Having watched all segments of the Netflix coverage of the Challenger disaster, I concluded that there are two basic questions being covered. The first is how did they decide to launch on such a cold day in January and how did our candidate Greg Jarvis get bumped from April 1985 to January 1986.
I was down at the Cape the previous year in January 1985 prepping our first LEASAT spacecraft for launch. There was a shuttle launch that afternoon around 3 PM; it was a very cold day. The launch was a success, but recovery of the solid motors showed major leakage around the seals and almost a total burn though. I believe these photos were used in the Netflix documentary.
The Thiokol workers knew that the seals were a major problem and needed to be fixed. A design change was initiated but had not been finalized and implemented for the Challenger launch.
The movie seemed to indicate that they didn’t know the cause of failure at the time of launch. With the history of seal leakage, I was surprised when they did launch on that fateful day when there were icicles hanging from the launch vehicle.
As Steve pointed out, NASA was trying to use the shuttle for all launches. Their aggressive schedule was to launch at least two per month and up to four spacecraft per launch. Any delays by one would probably bump the launch dates for all the others to later dates (my conclusion). This would be a major cost overrun I’m sure.
Apparently, the new criteria to launch was changed from “Prove it is OK to launch” to “Prove it’s not OK to launch”. Following the disaster, the launch schedule was delayed until the mod had been authorized and implemented. As the movie points out, there were no more rocket failures after this change had been implemented.
So how did Greg get bumped to this fateful launch date? Greg was originally assigned to be on a launch in April 1985 along with our LEASAT F3 spacecraft. Senator Jake Garn was assigned to a TRW spacecraft the previous month. That one had problems and was scrubbed. He then bumped Greg because the rules allowed him to do that. Greg could have been on the next launch in September with our F4 but F3, which Jake Garn took, failed to activate properly upon deployment. Subsequent meetings with NASA personal showed F3 could be saved by installing a bypass switch around the malfunctioning switch. This did not allow Greg to ride along.
I think Greg could have taken the next flight scheduled for December but thought it would be a better choice to go with the schoolteacher, Christa McAuliffe in January and help her with her activities. I also heard a rumor that Rep Bill Nelson didn’t want to fly with Christa because she would get all the news coverage. Greg agreed to switch to the January 1986 flight and all were happy.
The Intelsat IV Spacecraft. Launch and Orbital Injection of Intelsat IV Satellites. The Intelsat IV Communications System. Volume 2 No 2 Fall 1972.
Intelsat IVA Transmission System Design J. Dicks, M. Brown Jr. Volume 5 No 1 Spring 1975
The COMSTAR Program. The COMSTAR Satellite System. Volume 7 No 1 Spring 1977
MARISAT A Maritime Satellite Communications System. Volume 7 No. 2 Fall 1977.
Intelsat IV In-Orbit Liquid Slosh Tests and Problems In the Theoretical Analysis of the Data V. J. Slabinski Volume 8 No. 1 Spring 1978.
Summary of the SBS Satellite Communications Performance Specifications G. G. Churan, W. E. Leavitt. Notes Volume 11 No. 2 Fall 1981.
Intelsat VI The Communications System. Volume 20 No. 2 Fall 1990
Intelsat VI Spacecraft Design. Volume 21 No. 1 Spring 1991.
INTELSAT VI From Spacecraft to Satellite Operations. Volume 21 No. 2 Fall 1991.
INTELSAT VI: System and Applications. Volume 22 No. 1 Spring 1992
INTELSAT 603 Reboost. S. B. Bennett Volume 22 No. 1 Spring 1992.
SSTDMA in the INTELSAT VI System. Volume 22 No. 2 Fall 1992.
Hughes Industrial Historic District (http://www.hugheshistoricdistrict.com/howard-hughes/) Includes history of Hughes Aircraft, visual tour of remaining buildings, timeline of life of Howard Hughes, Hughes H-1 Flying Boat (Spruce Goose) including video of flight, Historical Development Photos, and a bibliography
Recently I contacted Tony and asked about the preliminaries that led up to the TACSAT contract. He responded and covered a lot more ground. I thought his response merited posting on our website. Jack Fisher
As I recall, TACSAT was like any other SAMSO program. They put out pre-RFP notice in 1966 that they were interested in buying a satellite with the specs which Dick described1. Our Space Division marketing team followed the development of TACSAT specs very carefully. There was another contemporaneous procurement SAMSO was working on that we also followed carefully—the DSP ballistic missile early warning satellite. Ultimately, we had to decide which program to go after because we did not have the resources to compete vigorously for both. Having recently failed to beat TRW for both Intelsat III and a classified program for the NRO, we needed a win.
Paul Visher, our assistant division manager and Bud Franklin, our manager of Advanced Projects, chose TACSAT as the target. As Dick Brandes wrote1, they believed that the TACSAT satellite configuration was more representative of future program targets than the peculiar DSP configuration. Paul foresaw the HS318 ( our “green” program ) and the Intelsat IV programs which were to evolve shortly after the start of TACSAT in 1967. So, TRW won the DSP contract. We won TACSAT. In 1967 and 1968, even before TACSAT was launched, we used the TACSAT win as our relevant related experience.
