3. NASA Systems Division Campaigns, 1975-1979—Will Turk

3.1 Introduction

The NASA Systems Division business center had a broad set of objectives and opportunities in early 1975. The Division’s success in again becoming part of NASA’s exploration programs opened new horizons and opportunities for the Group. Steve Dorfman became the Pioneer Venus campaign manager in 1972 and ultimately the Program Manager for the Pioneer Venus Program in 1974.   As a result Harvey Palmer, NASA Division Manager, was looking for help to extend the earlier successes in the Planetary Sciences, Earth Resources and Weather Observation sensors and systems. At that time S&CG was already under contract to deploy the Japanese Meteorological Satellite (GMS), a program led by Steve Petrucci. Steve’s thrust was to parlay our GMS experience into the future opportunities at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), then planning for the USA’s first operational Geosynchronous Orbit Environmental Satellite (GOES).

Harvey got his wish fulfilled.   Dr. Wheelon made two additions to the NASA Systems Division in early 1975. Will Turk was brought in to manage the Advanced Programs and several months later Dick Jones was made Harvey’s deputy.   Jacque Johnson and Hap LaReux were responsible for Division Marketing and Contracts respectively. The new business management team took on the task of expanding the NASA Division’s business over the next 5 years to new heights with many successes. Dick took the Division helm after Harvey’s retirement in 1979

The material that follows is my recollection of the major thrusts that were undertaken to evolve and expand our businesses over a very active 5-year period.   I have chosen to describe the campaigns in a more or less sequential time manner and will let those involved in the actual developments provide the details of their specific programs separately. The NASA Division team all made major contributions towards evolving our satellite, spacecraft, probe and sensor businesses.

3.2 Business Objectives

The Earth Observation and Planetary Exploration customers within the NASA included several key organizations: Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC), Ames Research Center (ARC), and Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL). During this period we extended our NASA customer base to include communications projects at the Lewis Research Center (LeRC) and the Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC).

In the Meteorological Satellite arena the customers included the NOAA, DoD, and NEC of Japan.   It was our objective to re-kindle our relationships with NASA in the area of communications technology as well as subsystem development. From a business point of view, we chose to follow the near term STS Shuttle Ku Band communications needs and to develop advanced communications opportunities with LeRC. Finally, we made it our business to continue to provide excellence in space sensors, a variety of earth orbiting satellites as well as planetary probes and spacecraft.

Having developed the first prototype Multi-Spectral Sensor (MSS) in 1970 for the GSFC’s Landsat, (earlier called the Earth Resources Technology Program), we had a great deal of understanding and experience with respect to measuring the spectral characteristics of the Earth. The images collected from the three instruments on Landsat were used in agriculture, cartography, forestry and geology.   The first Landsat was launched with the Santa Barbara Research Center (SBRC) MSS 1 in July 1972. The follow-on MSS-2 and 3 were placed under the joint management of the S&CG/SBRC. A sole source follow-on was expected in 1976. The GSFC had been developing the technology and specifications for a much improved sensor, the Thematic Mapper [TM]. With the maturity of the MSS Program, NASA was preparing the RFP for the Landsat earth observation system which would include the TM and MSS-D. Targeting this procurement was a natural path for the Hughes S&CG and SBRC team. It was a larger step for us to make the decision to compete for the Landsat Spacecraft, the vehicle that would house the TM.

This Landsat technology was different from current Hughes spin-stabilized spacecraft technology in that it took us into a class of low-altitude body-stabilized satellites that were better suited for Earth observation missions. GSFC was planning to introduce the Multi-Mission Modular Spacecraft (MMS) that fundamentally incorporated pre-designed spacecraft subsystems modules and a mission-peculiar structure to support the specific scientific missions payloads and communications package. Their objective was to use this bus for a whole array of planned low-altitude scientific satellite missions. The Technology Division was considering bidding on the Attitude Control Module for the independently procured MMS.

The NOAA had spent years developing the low altitude TIROS/Nimbus weather satellites while the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP ) served the DOD customer.   S&CG was about to launch the first Japanese Geostationary Meteorological Satellite (GMS ) and a sole source follow on was expected in mid 1977. The major opportunity on the horizon was the competition for the follow-on to the NOAA’s Synchronous Meterological Satellite (SMS) , the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite system (GOES).   This was also a natural follow on to the GMS activity and we were prepared to compete for this very important part of the weather observation business. The Visual Infra-red Spinning Sensor Radiometer VISSR was to be procured separately from SBRC and integrated into the GOES spacecraft.   In parallel we continued our advanced efforts to internally explore alternative means of collecting weather data using microwave radiometry. That instrument was key to the upcoming GSFC Stormsat mission studies which we believed could lead to expanding our foothold into systems that provided for improved weather forecasting.   To that end we also made a significant effort to bid for the advanced microwave radiometer procurement planned for the DMSP.

