$66 Million Contract For Satellites Placed by Comsat General– Hughes News October 12, 1972


Comsat General Corporation has awarded Hughes a $65.9 million contract for four advanced high-capacity satellites which will be operated by Comsat under a lease arrangement for the American Telephone and Telegraph Company.

Comsat General’s contract followed the Federal Communications Commission’s Sept. 12 approval of five U. S. domestic satellite systems, four of which will use satellites built by HAC’s Space and Communications Group

Immediately after the FCC action Comsat President Joseph V. Charyk executed the agreements calling for the first delivery in late 1975.  Vice President Albert D. Wheelon, S&CG executive on behalf of Allen E. Puckett, executive vice president and assistant general manager.

Anik-Type Family

A whole family of Anik-I type satellites is being built in S&CG with Western Union’s Westar for telecommunications and TV slated for service by next summer.  (Hughesnews Aug. 18, 1972).  The WU system was approved earlier by the FCC.

The General Telephone and Electronics Corporation and the American Satellite Corporation also had systems approved by the FCC in the Sept. 12 action.

ASC has ordered three Anik-type satellites (Hughesnews March 30), and expects them to be operational by the third quarter of 1974.

GTE has contracted with the Hughes subsidiary National Satellite Services for 10 leased channels on a 12-transponder satellite.  GTE plans a September operational dated on its domestic system to provide either 12,000 one-way voice-grade circuits, 10 TV channels or various combinations.

Comsat’s order for four spacecraft, each having twice the capacity of the Intelsat IVs, will result in these Hughes-built satellites covering the U. S. territorial limits for the decade following launch in 1976.

Although design life is seven years, S&CG engineers are eyeing the possibility of 10 years service for these advanced spacecraft.  With 24 channels compared to the Intelsat IV’s 12 and Intelsat IVA’s 20, the Comsat domestic birds will be bigger, standing about 18 feet high and weighing about 3200 pounds in orbit.

Three Antennas

To provide coverage over a third of the earth’s circumference the spacecraft will have three antennas.  Each satellite will be placed in geostationary orbit at 22,300 miles altitude and have a capacity for approximately 14,000 two-way high quality voice circuits.

Frequencies will be used in the presently allocated 4 and 6 Gigahertz bands.  Horizontally and vertically polarized transmit and receive antennas will be mounted atop the spin-stabilized body of each spacecraft.

Through the first-time application of the cross-polarization technique on a commercial satellite, the entire frequency band will be utilized twice by each satellite, thus doubling capacity and conserving limited spectrum space.

In addition, each satellite will carry amillimeter wave experimental package permitting tests and development of higher frequencies near 19 and 28 Gigahertz for possible future commercial satellite applications.

The contact signing was preceded by final negotiations between Comsat officers and S&CG’s Contracts Director Chuck LeFever, Program Manager Al Owens, Assistant Program Manager Dick Hemmerling, and Steve Parker senior contract negotiator.

Clell McKinney of HAC’s Corporate Marketing office in Washington DC provided assistance.

Further Notes—Jack Fisher

Comstar, with the Hughes designation HS-351, was based upon the Hughes Intelsat IV and IVA designs with a number of improvements.  Four satellites were built and launched by the Atlas Centaur—the first two in 1976 and the other two in 1978 and 1981—providing telephone service for ATT and GTE.  The Comstar program and spacecraft design are described in the Spring 1977 issue of the COMSAT Technical Review—see http://www.comara.org/legacy/ctr/CTR_V07-1_Spring_1977-Comstar.pdf

The fourth Comstar launched in 1981 has a very interesting history having been sold to the island nation of Tonga, a Pacific archipelago.  For an account of that history see Dwayne Day’s article in the Space Review.


Hughes donated a model of the Comstar satellite to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.  Photographs of the model can be seen at https://airandspace.si.edu/collection-objects/model-communications-satellite-comstar


INTELSAT VI and the COMSAT Technical Review—Jack Fisher

Comsat was created by the Communications Satellite Act of 1962 and led an interesting and tortuous life until 2000 when it merged with Lockheed Martin Global Telecommunications (LMGT).  LMGT shut down operations in December 2001. COMSAT’s story is well told in David J. Whalen’s book “The Rise and Fall of COMSAT” published in 2014.

From 1971 through 1992 COMSAT published semiannually a technical journal that contains a number of articles concerning various Hughes satellites.  These journals are available online and can be accessed at http://www.comsatlegacy.com/CTR.html  From 1990 to 1992 COMSAT devoted five journals to a description of the Hughes INTELSAT VI satellite and it operations.  These are summarized below and can be found at the link indicated above.

COMSAT TECHNICAL REVIEW Volume 20 Number 2 Fall 1990

INTELSAT VI:  The Communications System (This issue is particularly interesting as it describes the INTELSAT procurement process and the evaluation of the Hughes and Lockheed INTELSAT VI proposals.


