated several studies of a Venus probe mission. Industry supporting studies were done by AVCO. In 1968 an in-house study at Goddard investigated small planetary orbiters utilizing the Delta launch vehicle again supported by AVCO. The resulting mission was called the Planetary Explorer. In 1969 the two missions were merged with the concept of a common bus spacecraft for the two missions. Missions for the Venus launch opportunities in 1975, 1976/77 and 1978 were considered.

The science community came onboard the bandwagon in 1970 with the publication of a report recommending Venus exploration with a low cost Delta launched spin stabilized Planetary Explorer performing atmospheric probe, orbiter and lander missions. Towards the end of 1970 it became obvious that NASA approval for a new-start 1975 mission was not a possibility. Plans were then directed towards a dual-launch multiprobe mission in 1976/77 and an orbiter mission in 1978. Goddard spent the most of the year 1971 completing their studies and preparing a project plan. In November 1971 NASA discontinued the Planetary Explorer program at Goddard and transferred the effort to the Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California. The program then became known as Pioneer Venus.

Ames was well prepared to handle this assignment as they had a proven project team in place, headed by Charlie Hall, who had successfully completed four Pioneer interplanetary missions, and was engaged in preparing to launch two Jupiter flyby missions. Ames organized a study group to review earlier studies and prepare recommendations for a system definition effort. The mission plans remained unchanged with a multiprobe mission in 1976/77 and an orbiter in 1978.

Steve Dorfman assembled a team and began to analyze these Venus missions. Although some early studies with AVCO had been done it was decided to team with General Electric for the upcoming study and eventually the program. In March 1972 an RFP was issued for system definition studies and parallel contracts were awarded in October to Hughes/General Electric and TRW/Martin Marietta. This was a time of intense effort. There were many trips to the Ames facilities in Mountain View. Most trips were just for one day flying from LAX to San Jose with a flight time of less than an hour. The PSA fare at that time was just $13. The studies continued through July 1973 when the final reports were issued. The Hughes report consisted of 15 volumes as listed below with the principal author:

Vol. 1 Executive Summary—Steve Dorfman

Vol. 2 Science—Lou Acheson

Vol. 3 Systems Analysis—Jack Fisher

Vol. 4 Probe Bus and Orbiter Spacecraft Studies—John Bozajian

Vol. 5 Probe Vehicle Studies–Leo Nolte/Dave Stephenson

Vol. 6 Power System Studies–Howard Prochaska

Vol. 7 Communication Subsystem Studies–Dave Newlands

Vol. 8 Command/Data Handling Subsystem Studies—Don Vesely

Vol. 9 Attitude Control/Mechanisms Subsystem Studies—Arnold Neil

Vol. 10 Propulsion/Orbit Insertion Studies—Bernie Rosenstein

Vol. 11 Launch Vehicle Utilization–Bob Varga

Vol. 12 International Cooperation

Vol. 13 Preliminary Development Plans—Marv Mixon

Vol. 14 Test Planning Trades—Don Pedretti

Vol. 15 Hughes IR&D Documentation

By the conclusion of these studies it became apparent to NASA that funding for a 1974 start was not in the offing and the Multiprobe mission slipped to 1978. Also during this period NASA decided to use the Atlas Centaur for both missions rather than the Delta. NASA issued holding contracts to both teams funded through December to study these modifications.

On February 1, 1974 NASA announced that the Hughes/GE team had been selected for negotiation leading to a contract for the Pioneer Venus spacecraft. On May 1 a contract was awarded for non-hardware activities and negotiations through October. The Hughes project team spent two full weeks with Charlie Hall and his team pouring over the NASA specification line-by-line. At the time it seemed very tedious, but with hindsight it was a very smart way to come to agreement on the contract specification. The final contract award was made on November 15 with a start date of December 1, 1974.