Having recently been awarded the Pioneer Venus Orbiter and Multiprobe, we planned to expand our business by being a major supplier to NASA for planetary missions.   We had made attempts to participate in the Voyager and Viking activities but hadn’t had a major success until the award for the Pioneer Venus.   The next program on the horizon was the Galileo Jupiter Orbiter/Probe, We put a major emphasis on being part of that effort by supporting Ames and JPL during the preliminary definition phase of the mission with a variety of viable spacecraft and probe designs.

Finally, not since the Syncom/ATS Programs had we conducted advanced communications studies or programs with NASA. With the development of the Space Shuttle, the opportunity to provide the Space Shuttle communications relay link to the TDRSS network unfolded. The Ku-Band Comm/Radar procurement was being planned for 1978. We teamed with the Hughes Radar Systems Group to develop and compete for this important subsystem that was part of the Space Shuttle Program under development at Rockwell International.

Along the way we saw several new NASA/NOAA opportunities in which we chose to participate in. Many of them won’t be recognized because of their size or little notoriety, others never made it into the governments budget for development. A list of Campaigns and lead engineers follows: For example, we looked at the Venus Orbiter Imaging Radar (VOIR)-Andy Parks, Out of the Ecliptic Observatory, the Solar Polar Mission-Uldis Lapins, Halley Comet Flyby, Ion Drive Interplanetary Spacecraft-Jerry Molitor, Solar Sail, Tethered Satellites-Tony Lauletta, Lunar Polar Orbiter, Mars Polar Orbiter/Penetrator, Seasat B, StereoSat , the Spinning Solid Upper Stage (SSUS)-Len Bronstein, MLA Sensor-Ed Harney and a Laser Communication Study. Outside of NASA we tracked the FAA’s Aerosat, and created several Syncom 4 applications.

3.3 Execution

The Division under Harvey Palmer through his unique style of leadership did an astounding job. In addition to those already mentioned, Jacques Johnson as head of marketing was always on top of the competition. We prepared many leading edge technology developments and studies. Our ability to meet with the right people when we were in the need of information or when we wanted to disseminate results to our customers or the scientific community was made available to us. With the base programs of GMS, MSS, and PV in hand we laid out a winning strategy for the future. The key areas we focused on were:

Technology Development

  • Ku Band Subsystem-1975
  • Thematic Mapper-1975
  • Jupiter Probe-1975
  • Microwave Radiometer Test Bed-1976-1978

Pre-Proposal Planning

  • Ku Band Subsystem-1975-1976
  • GOES DEF-1976
  • Thematic Mapper-1976-1977
  • Galileo Jupiter Orbiter/Probe-1976-1977
  • Landsat D-1976
  • 18/30 Ghz Advanced Communications Study-1978
  • DMSP Blk5D Microwave Radiometer Subsystem-1978


  • GOES DEF Proposal-1976
  • Ku Band Proposal1976
  • Thematic Mapper Proposal-1977
  • Landsat D Proposal-1976
  • 18/30 Ghz Advanced Communications Study Proposal-1978
  • Galileo Jupiter Probe Proposal-1978
  • DMSP Special Sensor Microwave Imager (SSMI) Proposal-1979

We won 6 of the 7 competitions that we entered over the 5-year period.

3.3.1 GOES Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite

          Hughes had made a significant business commitment to participate in a major way in the NOAA meteorology programs. The early ATS experiments and the pre-planning with the Synchronous Meteorological System (SMS) in the late 60’s along with the award to SBRC of the advanced geo-synchronous altitude sensor placed us in an enviable position. Steve Dorfman and Pat Dougherty made key contributions to the early planning. We were awarded the GMS program in 1973. Preparation to compete for the upcoming GOES was well underway having launched the Japanese GMS in mid-1977. Japan had been the first country to launch an operational high altitude weather satellite.   Steve Petrucci and Louis Fermelia led the program development. The primary payload for GMS and GOES was the VISSR developed by SBRC.

