The DirecTV Story – Space Segment – Andy Ott

The following describes what eventually became DirecTV from a Space and Communications Group (Space Segment) perspective. DirecTV was a complete system that Hughes developed, including the infrastructure required to support such a huge venture. The lynch pin was the spacecraft and its design development during a time period that both analog and digital signal processing were undergoing rapid and significant change and Hughes Corporate was also undergoing major changes. In order to understand how the Space Segment fit into the big picture, some background is needed.

Background

As with other major innovations at Hughes, Dr. Harold Rosen was the brainchild for the concept of direct to home television broadcast via geosynchronous satellites (DTV). The effort began in the late 1970’s and evolved through the early 1980’s when a small team formed in 1984 for more detailed design development and tradeoffs. The Hughes subsidiary HCI had already been formed to manage the Leasat program for the Navy, subsequently Galaxy, and it was decided to use the same subsidiary to lead the ground and business portions of DTV. The application to the FCC for direct to home satellite frequencies was approved in 1984. The first revenues were collected 10 years later with launch of the first satellite.

While the concept for DTV was evolving, SCG was launching spinning satellites, which were not a good fit for DTV due to their inherent limitation for power generation from the cylindrical solar panels. A change to a body stabilized design would not only affect every technology division but require a culture shift from the way mission operations were conducted. The spacecraft’s payload also had many new design development requirements.

HCI and SCG worked together collaboratively developing the architecture for the payload. When GM was considering buying Hughes in 1985 they needed to be convinced to spend hundreds of millions of dollars for a very speculative project; a complete system of satellites, networks, with uplink stations in Colorado, New York and California.

Rupert Murdoch was one of the potential investors in DTV and the DTV program was started under the name “Sky Cable” in 1990. When Murdoch backed out at the last minute, the result was a significant slow-down of DTV activities. Murdoch later indicated that this was probably the most significant mistake he ever made in his career. GM was unwilling to finance such a large venture unless there were several others to share in the costs and risks. The Space Segment program office was shut down but work continued on IR&D funding until the National Rural Telecommunications Consortium and E. Hubbard from Minnesota (United States Satellite Broadcasting Company) became investors at which time the DTV project was restarted under the name United States Direct Broadcast Satellite (USDBS).

While this corporate turmoil was underway, technology was undergoing rapid changes as analog signals were being replaced with much more capable digital signals. For the ground segment, digital communication techniques were developed that enabled compression and encryption of TV signals so hundreds of channels could be received by inexpensive pizza sized dishes located on consumer rooftops. The continued improvements in chip sets (Moore’s law) resulted in dramatic improvements to decompression and decryption of signals, but added complexity to validating end-to-end communications channel performance for the Space Segment.

Much has been written about the success of DirecTV, especially from a consumer perspective. The following attempts to highlight the challenges and accomplishments of the Space Segment team to this highly successful program. The Space Segment consists of the spacecraft, mission and launch control center, all software to monitor and control the spacecraft during system test and launch through on-orbit operations, an end-to-end test bed used to validate and confirm performance of the entire system. The end-to-end test bed was also subsequently used to validate performance of actual set-top boxes manufactured by many different vendors once DirecTV became a real entity.

 Space Segment Design Development, IR&D, Campaign

The conceptual design began in the late 1970’s and evolved through the 1980’s led by Dr Rosen and supported by the SCG Chief Technologists and technology divisions. Andy Ott became the Campaign Manager in 1990 and Space Segment Program Manager once the Sky Cable program started and maintained that role through launch and beginning of service via the first two spacecraft. Ed Singel was the Payload System Engineer during early preliminary design, then the actual campaign in 1990, conducting the design tradeoffs as the technology was rapidly evolving.

 Challenges

 1) A complication early was that USSBC was a competitor, not a partner, so designing a system consisting of 27, rather than 32 channels, required much coordination between Ed Singel of SCG and Bill Butterworth and John Godwin of HCI.

