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.

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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.