The GOES DEF was planned to be launched by the larger Thor Delta 3914 and would be built around an advanced version of the instrument that would include atmospheric sounding—the VAS or VISSR Atmospheric Sounder. Steve Petrucci’s team from GMS were in place and had been interfacing with the NOAA Program Office and were well prepared to compete for and win the three satellite procurement in 1977. Louis Fermelia’s systems engineering group had conducted design work prior to and during the proposal to meet the specific NOAA requirements. Our proposal team took up quarters on the 11th floor of Bldg 391 with the Advanced Programs acting as Steve Petrucci’s book bosses to develop the Technical Proposal. The team included Dana Salisbury, Tom Shoebotham, Jerry Lewis, Jason Endo, Dr. Chuck Rubin, Hugh Witt, Peter Fono, Tom Eakins, John McIntire, Bill Turner and John Smay. Marilyn Gatto of Publications was personally responsible to Harvey and was involved in seeing that this important proposal met its deadline.

Success came in 1977 when we were awarded the GOES D/E/F Program.

 3.3.2 Thematic Mapper (For Landsat 4-6)

         NASA GSFC had been preparing the design specifications for the Thematic Mapper for many years. This instrument was to provide a greater number of bands than the MSS and provide an even greater precision for the imagery. The Thematic Mapper (TM) is an advanced, multi-spectral scanning, Earth resources sensor designed to achieve higher image resolution, sharper spectral separation, improved geometric fidelity and greater radiometric accuracy and resolution than the MSS sensor. TM data are sensed in seven spectral bands simultaneously. Band 6 senses thermal (heat) infrared radiation. Landsat can only acquire night scenes in band 6. A TM scene has an Instantaneous Field Of View (IFOV) of 30 square meters in bands 1-5 and 7 while band 6 has an IFOV of 120 square meters on the ground. The TM radiometric resolution is 0-255 or 256 discrete numerical levels. The MSS instruments on both Landsat 4 and 5 also have radiometric resolutions of 0-255. S&CG was the lead organization for Hughes and the SBRC team provided the experience of the MSS and their advanced technologies to create a superior scanner. The specifications were still evolving for the instrument that was to fly on Landsat 4 and 5 around 1982.

Ed Harney was designated as the proposal manager in 1976. During the pre proposal, Ed knew well that there were issues associated with our current MSS program management and technology that would have to be overcome. However he left the details to others to sort out….his focus was on delivering a first class Thematic Mapper proposal and he did just that. With all of the preparation that went into the pre- proposal, we were quite ready to give the NASA GSFC a first class proposal and we did.

The award for development of the Thematic Mapper was made in 1978 with Roy Blanchard assigned as the initial program manager followed by Dick Jones.

 3.3.3 Multispectral Sensor MSS (for Landsat Program)

The radiometry programs at SBRC have all been successful. The MSS was first launched in 1972 and demonstrated the usefulness of measuring   Earth reflectance in 3 bands.   Hughes and particularly Virgnia Norwood were recognized by NASA for efforts in the definition of the 3 spectral band MSS. The program initially was under direction of SBRC while MSS 2 & 3 management responsibilities were transferred to SCG. Several Program Managers Art Gardner, Tony Lauletta and Ed Felkel were responsible for the development Programs. In 1976 a sole source contract was awarded to Hughes to incorporate updgrades to the MSS for the upcoming Landsat D mission.

Over the course of manufacturing and testing the MSS-3 instrument we did have some serious problems that had to be resolved. NASA GSFC’s on-site representative was adamant about the fact that the Hughes team was lax in solving many of the perceived problems…this was particularly so in the 1977/1978 period during the testing of MSS-3.   This could potentially delay the launch of Landsat 3. Recognizing that the difficulties in MSS would impact two major new business procurements, the Thematic Mapper and Landsat, Harvey Palmer made a bold decision. He temporarily closed down the Advanced Programs and assigned the whole team to help resolve the issues within the MSS Program. This was a first. The MSS was then being managed by Ed Felkel with Lee Groner as systems engineer. The apparent problem was that the MSS was in the thermal vacuum chamber and the test results were giving erroneous data relative to the expected measurements.

My assessment team included John Stivers, Ken Brinkman, Virginia Norwood, Yale Weisman from the Technology Division, and included several SBRC and Culver City engineers that were responsible for designing the instrument. We started with discussions with our MSS Program Office to get a thorough review from the team about the test program and the expected results. This was followed with updates from the on-site NASA tech to understand his many concerns. Over the period of 6 weeks the team oversaw the programs offices activities in regards to resolving some very specific issues having to do with sensor image distortions that could not at that moment be associated with the instruments design.