2) End to end RF Link design compatible with pizza sized antennas mounted to roofs of customers throughout the contiguous United States, including high rain areas.

3) Optimizing the system to focus energy in populated areas and increase power in rainy areas of the continental United States. Roof top dishes to be same size everywhere.

4) Although DTV was a major reason for Hughes to develop the 3-axis body stabilized spacecraft (HS 601), USDBS did not lead this effort but supported its development with significant spacecraft engineering expertise. It is hoped that someone near full time involved in the design effort will add an article to the blog describing that activity.

5) Developing high power (120watt) Ku Band (12.2 – 12.7 GHz) traveling wave tubes (TWTs) with power supplies (EPC’s) that enable parallel operation. These also required limiters and linearizers to maintain operation in the linear region, either single TWT or parallel combination.

6) Required very tight, precision, pointing requirements.

 The Good

1) Excellent leadership from Dr. Rosen and the Chief Technologists.

2) A collaborative environment between HCI and SCG existed though there were some exceptions explained in the next section.

3) 3-axis body stabilized spacecraft development (HS-601).

 The Bad

1) Multiple feed horns with parabolic reflectors and requirement for using the same size roof top dish throughout the U. S. coverage area made RF link closure problematical and required many different payload configuration tradeoffs.

2) High power TWTs were not available at Ku Band frequencies within the industry.

3) The high precision pointing requirements were very difficult to meet.

The Ugly

1) Who is in charge of technical S/C requirements? (See next section)

2) Uncertainty of when or if program would actually start.

Spacecraft Design Development, Manufacture, Test, Launch

 There were four potential investors when the frequency allocation was received in1984. They were Hughes, Murdoch, Malone, and Hubbard. Only Hubbard actually ended up as a non-Hughes investor, when he was guaranteed 5 of the 16 transponders on the first spacecraft to be launched. Hughes later bought him out and he did very well financially.

Challenges

 1) Recruit and maintain strong spacecraft and payload teams amidst much uncertainty while maintaining continuity through multiple starts/stops of the program.

2) Design and build the highest power level (at the time) RF transmit chain, including reflectors, feed horn, copper low loss waveguide, diplexers, filters, multiplexers, TWTAs, etc.

3) Test the spacecraft in its flight configuration with full-radiated power, including thermal vacuum.

The Good

 1) A first at Hughes was the all-female program leadership team for Sky Cable; Claire Leon as S/C Systems Engineering Lead, Michelle Glaser-Weiner as Payload Systems Lead, and Apryll Nakamura S/C Bus Systems Lead. The payload systems engineering team also included Dawn McGraw, Laurie Alexovich and Jamie Kozlevcar. Unfortunately, by the time the first spacecraft launched as USDBS, due primarily to the many stops and restarts of the program and that their talents were required elsewhere, none of them were still on the program. However, they laid the groundwork and much of the original design development that led to ultimate success. They were extremely passionate about their work. One of them opined that she was nervous about the project because if it failed for whatever reason, some would perceive it a result of the technology development and implementation being lead “by a bunch of women”. Several “outsiders” to the program referred to the Sky Cable spacecraft leadership team as “Andy’s Angels” after the Television Series Charley’s Angels. We have come a long way since those days.

2) USDBS was able to “trade for” Bruce Tomei to lead spacecraft payload system engineering. Bruce had been one of the key systems engineers on the Leasat program but was reassigned to the Canadian MSat program. He did not want to travel so was “traded” to DBS and another high quality engineer was assigned to the MSat program instead. Lessons Learned from Leasat, especially full RF power testing, were key experiences that Bruce brought to USDBS. Following USDBS, Bruce became one of the lead Payload Engineers for the Thuraya Geo Mobile Space Segment and currently is the Program Manager for current and future Geo Mobile Programs for BSS.