INTELSAT VI Spacecraft Bus Design

COMSAT TECHNICAL REVIEW Volume 21 Number 2, Fall 1991

INTELSAT VI: From Spacecraft to Satellite Operation

COMSAT TECHNICAL REVIEW Volume 22 Number 1, Spring 1992

INTELSAT VI: System and Applications

INTELSAT 603 Reboost

COMSAT TECHNICAL REVIEW Volume 22 Number 2, Fall 1992



The HS376 Program–Dick Brandes

The HS-376 satellite was conceived on a street corner, but it didn’t become a waif. Indeed, it matured to become the most successful product lines to that point in the Space Group’s history.

In the late 1970’s (most likely 1977), two competitive procurements were scheduled in the near term. Canada’s Telesat company planned a K-Band comsat, ANIK-2. The newly formed Satellite Business Systems (SBS), a joint venture of Comsat Corp. and IBM, was planning its initial satellite purchase, also operating at K-Band. The power requirements of these satellites far exceeded what was available on the HS-333 configuration, the first Hughes product line design.

Under the leadership of Harold Rosen, a new design exploiting the large bay of the soon-to-launch Space Shuttle was being developed. This was a spin-stabilized configuration with a large circular solar panel sized to match the Shuttle bay diameter. The design was elegant in its simplicity, exploiting all the proven technology of Hughes’s many spinners, was simply deployed from the Shuttle by “rolling” it out, and was very cost-effective as a satellite and in its Shuttle occupancy, which determined launch cost. The large solar panel provided adequate power for all the relay type comsats we could foresee. Indeed, Marty Votaw , the chief engineer at Comsat Corp., declared that the Hughes design would sweep the competition for future comsats. (This configuration was ultimately used in the Leasesat Program).

As part of our pre-proposal activity. we set up a meeting with SBS management to describe and extol the merits of our design for their mission. Harold and I went to their headquarters in Washington D.C. and were pleased to see all their senior staff in attendance, including, notably their CEO. Harold gave the presentation in his usual low key, sincere, and persuasive manner.

After he finished, and the technical staff had their questions answered, the CEO gave us his view and it wasn’t at all ambiguous. He said we had developed a very clever, cost-effective design, but it wouldn’t work for SBS. Planning a system roll-out based on the Shuttle was too risky. While the Shuttle schedule fit SBS’s timeline, there was every reason to believe that NASA was being optimistic, and the schedule could slip beyond SBS’s need date. He then quoted a very large cost to SBS, in the millions , for every month of delay. We thanked him for his candor, and left the meeting feeling very chagrined.

So there we were, on a corner of K-Street, wondering out loud how to proceed in the competition. Harold was very impressed with the CEO’s estimate of delay cost. He saw no virtue in trying to change his mind about the Shuttle schedule. We had to figure a way to get more power on a satellite configured to fit on a Delta booster. Then, in a flash, he suggested constructing a second cylindrical solar panel around the basic panel, and deploying it downward once in orbit. I quickly saw that this was a superior approach to generating greater power than other schemes we had considered. (Assuming we didn’t want to jump to a 3-axis configuration). We agreed to immediately invest in an IR&D effort to demonstrate the deployment feasibility. That was accomplished well in time for the upcoming proposals. (Our return to SBS to brief the new configuration was met with nods of approval).

So we had a solid Delta based design which could also be launched from the Shuttle using the McDonnell Douglas Payload Assist Module (PAM). It was given the model number HS-376. But we still had to develop a strategy to win the competitions which would be strongly contested by others, notably RCA.

We looked at the future market for the HS-376 and saw a large number of potential sales. We figured to be non-competitive if we tried to recover the non-recurring costs in any one program. So an approach was taken to divide the non-recurring cost over three procurements, ANIK-C, SBS, and a TBD from a grab bag of future possibilities.

Selling this risky approach (what happens if we won only one of the competitions?) turned out to be not too difficult Alan Puckett was somewhat a riverboat gambler.

Our gamble paid off. We won both awards within weeks of each other. We ran the programs out of a joint program office to maximize efficiency. Alas, as in many other cases, we underestimated the nonrecurring costs significantly. The nut we had to recover in the future grew by tens of millions of dollars. And, of course, there was a lot of red ink on the table which Puckett was hardly pleased with.

But the HS-376 turned out to be a technical success pleasing our customers. We had to make it a commercial success. And we did. We almost ran the table on future procurements, winning programs for AT&T, Western Union, Canada’s ANIK-D, Galaxy, Mexico, Indonesia, and Brazil among others. In a few years we had delivered a return on investment (ROI) in excess 30%. So the idea born on a Washington street corner lived a good life.