As the review team undertook the assignment, the program office was embarking on building a structure to isolate the MSS test support fixture from apparent noise thought to be generated by vibrations within the test facility or generated outside of the facility. Starting from scratch the Advanced Programs Team poured over the MSS design information and focused on the mirror control system. As an essential part of the instrument, mirror mechanics and electronics appeared to be a candidate for creating what appeared to be imperfect test images. With help from Hughes Culver City engineers supporting SBRC, a comprehensive review finally uncovered some very subtle problems in the control electronics. Design corrections were incorporated in the MSS and the final systems test was concluded six weeks later with total success, however the MSS was delivered late. The problems were isolated and resolved over a period of six difficult weeks. The tests were finalized successfully and the instrument delivered to the Landsat spacecraft contractor, GE, for final integration and systems testing. Landsat 3 was launched in March 1978 and was operational over 5 years although the new thermal band failed early in the mission.

While we vindicated ourselves with the local GSFC representative, we still had some difficulty in convincing the GSFC Program Office of our ability to oversee both the 7-band Thematic Mapper and the Landsat Satellite developments. With commitment of the Hughes management evident, and with the delivery of the MSS and the on-orbit success of the Landsat 3 we believed that the two-bid strategy was still viable.

 3.3.4 Landsat 4-6

The proposal for the Landsat 4-6 took place twelve months after the Thematic Mapper award. Hughes would be providing two key sensors to the Landsat contractor, the MSS-4 and TM. We felt strongly that we could put together an excellent proposal and put a major effort in place under the direction of proposal manager Jerry Farrell. Our understanding of the mission requirements was excellent and we felt that we could offer an exceptional design. Recognizing that the GSFC had completed the design and development of the Multi-Mission Spacecraft (MMS), we would have to show how effectively we could integrate the sensor suite with the MMS and include the deployable solar array and the Ku-Band communication’s tracking antenna and electronics to provide for the uploading of the scientific data to the Tracking Data Relay Satellite System (TDRSS). The Landsat satellite operates in a low altitude sun-synchronous orbit.   The greatest unknown was whether we could convince the GSFC Program Office of our ability to overcome technical issues that were occurring on MMS-3 just prior to the release of the Landsat RFP as noted in the prior discussion. Based on interactions with the customer we believed that we had mitigated all of the government’s concerns.

As things turned out we lost that competition.

3.3.5 Shuttle Ku-Band Communications/Radar Proposal

The Space Shuttle development program was maturing in 1976 and NASA was preparing the specifications for the major communications/ radar system used to transmit critical information back to mission control via the TDRSS and to track objects. The Marshall Space Flight Center was the lead NASA organization for the Shuttle Communications/Radar Program.   Norm Averech, Marketing Manager for the Technology Division and I worked with Lowell Parode from Radar Systems Group during the pre-proposal phase of the Ku-Band campaign. Our first visit to MSFC to meet with their Program Office established an excellent reference point for the future procurement. The ability to apply our direct K-band experience and hardware to meet the Shuttle’s needs were sound and opened the door for Hughes S&CG to be part of the manned space program.

The Ku-band antenna aboard the space shuttle orbiter was to be physically located within the payload bay; the payload bay doors are opened and the Ku-band antenna is deployed. The subsystem operates in the Ku-band portion of the radio frequency spectrum between 15,250 MHz and 17,250 MHz. Once the Ku-band antenna is deployed, the Ku-band system can be used as a communication system to transmit information to and receive information from the ground through the NASA Tracking & Data Relay Satellite System (TDRSS). The Ku-band antenna aboard the orbiter can also be used as a radar system for target tracking objects in space, but could not be used simultaneously for Ku-band communications and radar operations. The orbiter Ku-band system includes a rendezvous radar that skin-tracks satellites or payloads in orbit to facilitate orbiter rendezvous with them. For large payloads that must be carried into orbit one section at a time, the orbiter will rendezvous with the payload segment currently in orbit to add on the next section. The gimbaling of the Ku-band antenna permits it to conduct a radar search for space hardware. The Ku-band system is first given the general location of the space hardware from the orbiter computer; then the antenna makes a spiral scan of the area to pinpoint the target.

         This program was awarded to Hughes in 1978.