          Hughes was awarded the contract for this very challenging mission. Steve Dorfman led this campaign from the beginning and with the award of this important program in 1974 took on the responsibility of managing it with a team including John Bozajian, Leo Nolte with Jack Fisher heading systems engineering. Mal Meredith joined the team after the launch of OSO. Both the orbiter and multiprobe were launched in 1978 and successfully completed their missions. The multiprobe, large probe and three small probes all successfully entered the Venusian atmosphere while the orbiter continued to operate in orbit until 1992. The success of these missions led to capture of the Galileo probe in 1978.

 Synchronous Orbit Meteorological Satellite (SMS)

         The success of the meteorological experiments carried aboard the Hughes ATS-1-3 satellites led to NASA’s development of a satellite specifically designed to make atmospheric observations. In the early seventies study contracts for the development of the SMS-1 and SMS-2, operational prototypes, leading to launches in 1974 and 1975. SMS-1 and -2, and GOES-1-3 were essentially identical. The SMS satellite was to be the first operational spacecraft to sense meteorological conditions from a fixed location. They carried instrumentation for visible and international remote imaging, collection of data from automated remote platforms, relay of weather products (WEFAX), and measurement of a number of characteristics of the near space environment. Steve Dorfman and Pat Dougherty headed the proposal and study program.

The principle instrument on board was the Hughes Santa Barbara Research Center (SBRC) developed Visible Infrared Spin Scan Radiometer (VISSR) which provided day and night imagery of cloud conditions. The satellite had the capability to monitor cataclysmic weather events such as hurricanes and typhoons continuously, relay data from over 10,000 surface locations into a central processing center for incorporation into weather prediction models, and to perform facsimile transmission of processed images and weather maps to WEFAX field stations. In addition, a Space Environment Monitor (SEM) and Data Collection System (DCS) similar to those on the NOAA polar orbiters were installed. SMS-1 was placed in a geostationary orbit directly over the equator at 45o W longitude (over the central Atlantic). This location provided continuous coverage of the central and eastern US and the Atlantic Ocean.

        This study award continued our leadership in the stationary orbit meteorological satellite business….however we lost the bid for NOAA’s first operational Metsat GOES A,B and C.   It would take a number of years before we would compete for and win the follow-on GOES DEF Contracts.

 Japanese Geostationary Meteorological Satellite – GMS

Japan’s Geostationary Meteorological Satellite (GMS) system was originally developed by NASDA relying heavily on the NOAA GOES design and is jointly managed by NASDA and the Japan Meteorological Agency. Japan’s NEC Corporation was the Prime contractor for this program. The major Earth-oriented instrument is the Visible and Infrared Spin Scan Radiometer (VISSR), used to obtain visible and infrared spectrum mappings of the Earth and its cloud cover with a specially designed optical telescope and detector system. Steve Petrucci’s team heavily borrowed from the work at Hughes competing for the SMS. Louis Fermelia joined Steve as head of systems engineering.

         Hughes were awarded the program by NEC and launched the first of the GMS spacecraft in 1977.  

 Orbiting Solar Observatory

The NASA Systems Division also saw the Orbiting Solar Observatory (OSO) as an opportunity in 1970. Objectives of these satellites were to obtain data to better understand the region between the disk of the sun and its atmosphere. This relatively narrow region where the chromosphere and corona meet is a region with certain peculiar properties. This would require an unprecedented pointing accuracy of just several arc seconds. Accordingly a program office was established in April headed by Ed Marriott and Marv Mixon to prepare a proposal for OSO. The NASA requirements specified a Delta launch into an orbit at an altitude of 340 miles and inclined at 33 degrees to the earth’s equator. The satellite’s design life was to be one year.

This was an opportunity to apply Hughes’ dual spin satellite technology to achieve the critical solar measurements for this important scientific mission. The OSO platform consisted of a sail section, which pointed two experiments continually toward the sun, and a wheel section, which spun about an axis perpendicular to the pointing direction of the sail. Five experiments were integrated into the platform. Attitude control was provided by gas jets and a magnetic torquing coil that performed attitude adjustment. Pointing control permitted the pointed experiments to scan the region of the solar disk in a 40 by 40 arc-min to 60 by 60 arc-min raster pattern.