3) Several young engineers excelled and were spring-boarded to exceptional career growth opportunities as well from this program. The following are some examples:

4) John Sullivan joined the program to focus on the Attitude Control System (ACS). Prior to this, his most recent accomplishment was design of the shipping container for the Intelsat IV spacecraft. Not only did John excel on USDBS ACS Systems engineering, he led the development of the Unified Antenna Structure (UAS) and beacon tracking that was key for meeting the tight pointing requirements. John eventually became, and remains, a Chief Engineer for Boeing Satellite Systems (BSS).

5) Hampton Chan was a young aspiring systems payload engineer that excelled. He became one of the key Space Segment Engineers for the GeoMobile programs and when he married a young lady from Palo Alto, he moved to Northern California and shortly became a Chief Engineer at a spacecraft manufacturing company. He has further advanced his career by adding hardware, mission, and line management responsibilities.

6) Connie Goshgarian led the Unified On-station Team (UOT) developing the software products needed for test and on-station operations. She is now Vice President of Engineering at DirecTV making sure all the management levels understand reality while keeping up with the rapidly evolving technology.

7) Two of the young engineers that developed the Unified Mission Team (UMT) software products (Sam Byland and Steve Batides) formed their own software development company, MOLTEK, Inc and Sam was the lead for UMT implementation described under Spacecraft Integration and Test section.

8) There were many more exceptional talents but that would take up the rest of the article. I hope many will add comments to the blog.

9) After many tradeoffs, especially trading United States “realistic” coverage requirements taking into account population density and rain fade vs. size of the roof mounted dish antenna, we were able to close the RF Links with margin through the use of an innovative antenna and payload design.

10) SCG dual sourced the High Power Ku Band TWT’s, both under development at the time by two companies but neither qualified. When Andy Ott, Dave Lewis, and Michelle Glaser-Weiner went to France to negotiate the contract with Thomson, Andy was invited to “chat” with the CEO about direct broadcast satellites. He showed great interest and Andy believes this meeting was the first step to Thomson becoming a supplier of set-top boxes for DirecTV; in fact they produced the first ones available to the public.

11) Development of the Limiter/Linearizer enabled power combining of TWTAs and minimized the effects of adjacent channel interference while maintaining operation in the linear region and maximizing output power. Andy was requested by Howard Ozaki to prepare and present a paper at the1991 Microwave Workshops and Exhibition in Tokyo, Japan about the challenges of the linearizer/limiter SCG developed, which Andy happily did. This paper was co-authored by Michelle Glaser-Weiner and Hampton Chan, who provided the required technical expertise.

12) Hughes introduced Shaped Reflector Technology to practical application. The transmit and receive reflectors had a specially contoured surface that requires only one, rather than multiple feed horns. The composite material was so light that each 8-foot diameter transmit antenna weighed less than 20 lbs. The Beacon Tracking System integrated with the Unified Antenna Structure resulted in the most accurate pointing ever by a commercial satellite. Photogrametry techniques were used for the first time as an alternative to near-field scanning to verity the reflector shape.

13) An end-to-end test bed was developed to validate the total system (Mike Heinze was the lead for this challenging effort). It included emulated broadcast center hardware, spacecraft hardware, the propagation path, and set-top receiver hardware and software and was subsequently used to validate multiple manufacturers’ set-top box designs.

14) HS601 Spacecraft IR&D successfully transitioned to production. This was not an effort led by USDBS. I hope there will be more published on not only the technology developed but also the culture change at Hughes as a result.

The Bad

 1) Multiple program starts/stops resulted in significant changes of key personnel; talent that was difficult to replace. By the first USDBS launch, the entire Spacecraft Systems leadership team had been reassigned or had left the company.

2) The “New Look” SCG reorganization in 1992 caused significant turmoil in all operating divisions. Many REAs were fearful of losing their jobs, an unwelcome distraction during integration and test of the first USDBS spacecraft and manufacturing of the 2nd and 3rd. At an “all-hands” meeting involving 300+ SCG technical staff, Steve Dorfman (CEO at the time) made a speech about how important USDBS was to him, his grand-daughters college education, as well as all of Hughes and then singled out Andy Ott in the audience to stand. Andy blurted out “Piece of Cake” to great laughter followed by applause. This actually helped the program by giving Andy leverage within the company for key resources when multiple entities were “vying” for them.