3.3.6 Galileo Probe Proposal

There were many customer meetings that Uldis Lapins and I attended to develop an understanding of the planned Galileo Jupiter Orbiter/ Probe scientific mission. Visits to Ames Research Center, the home of the Pioneer-class deep space missions, were made exploring ideas and demonstrating our commitment to be a part of this program. Uldis and his team came up with various spacecraft concepts and used our Pioneer Venus experience to create alternative probe designs. Ames was focused on a Pioneer-class mission with the Pioneer Jupiter Orbiter Probe (PJOP) while JPL was evolving their Mariner class vehicle to create a Mariner Jupiter Orbiter Probe (MJOP).

When the overall NASA management of the future program was directed to JPL in early 1976, we similarly introduced our concepts to their program office. One thing that was very apparent was that JPL’s spacecraft experience was with 3-axis stabilized spacecraft while Ames had built a number of spin-stabilized spacecraft for their missions. We chose to be bold and offer JPL a dual spin concept. The design proposed a spacecraft that incorporated all of the science, communications and bus electronics/ power on one side of spacecraft with the probe located on the opposite end of the spacecraft.   The two sides were joined through a Bearing and Power Transfer Assembly (BAPTA) that Hughes had developed for communications satellites. We took John Velman, Loren Slafer and Lynn Grasshoff to present our expertise.

For a period of time we thought that we had opened up a unique opportunity with JPL. They had a great deal of interest in our concepts, in particular an option that incorporated a Perigee Kick Motor (PKM) stage to launch from the Shuttle. They were especially focused on the intricacies of our spacecraft’s BAPTA.   In follow ups, Jim Cloud, Manager of the Technology Division was even contacted over the possibility of providing a BAPTA to JPL. By the summer of 1976 JPL had made a preliminary choice of a dual spin spacecraft as their baseline. By early 1977 they decided to build the spacecraft in-house. However, the probe would be competitively procured through Ames Research Center for a launch in January 1982.   From that point, Uldis directed the team’s Galileo Probe effort through an ever-changing set of circumstances. .

The Galileo mission evolved as a single orbiter spacecraft that also served as the transport vehicle for the Galileo Probe. Congress approved funding for the Galileo mission in 1977; in September 1978, as the Pioneer Venus spacecraft were heading towards Venus, Hughes was awarded the contract for the Galileo Probe. The mission concept was that the JPL orbiter would release the probe 150 days prior to arrival at Jupiter and receive probe data as it descended into the Jovian atmosphere and relay the data back to Earth. Hughes would design and build the probe as well as the radio relay hardware (RRH) to be mounted on JPL’s orbiter. The spacecraft, orbiter plus probe, was to be launched by the Space Shuttle and the Interim Upper Stage (IUS)(later called the Inertial Upper Stage) in January 1982 arriving at Jupiter in August 1984. This was a very favorable Jupiter opportunity as a Shuttle/IUS could launch the Orbiter/Probe to Jupiter with a single Mars gravity assist.

However, IUS development problems and Galileo weight growth delayed the mission and NASA began to consider separate orbiter and probe missions as the combined mass of the Orbiter and Probe became too great for a single launch for the next Jupiter launch opportunity. Ames Research Center prepared and released an RFP for a probe carrier as a separate spacecraft and mission from JPL’s orbiter. Hughes, along with TRW, developed carrier designs and submitted proposals. Although Hughes was selected as the winner of the competition, NASA soon determined that there was inadequate funding to complete both the Galileo Orbiter and probe carrier/probe missions and this development effort was canceled. The Galileo mission was restructured to accommodate the original plan of the combined Orbiter/Probe vehicle utilizing a Centaur upper stage modified to be compatible with the Shuttle and a launch planned for May 1986.

The loss of the Challenger on January 28, 1986 had two immediate effects on the Galileo mission—a significant delay to allow Shuttle modifications and cancellation of the modified Centaur stage and return to the IUS upper stage. Also the flight-ready probe had to be returned to Hughes and conditioned for a three-year launch delay as well as an increase in Jupiter transit time from two to six years. This required determination of expected life of the probe and resulted in the replacement of some units. This phase of the probe program was ably managed by Bernie Dagarin.

        The revised mission plan resulted in a Galileo launch on October 18, 1989, that propelled the combined Galileo orbiter and probe into the so-called VEEGA trajectory with gravity assist flybys of Venus and Earth (twice) on the way to Jupiter. The Galileo Probe was separated from the Orbiter on July 12, 1995, entered the Jovian atmosphere on December 7, 1995 and returned science data for more than 60 minutes sustaining pressures up to 22 atmospheres.

