Wheelon Meets the Press to Discuss Largest Commsat Program—The SCG Journal April 1982 transcribed by Faith MacPherson

Round of International Press Conferences Kicked Off With High Bay Meeting in El Segundo

A full-size rendering of the Intelsat VI satellite served as a towering backdrop for a well attended press conference held earlier this month by SCG and INTELSAT executives to officially announce the awarding of the Intelsat VI program to Hughes.

The meeting was the first in a series of I-VI new conferences. Group President Dr. Albert Wheelon later conducted press conferences in Germany, Italy, Britain, and Japan in support of Hughes’ international subcontractors on the program.

Participating in the high bay news conference with Wheelon were SCG’s Dr. Harold Rosen, vice president, Engineering; INTELSAT Director General Santiago Astrain; and Francis Latapie, INTELSAT’S deputy director general, Administration.

In a sense, the imposing image of the Intelsat VI spacecraft set the tone of the meeting. Extending from the floor to just short of the high bay’s 40-foot-plus ceiling, it dwarfed the full-size model of Intelsat I which stood next to it. Intelsat I, also known as Early Bird, was the first satellite that Hughes built for the International Telecommunications Satellite Organization back in 1965. Astrain pointed out that Early Bird could handle 240 telephone calls at one time, or one black and white television show. In contract, Intelsat VI is capable of transmitting 33,000 simultaneous phone calls and four color television channels. The visual underscored Wheelon’s statement that “Intelsat VI is by far the largest commercial satellite program ever undertaken – as large as or larger than the very big programs that we do for the U.S. Department of Defense.” The first five satellites will cost INTELSAT about $700 million. If the organization later decides to pick up its options on another 11 of the tall spacecraft, the program could grow to over $1.5 billion in 1982 dollars.

The program’s size and cost are indicative of the growing demand for satellite communications by the nations of the world. INTELSAT, which has 106 shareholding member nations, supplies spaceborne telephone and television to 150 countries through its global network. The international organization’s system of 14 satellites, most of which were built by Hughes, carries more than 60 percent of the world’s overseas traffic and almost all international television. And Astrain indicated that there’s nowhere to go but up. INTELSAT is already projecting that by the time the first Intelsat VI is launched in 1986, the not-yet-launched Atlantic Ocean Intelsat VA, with 15,000 circuits, will be saturated. Even Intelsat VI’s 33,000 circuites may not be enough for long. By 1990, Astrain said, INTELSAT may need the capacity to handle 110,000 telephone calls. The demand could reach 500,000 circuits by the end of the century.

However, new technology and growth capabilities built into Intelsat VI by SCG will help prevent a communications gap. Intelsat VI’s satellite-switched, time division multiple access (SS/TDMA) digital communications technology will greatly increase its capacity and efficiency in handling traffic. And its frequency reuse scheme will allow six-fold use of the same frequency band.

In citing the satellite’s design flexibility for growth, Wheelon pointed out that the communications payload can be increased by half. Its basic power of 2,200 watts can be doubled to accommodate increased demands as well.

Astrain said that in theory, such advances combined with other techniques could make it possible for one Intelsat VI satellite to cope with as many as 100,000 telephone calls at one time, “And while we don’t intend to go to an all-digital operation in the foreseeable future, this program must be seen as the first step in that direction,” he said.

Wheelon said that the workload generated by the I-VI program will mean adding to the already growing SCG population. Partly to meet Intelsat VI staffing requirements, between 500 and 1,000 new people will be hired in the next year. The Group president emphasized that the number of new hires is driven not only by new business, but by ongoing programs as well. He said that 2,400 specialists around the world will be working on Intelsat VI – 1,000 at SCG and 1,400 at Hughes subcontractors abroad.

Asked whether the new Intelsats will be assembled and tested here at El Segundo or at the planned Titusville facility in Florida, Wheelon said, “Some of the Intelsat VI’s down the road will be assembled and tested in Florida. Whether the first five will be is something I can’t be sure of today.”

Wheelon noted that all the Group has in Titusville at the moment is bare land. “Whether the Florida assembly and test facility emerges in time to do Intelsat VI is not yet clear.”

Intelsat VI may be a big job, but the Group is equal to the task, Wheelon pointed out. “It’s an exciting program. The first satellite will be delivered forty-four months from program go-ahead. More significantly, we have to make and deliver one of the large satellites every four months. That really is a challenge.”

Despite unseasonably cold and rainy weather the day of the press conference, a sizeable number of media representatives turned out for the event. The story of Intelsat VI made the front page of the Los Angeles Times and was carried over the airwaves by TV channels 4 (KNBC), 5 (KTLA) and 7 (KABC).

Note:  It would most interesting to add some comments to this post regarding the Intelsat VI proposal.  Anyone who worked on that proposal or has information about it please send us your comments.

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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.

1 thought on “Wheelon Meets the Press to Discuss Largest Commsat Program—The SCG Journal April 1982 transcribed by Faith MacPherson

  1. Intelsat VI, a dual spin telescoping Gyrostat, had it heritage back to TacSat, Intelsat IV, and SDS.Its “imposing” size would not have been possible without that direct lineage. HAC’s competitor, FACC, had transitioned to a 3-axis stabilized design in the late 70’s and even HAC started the transition to 3-axis under some reluctance by Hal. But Tony had encountered the USG’s direction and desire to go 3 axis.
    FACC was confident and cocky that their Intelsat VI configuration, derived from Intelsat V, was a winner. For Hal, “if its not a spinner, its not a winner”, and with flight proven articulated antennas, it was a winner. However, the commercial communication demands forced the power system beyond the point where a large telescoping Gyrostat could provide.
    The rest is satellite history. Someone might add a story about the “frisbee spinner” that had a short “fling” in the 80’s.

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