The effort to design, build and launch OSO was led by Dick Bentley and Marv Mixon. John Bozajian was responsible for the vehicle design; Fred Hummel and Lynn Grasshoff had the attitude control system assignment, particularly difficult because of the pointing accuracy requirements; Chuck Agnew was responsible for the complex telemetry and command system, and Mal Meredith was responsible for the system engineering.

Only one spacecraft, OSO 8, was built and launched in 1975. The spacecraft operated for 3 years well in excess of the design life requirement. OSO proved to be the only low altitude satellite program that S&CG ever built. The focus of the company became geostationary and highly elliptic orbit missions.

Multi-Spectral Sensor for Landsat 1-3

The Multi-Spectral Sensor program was being pursued separately by the Hughes subsidiary, Santa Barbara Research Center (SBRC). SSD played a supporting role initially. The Multi-spectral Scanner System (MSS) was an experimental payload originating from an unsolicited proposal and using a less familiar “scanning” technology to acquire images. After a major proposal SBRC was awarded the contract to supply the NASA GSFC with three instruments for the Landsat missions. Plans for the multi-sensor Earth Resources Technology Satellite later called Landsat were being formulated and a 4-band instrument was being planned to be deployed on the satellite. The SBRC had a high degree of expertise in sensor technology and used it to demonstrate its abilities to achieve the scientific needs of the community to measure the spectral range of the earth for the purposes of allowing land managers and policy makers to arrive at knowledgeable decisions about our natural resources and the environment. Art Gardner was the lead at SBRC while Virginia Norwood was on the SBRC/SSD support team to interface with the science community and the NASA.

Two months before the launch of Landsat 1 in 1972, engineers from Hughes took their engineering model of the Multi-spectral Scanning System to Yosemite National Park, set it up on Glacier Point and took a spectacular and memorable picture of Half Dome from 2.5 miles away. The following comments taken from the NASA Landsat history illustrates some of the impediments that had to be overcome: “As the then-Landsat 1 Ground System Manager Luis Gonzales explained, no one knew if the spaceborne MSS would successfully produce a digital image. As the first civilian scanner to orbit Earth, could the MSS, traveling at such a high velocity, write out its binary data in real-time? Its scan mirror whirred back and forth at the then amazing rate of 13 times per second (13.62 Hz frequency with imaging occurring only in the forward scan direction), creating a loud buzz that made an impression on every engineer and scientist who visited Hughes during the MSS fabrication. John DeNoyer, the USGS liaison to NASA for Earth-Observation Satellites at the time, compared the scanner noise to that of a hammer mill. Hughes staff assured the visitors that no one would hear it in space.”

      “Reviewing the original MSS proposal, NASA geologist Paul Lowman thought, “this crazy thing vibrates 16 [sic] cycles a second; the moving parts will never work.” NASA engineers, USGS scientists, and many others involved with the project where naturally surprised when they saw the excellent quality of the data after launch. Virginia Norwood and her team at Hughes who built the MSS, however, were not surprised. Having seen the space-acquired MSS imagery, Lowman conceded, “I was dead wrong.”

      This program established Hughes as a viable supplier of this very important technology and served as the basis of our future MSS follow-on award and the win of the Thematic Mapper in the late 1970s.




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About Jack Fisher

Jack was a systems engineer at Hughes from 1961 to 1992. He contributed to various programs including Surveyor, Pioneer Venus, Galileo, Intelsat VI and innumerable proposals. He was the manager of of the Spacecraft Systems Engineering Lab until his retirement. Upon retirement Jack taught systems engineering at a number of national and international venues.

1 thought on “2. Space Exploration Opportunities 1965-1975–Will Turk and Jack Fisher

  1. I was a little disappointed that Webb Howe, from whom I solicited help for the scan mirror , was not mentioned in the discussion of Landsat. I described our need to him and In about three months he came back with his unique design. The scan mirror hit a stop at the end of each scan line and drifted back at an almost constant rate.. This enabled the mapping of a 185 km swath of the earth in each orbit. Having that linearity greatly simplified the reconstruction of the image with perfect registration of the five spectral bands. I was told later by NASA that that was the first space instrument to use digital encoding for very accurate reconstruction of the images.

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