Although a number of other mission opportunities arose the Galileo probe was the last planetary program awarded to Hughes.

3.3.7 DMSP Special Sensor Microwave Imager/Sounder (SSM/I)

The initial Microwave Radiometer work at S&CG was led by Chuck Edelsohn The initial Microwave Radiometer work at S&CG was led by Chuck Edelsohn and jointly pursued by Manny Siskel and Frank Godwin of the Technology Division. The radiometer operated at 140/183 Ghz and provided atmospheric sounding measurements that were not then available to the meteorological community. Capabilities from geostationary and low altitude orbits were evaluated. There were many customer exchanges at NOAA and DoD demonstrating the technology necessary to deploy such a device on a low altitude satellite. Much of our satellite design work was based on the NASA Multi Mission Modular Spacecraft being planned for Landsat D and other missions at that time. The radiometer required deployment of a large earth pointing antenna aperture necessary to collect sounding measurements at the higher frequencies. The Stormsat mission was evolving in the scientific community as well as the GSFC Program Office.   While we had spent several years testing and designing the Microwave Radiometer for the expected Stormsat Program competition there were many delays on the decision to proceed at NOAA.

Over the same period a new opportunity was unfolding at DOD. The operational Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP) program had plans to introduce an advanced radiometer into their network of low altitude orbiting satellites. A deployable spinning Microwave Imager/Sounder RFP was in preparation and we shifted our effort to concentrate on preparing briefings and our capabilities to the DOD customer. The frequencies were lower than those used in Stormsat but our experience was directly applicable to this mission. The specifications called for a smaller spinning radiometer. We felt strongly that all of our technology would satisfy the mission specifications defined by the Navy and made a decision to focus a major effort on this procurement. Al Edgerton, who had just joined Hughes and was very familiar with the DMSP radiometer planning, and Manny Siskel led our efforts.

The SSM/I is a seven-channel, four-frequency (19.35Ghz, 22.235 Ghz, 37Ghz/85 Ghz), linearly-polarized, passive microwave radiometer (a total-power instrument configuration) that measures atmospheric, ocean, and terrain microwave brightness temperatures and are converted into environmental parameters such as sea surface winds, rain rates, cloud water, precipitation, soil moisture, ice edge, and ice age. SMM/I data is used to obtain synoptic maps of critical atmospheric, oceanographic and selected land parameters on a global scale. The archive data consists of antenna temperatures recorded across a 1400 km swath (conical scan), satellite ephemeris, Earth surface positions for each pixel and instrument calibration. The electromagnetic radiation is polarized by the ambient electric field, scattered by the atmosphere and the Earth’s surface, and scattered and absorbed by atmospheric water vapor, oxygen, liquid water and ice.

In 1979 S&CG was awarded a contract for the SSM/I Program.

3.3.8 Advanced 20/30 GHZ Communications Technology Study

Lewis Reserarch Center had initiated internal activities to develop an Advanced Communications Technology Satellite (ACTS). In the mid-70s they were particularly focusing on operating in the higher frequency bands…namely Ka-band or 20/30 Ghz and were preparing to contract for studies to support their internal efforts. Dick Jones and I traveled to Cleveland for our first exchange in mid-1977. Our purpose was to extend S&CG’s base of leading edge communications technologies by working with NASA’s development team at LeRC. Over the next year through multiple exchanges we competed for and were awarded one of several contracts to investigate the technology associated with 18/30ghz satellites. Len Bronstein led the Division’s effort.

During the period 1981-83 several spacecraft contractors including Hughes were awarded study contracts for defining an R&D spacecraft configuration. These studies by LeRC led to the definition of Advanced Communications Technology Satellite (ACTS). In March 1983 LeRC released an RFP to industry for ACTS. The only bidder was RCA Astro-Electronics with both Hughes and Ford Aerospace declining to bid. Later that year Hughes filed an application with the FCC for a Ka-band domestic system consisting of two satellites to be launched in 1988. Hughes claimed that ACTS was a duplication of the Air Force’s Milstar technology and that any technology applications should be developed by industry rather than NASA. Although nothing came of this application it set the stage for consistent Reagan administration opposition to the ACTS program despite the favorable disposition of Congress. The original launch date of September 1989 eventually slipped to August 1993 due to funding cutbacks, development problems, and other difficulties.

The ACTS, operated successfully in a geostationary orbit over 11 years and with the greater bandwidth available at Ka-band helped the satellite industry compete with fiber optic cable in the evolving broadband telecom arena.




Comments are closed.