The Ugly

1) Dr Rosen felt that DirecTV service requiring lease of telephone lines was unnecessary since SCG could provide that much cheaper via satellite link. The spacecraft team developed a design for the return link, including vendor selection, and identified real estate for mounting the electronics. HCI was very upset – Who is in charge? They called a big meeting to resolve this. Andy presented the design and HCI simply asked, “who is in charge”? Tony Iorillo (SCG CEO at the time) pointed at Andy and said “You will take direction from him (Hal McDonnell of HCI who Tony then pointed to) and if he (Dr Rosen, who he pointed to next) says anything different, you come to me (pointing at himself).”

2) SCG was approached by a camera vendor about the possibility of adding a camera to the spacecraft such that you would see real time what the earth looks like from the Spacecraft’s 101 deg longitude, essentially over Denver, with the Spacecraft 22,300 nautical miles above the equator. The camera would have two selectable views, the entire Earth with the U.S. in the center or just the continental United States. The Spacecraft had mass and power margin to implement the design but HCI was not interested.

3) Andy Ott was accused of being “un-American” because he dual sourced the 120-watt Ku Band TWT’s with Thomson of France in addition to EDD at Hughes. This turned out to be a very good decision as Thomson completed qualification well before EDD and if we had depended on EDD, we would not have made the first spacecraft launch date of December 17, 1993. Several months after the decision, the manager of EDD came to Andy and thanked him for dual sourcing the TWTs since this was used as leverage within EDD to improve their manufacturing and engineering processes.

Spacecraft Integration and Test

Spacecraft Integration and Test went relatively smoothly, especially considering the significant payload unique, first time designs and that the 3-axis spacecraft had not yet been demonstrated by flight history.

The Good

 1) It was important that USDBS be able to perform testing at full RF power levels over temperature. SCG developed special tools and facilities to accomplish this, including full power radiation testing without removing the transmit antennas and developing a field aperture probe that was installed onto the single feed of the transmit antennas. Flight hardware worked great with in excess of 1,000 watts but we managed to melt the test equipment Output Multiplexer. C’est la vie.

2) When Barry Ross and the Microwave team first showed up with an 8 foot plywood board with the special all copper waveguide mounted to it, which had many bends in all 3 dimensions, the integration team marveled how easy it was to connect this wave guide; success on the first try.

3) First use of Unified Mission Team (UMT) created database driven generic mission, in-orbit test (IOT) and on-station operations products based on the CECIL operating command language. This team, composed of USDBS, MSat, and PanAmSat program systems engineers, validated ROPs, PROCs, and operating instructions for not only USDBS but for use by subsequent programs during their mission, IOT, and on-station operations. All mission documents were combined into a single electronic document where program specific parameters could be automatically updated from data base calls, rather than the time consuming and expensive individual program approach that was used prior to the UMT.

4) A special event was organized in the large auditorium at corporate headquarters where Bill Butterworth of HCI demonstrated what DirecTV would eventually be once the system became operational. There was so much interest from SCG that three separate sessions were required, including free lunch at the cafeteria for all attendees.

The Bad

1) Too many hours spent on the job by too many dedicated Hughes employees put significant strain on their family life.

2) Rupert Murdoch was in financial difficulty and dropped out as an investor as previously described. When USDBS started up, there was a new team that needed to be recruited. Many team members from Sky Cable returned, including Andy and Bruce and the program added the very capable Mike Pucher and Mike Hersman to the leadership team (this part was “good”).

The Ugly

1) Although the UMT demonstrated their products to the System Test organization, they did not embrace this opportunity but chose to continue their existing, outdated, much less efficient, and significantly more expensive way of doing business.