With a large satellite configuration in hand, we beat TRW, and others, for the HS-318 and Intelsat IV contracts. These wins came just in time to prevent having to lay off the Surveyor and Intelsat II teams whose programs were ending. Even TACSAT was to end in a year. Thanks to Mr, Hyland’s foresight and faith, the bulk of these people were carried for many months entirely on company funding
Bob Roney became our new Space Division manager shortly before the wins were announced in 1968. At an all hands meeting, the day he took over, Bob informed us that our division had but a 60-day backlog. Dick Brandes and I still recall the tension felt by all in the room.
In 1970, with both programs underway, we then had enough stable business to finally become a Group, and Bud Wheelon joined us as Group Executive. The rest is history pretty much as Steve Dorfman wrote2. He, too, was limited by security restrictions to paint a complete picture. For the record, in 1972, we beat TRW again for the SDS relay satellite contract. Twenty years later, with our new HS 601 design, we were to beat TRW and GE for the AUSSAT and Navy UHF Follow-on contracts.
During the TACSAT years. In 1964, Paul Visher allocated IR&D funds for me to complete the analytical work deriving the stability rules for dual-spin satellites, Hughes Gyrostats. The next year, Bernie Burns and I built some small spinning models which were enough to convince management that the analyses were correct. Fortunately, Doctors Puckett, Roney and Adler were steeped enough in spin dynamics to agree.So, when TACSAT came along my task was to build demonstration models elaborate enough to convince SAMSO and Aerospace management. John Neer wrote about this work3.
We also hired UCLA Professor Peter Likens, to study my analyses, and to work with Dr. Tino Mingori of Aerospace to promulgate the results. When we submitted our proposal, the novelty of the design was not an issue with the technical evaluators. And, as Dick Brandes wrote, our proposal was very cost competitive because we valued the future prospects1. Peter went on to become President of Lehigh university and, later, the University of Arizona.
After we won TACSAT, I worked on both the HS318 “green” program and Intelsat IV proposals. Bill Bakemeyer was the “green” proposal manager and Al Owens was the Intelsat IV proposal manager. I was in charge of the Technical Volumes and Executive Summaries for both. The proposals were sequential, with brief overlaps, so that I could do both. I used many of the same staff. For example, Al Wittman was the principal Design Integration leader for both. The “green” program was much more demanding. It was our first entry into the operational world of satellite reconnaissance. And it was not a geostationary orbit mission. The satellite was a multi-mission vehicle carrying an electro-optical precision pointed payload and a very wide band ELINT payload with large steerable receive and downlink antennas. We also designed and built the elaborate ground data processing segments for both payloads along with the satellite command and control station. The Surveyor guys were perfect for the job.
Jim Cloud was the program manager, aided by Bill Bakemeyer, Shel Shallon, Warren Nichols, Frank Wolf and many other Surveyor veterans. Their contract performance was spectacular. The satellites and the ground segments worked as planned and it was done on schedule and pretty close to our budget. The program was still going when I retired. Intelsat IV was a relatively straightforward next generation Comsat. I then went on to manage the SDS relay satellite proposal, our “yellow” program. This time I stayed on as deputy to Roger Clapp until the first launch.
A surprise this morning—an e-mail from Belgium. It came from Franky Leeuwerck who offered to provide an image of a General Motors-Hughes stock certificate. I told him I was interested and he sent the image below.
He purchased this certificate on E-bay. Franky is a scripophilist—I didn’t know what that was either. A scripophilist is someone who collects and/or researches obsolete, antique, cancelled securities. His specialty is stock and bond certificates from companies that designed or manufactured computers (general purpose or industrial control computers or any digital programmable device) and this led to his interest in Hughes Aircraft. He operates his own scripophily blog at http://leeuwerck.blogspot.be/. He has compiled a collection of notes regarding the history of Hughes. These notes, while not complete, provide an outline of our history. I will call his attention to additional historical items of interest on our website.
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.
The seminal event that led Hughes into the space arena occurred on September 23, 1959. This was the cancellation, by the Air Force, of the North American F-108 Rapier Mach 3 long-range interceptor. The aircraft was intended to counter the threat of Soviet bombers carrying nuclear weapons. This aircraft was to be equipped with the Hughes AN/ASG-18 radar, the first airborne pulse-Doppler radar that enabled look-down shoot-down interception and an integrated fire control system. Each F-108 was to be armed with three Hughes GAR-9 Super Falcon long-range missiles. By 1959, according to Ken Richardson, these programs represented 40% of Hughes business. As a result of the F-108 cancellation Hughes laid off 20% of its employees.
No where to go from there but up! On July 9, 1960, less than a year after cancellation of the F-108, NASA awarded Hughes a contract for a competitive design study of a lunar soft lander to be known as Surveyor. Three other companies were also selected, McDonnell Aircraft, North American Aviation and Space Technology Laboratories, from the 37 companies that submitted proposals. Study reports were submitted in December. On January 19, 1961 Hughes was awarded a contract for seven spacecraft with the first to be launched in 1963. This was the very first contract that Hughes was awarded for a spacecraft design.
Harold Rosen’s account of the Syncom development effort traces its origin to the cancellation of the F-108. In June, 1961 Rosen and Tom Hudspeth demonstrated satellite communications at the Paris Airshow. On August 11 only several months later NASA awarded Hughes a $4 million contract for the development of three Syncom satellites.
Less than two years after the F-108 cancellation Hughes had contracts for two different spacecraft that would lead us into the race for space. We were on the way.