SCG’s Tom Hudspeth Celebrates the Common Sense of Inventing: SCG Journal June 1984—Transcribed by Faith MacPherson

Hyland Award Winner’s Reaction: “Happy…I Felt Like a Lucky Fool!”

Tom Hudspeth didn’t set out to be an engineer. “In high school I was really interested in bacteriology,” he confessed recently. “I wanted to be a scientist when I grew up, but that didn’t seem practical. So I became an engineer.   I was handy at making things work…it seemed like a good way to make a living.”

“A living,” indeed. Judging from the Technology Division senior scientist’s 43-year career in radio electronics as an engineer, renowned inventor, and innovator, Tom Hudspeth has made more than just a living. Certainly Hughes, the firm with which he has been associated for the past 38 years, sees it that way. For when the 1984 recipients of the Lawrence A. Hyland Patent Awards, the company’s most prestigious recognition for inventors, were announced recently, Tom Hudspeth’s name was among them – again.HudspethTwo-Time Winner

Since the Hyland honors were inaugurated by Hughes in 1968, Hudspeth is only the second inventor to be so recognized twice. James Ajioka of Ground Systems Group also is a two-time award winner.

The award is named for former Hughes Chairman of the Board Lawrence A. “Pat” Hyland, who headed the company from 1954 until his retirement in 1980.

Helped Birth Syncom

During the recent award dinner held to honor the five 1984 Hyland awardees, Hughes Chairman and Chief Executive Dr. Allen Puckett cited Hudspeth for his trail-blazing achievements in the field of satellite communications. As Dave Brown, SCG’s manager of Technical Operations, put it recently, “It’s fair to say that Tim Hudspeth is one of the small handful of people whose engineering genius is directly responsible for the seed of what today is a multibillion-dollar-a-year industry, one of the fastest-growing segments of aerospace – communication satellites. Without Hal Rosen (SCG vice president, Engineering), Don Williams, and Tom – working together and with other company space pioneers – it’s doubtful whether geosynchronous spacecraft, let alone Hughes’ success in the market, would have come so far over the past 20 years.”

In 1968 Rosen and Hudspeth received one of the first Hyland Awards in recognition of the pioneering efforts which led to the development, by Hughes for NASA, of the first geosynchronous communications satellite, Syncom. They, along with Williams, co-invented the bird which became the first in a line of more than 120 Hughes-built communications spacecraft.

‘Prolific Inventor’

Hudspeth hasn’t rested on his laurels. Since Syncom he has cogitated his way to 18 patents, all inventions related to his work on high frequency communications systems. The most recent patent, issued this past January, was for a diplexer – an elegant amalgam of microwave “plumbing” used on the HS 376 Westars, Galaxy, Palapa-B birds, and Telstar 3 – which simplifies the antenna subsystem by allowing one dish simultaneously to handle transmit and receive frequencies.

“Judging on patent alone, Hudspeth is one of the most prolific inventors in the Group,” Brown stated. His overall impact on space communications goes far beyond that, however. Every Hughes satellite ever orbited has carried one or more devices or electronic innovations devised by Hudspeth. Examples of Hudspeth-inspired hardware include:

  • the omnidirectional bicone telemetry and command antenna, standard equipment on all Hughes spacecraft since Intelsat II;
  • phase converters used to simplify feed networks of the original HS 333 satellite line, and a technology being incorporated into the Group’s new low-cost HS 399 satellites;
  • a small, simple waveguide switch, developed for the Comstar satellites, from which he derived a similar, though much more complex switch to reshape the regional microwave “footprints” on the big Intelsat VI birds, now under development;
  • and, possibly most important, squareax – a method of designing and building microwave feed networks in “printed circuit board” fashion for economy of space in a satellite’s communications payload, and for efficiency and reliability in operation. “In our current competitive and increasingly complex multifeed horn spacecraft antenna systems, the critical need to shape, switch, power divide, and test a multiplicity of antenna beams has been successfully met by Tom’s inventions of squareax transmission line switches, hybrids, crossings and adapters,” Brown said.

Old ‘Solder Jockey’

The man who’s the center of all the fuss demurs at the superlatives. Tom Hudspeth terms most of his inventions “dumb little ideas that seemed to come naturally to me…many important problems don’t require great subtleties in their solutions. Getting the decimal point in the right place sometimes does the trick,” he said, grinning. When he heard that he’d been selected for the Hyland Award a second time, “I felt like a lucky fool,” he remembered. He pointed out that “there are people around here doing tremendous things, with great subtleties, imagination, and elegance. I could never hope to come up to their level.”

It is perhaps both a mark of the man, and the esteem I which he is held by those who’ve known him for years, that such remarks are considered characteristic of Tom Hudspeth. He attributes his brainstorms to “common sense,” his success to “dumb luck.” ‘I’m just an old solder jockey,” he cracked. Perhaps. But if so, he’s an extremely talented solder jockey.

Hudspeth’s 18 patented inventions are by no means the totality of his brain trust. Over the years he has written 44 patent disclosures. A disclosure is a description of an invention which provides the basis for a patent application. Tom has four patents pending in the U.S. Patent Office.

Impact on Programs

While it’s difficult to estimate the dollar value of his contributions during the past 16 years, every Group program, according to Brown, has felt the impact of Tom Hudspeth’s inventions. This impact manifests itself in the performance and reliability of his brainchildren.   None have ever failed in orbit – a remarkable circumstance when one considers that perfect performance for 10 years or more is a standard requirement. In turn, the success rate in space translates into success for Hughes’ satellite business: Beginning with Intelsat I and including defense programs through 1983, Hughes satellite sales total nearly $3.8 billion.

He’s considered a valuable resource, not only by SCG but by other Hughes organizations as well. SCG’s Murray Neufeld, who has known Hudspeth for years, said, “Whenever somebody over at Ground Systems Group has an antenna problem, they call Tom.”

As part of his Hyland Award recognition, Hudspeth received a $5000 honorarium and a commemorative plaque.


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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.