Launch Operations

The HS-601 body stabilized spacecraft were designed to be launched on multiple launch vehicle types, though detailed analysis (such as coupled loads) were only performed for the planned launch vehicle. The first two USDBS spacecraft were manifested onto Ariane launch vehicles, to be launched from their French Guiana launch site in South America about 4 deg North of the equator.

The Good

1) Exceptional Thanksgiving Dinner prepared by the local French Chef from 16 turkeys and accoutrements shipped to French Guiana by SCG.

2) Successful Launch of USDBS D1 December 17, 1993 via Ariane 44L.

3) In-Orbit Test of the satellite demonstrated that it met or exceeded all performance requirements.

 The Bad (Sort of)

 1) USDBS D2 was scheduled for launch on an Ariane 42L Failure of a 42L launch prior to the scheduled D2 launch would result in many months of delay until Ariane understood the failure and resumed launches.

2) Hughes was able to negotiate a deal with Martin Marietta to launch USDBS D2 on an AC-107 Atlas IIA launch vehicle. All the required integration demonstrations, including a Coupled Loads Analysis were performed in record time such that the D2 spacecraft was launched within 5 months of the Ariane failure.

 The Ugly

 1) Some launch team members were in Kourou during Papillion Season in early November when the local butterflies shed white powder that can cause severe skin problems. Several team members had to be taken to the hospital for serious skin rash treatments.

2) The Kourou launch facility is in the jungle with lots of mosquitoes, snakes, etc, prevalent once you leave the base (some on the base as well). If you left the facilities, extreme care had to be taken to prevent problems.

3) French Guiana was originally set up as a penal colony and the French Foreign Legion maintained control. Conditions for the mostly political prisoners in several locations within the jungle were brutal. The film “Papillion” illustrates the conditions at Devil’s Island, which were much better than the other sites since it was on an island, not the jungle. The tour of the facilities is exceptional and reminds one of the inhumanity of man to man.

4) Cayenne pepper is extremely hot; do not make the mistake of trying it unless you have milk, sugar, and a fire extinguisher nearby.

 Beginning of DirecTV Service

 The first spacecraft was launched December 17, 1993 and rollout of DirecTV service began in June of 1994. D2 was launched August 3, 1994.

 The Good

 1) D1 and D2 met or exceeded all performance requirements.

2) HCI provided free “beta” set-top boxes to all HCI employees wanting them, including many that did not have anything to do with DirecTV.

3) The U.S. Space Foundation and NASA inducted both DirecTV and SCG in 2000 into the Space Technology Hall of Fame “ as an outstanding example of a commercial space-based attribute that enriches the lives of millions of people on earth”. Andy Ott, Bruce Tomei and Mike Hersman of SCG were honored to accept the award on behalf of SCG and Paul Anderson, John Godwin and James Gold accepted on behalf of HCI (DirecTV).

 The Bad (Sort of)

1) This article ends with the launch of the second USDBS in 1994, as the author was re-assigned following that launch. Andy hopes that those that were there for USDBS D3 and subsequent add to this article on the SCG Heritage blog – would be a fascinating story as technology continued to evolve.

 The Ugly

 1) Although everyone from HCI, including those not working on DirecTV, received set-top boxes, no set-top boxes were provided to the SCG employees that worked so hard to design, build, and launch the DirecTV satellites.

2) All three HS601 spacecraft met or exceeded their performance requirements BUT DirecTV decided on another spacecraft manufacturer for the next spacecraft. I hope someone from HCI, SCG, or DirecTV adds to the story for why that decision was made.

Concluding Remarks

 I realize that some of this blog could be considered controversial. I encourage comments to it with different perspectives as well as additional thoughts. I especially encourage a continuation of the DirecTV space segment and HCI story after the second launch on August 3, 1994 after which I was assigned to other assignments. It needs to be told by someone who was actually there.

Finally, this article focuses on the time period from the late 1970’s to 1994. The Hughes SCG Heritage blog describes the birth and life of SCG very well but what is lacking is the “demise” of SCG. Along with the birth and the great life, the death should also be examined.

The following comments have been made /C. R. (Dick) Johnson

1. While emerging DTV requirements for increased S/C prime power was probably an additional factor, the major catalyst precipitating the internally funded HS 601 initiative was the Challenger accident and the subsequent government prohibition of STS launched unmanned S/C. (After being burned so badly, the government’s reaction was to limit the number of Shuttle launches to those for which no other launchers were available.) This circumstance forced S&CG to recognize that, without the Shuttle’s bargain launch pricing and its capacious P/L bay, our spin stabilized product lines were no longer price competitive.

2. The HS 601 design initiative was completely funded (>$100 M) internally and very purposely not an IR&D project. Hughes was not amenable to receiving the benefits of partial government IR&D funding support in return for the government’s royalty free use of the resulting technology and S/C products.

3. I am somewhat puzzled by your view that S&CG has expired. The name was revised to HSC in the 1990’s with the GM purchase and the appointment of Mike Armstrong as CEO. However there was no significant decline of the S&CG culture prior to the end of the 20th century (the blog’s time frame cut-off).

Thank you C.R. Johnson for your comments. Please see following specific response:
1.Challenger accident occurred in 1986 and DirecTV Frequency allocation was received in 1984. There were many discussions about the need for a 3-axis S/C if and when the project was to start. I did not know Challenger was a factor. Thank you for the clarification.
2. As I indicated in my article, we did not lead the HS 601 development, rather just provided engineering support. I believe someone in a leadership position at that time should tell the whole story how HS 601 came into existence financially, politically, technically and how the culture at Hughes had to change in all operating areas.

3. My article did not intend to imply that “SCG expired” when Armstorng came in and the name was changed to HSC. I am referring to Boeing purchase of Space and Communications, especially from the time Tig Krekel became CEO and he and the “Tiglets” thought they knew how to run a Space and Communications Company better than we did.

The following comment was provided by Jack Fisher

One of the steps on the road to a direct broadcast capability was the investigation of a potential spinning satellite design. In 1983-84 Hughes responding to customer interest developed a spinner design that would provide sufficient power for direct TV broadcast to individual homes. The design was designated HS-394 and was internally known as a “tri-spinner.” It included a spin stabilized bus, a despun platform that mounted the communications payload, and despun solar panel wings spanning 115 feet that provide 4kW of power for the direct broadcast payload. Solar cells on the spinning bus provide 0.4 kW for housekeeping functions. The satellite featured an integrated bi-propellant propulsion system that provided the capability to boost the system from low Earth orbit to geosynchronous altitude without the need for a second launch vehicle stage. The most interested customer was Dominion Video Satellite, Inc., a provider of Christian and family-friendly TV channels based in Naples, Florida that expressed an interest in purchasing two HS-394s to be delivered in 1987. No HS-394s were ever built.

3 thoughts on “The DirecTV Story – Space Segment – Andy Ott

  1. Great write up.
    I worked for Hughes HCI under Steve Petrucci
    Great guy. So as all the people you mentioned.
    Claire Leon is amazing.

  2. You are right, what made the program a success were the talents of the individuals working it and the innovative environment at Hughes, both HCI and SCG.

  3. Thank you C.R. Johnson for your comments. Please see following specific response:
    1.Challenger accident occurred in 1986 and DirecTV Frequency allocation was received in 1984. There were many discussions about the need for a 3-axis S/C if and when the project was to start. I did not know Challenger was a factor. Thank you for the clarification.
    2. As I indicated in my article, we did not lead the HS 601 development, rather just provided engineering support. I believe someone in a leadership position at that time should tell the whole story how HS 601 came into existence financially, politically, technically and how the culture at Hughes had to change in all operating areas.

    3. My article did not intend to imply that “SCG expired” when Armstorng came in and the name was changed to HSC. I am referring to Boeing purchase of Space and Communications, especially from the time Tig Krekel became CEO and he and the “Tiglets” thought they knew how to run a Space and Communications Company better than we did.