Category Something New Under the Sun

From Sputnik II to Transit

Damn, I’m going to wrangle a place on that project.

—Harold Black, Transit team member, on hearing of Guier and Weiffen – bach’s work on orbital determination and prediction at the end of 1957


n November 8, 1957, Ralph Gibson dipped into the director’s dis­cretionary fund for $20,000 to fund Project D-54—to determine a satellite orbit from Doppler data, and he assigned technical and engineer­ing support to Guier and Weiffenbach.

Shortly afterwards, Guier and Weiffenbach briefed their colleagues in the research center, some of whom would later play an important part in the development of Transit. One, Harold Black, was bowled over. Guier had explained methods and coordinate systems that were on the edge of his understanding, and Black knew that he wanted to be a part of the work. He would be, but not for a few more months. Not until the Transit program was underway.

In the closing months of 1957, Guier and Weiffenbach were tackling the problem of the ionosphere—the region of the earth’s upper atmo­sphere where solar energy separates electrons from atoms and molecules, creating layers of free electrons that reflect or refract radio waves. Reflected waves pass round the curve of the Earth and carry transmissions from, say, Voice of America, or provide medium – and high-frequency channels for voice communication. Higher frequencies pass through the ionosphere, enabling communication between the ground and a satellite.

On passage through the ionosphere, radio waves interact with the free electrons, and the frequency of a signal received on Earth from a satel­lite appears different from the frequency transmitted by the satellite. This muddies the water if you are trying to relate the Doppler shift to the satel­lite’s motion. There is a qualitative explanation that gives a rough idea of what is happening.

Radio waves are, of course, examples of electromagnetic radiation. Sputnik’s oscillator was creating an electric field (with its associated mag­
netic field), and the influence of the field extended through space. The field’s influence set the free electrons of the ionosphere oscillating with the same frequency as the field. The oscillating electrons set up their own elec­tromagnetic fields, which, in turn, extended their influence out through space. The fields from Sputnik’s oscillator and from the free electrons were of the same frequency but were not exactly in step. They overlapped. If one returns to the wave analogy of electromagnetic radiation, it as though the crests of the waves from the field generated by the free electrons occurred at a slightly different time than the crests of the waves from the satellite oscillator’s field. So a receiver on Earth detected more wave crests over a given time than it would if the ionosphere were to conveniently disappear (convenient at least for this application).

The Doppler shift (received minus transmitted frequency) is related to the range rate, that is, to the way the satellite’s position with respect to the lab was changing. So when the received frequency was altered by the presence of the ionosphere, the satellite’s path appeared to be different from what it actually was.

How could the receiver distinguish between the number of crests received in a given time as a result of ionospheric refraction as distinct from the number of crests detected because of the Doppler shift?

It couldn’t. And because Sputnik I generated only one frequency, there wasn’t much that Guier and Weiffenbach could then do by judi­ciously juggling theory and observation. Fortunately, the Soviets launched Sputnik II, and Weiffenbach started recording both frequencies. By com­paring the two signals received, and knowing, from theory, that the iono­spheric effect was roughly inversely proportional to the square of the transmitter frequency, they were able to calculate the amount by which the ionosphere altered the received frequency. They were able, therefore, to remove the effects of the ionosphere from their experimental data. Once Guier and Weiffenbach corrected for ionospheric refraction, the frequen­cies computed were those due to the satellite’s motion and not to passage through the ionosphere. Needless to say, this again sounds far simpler than it was, and considerable effort subsequently went into theoretical and experimental explorations of the ionosphere’s nature.

Fortunately, the IGY was generating new observations of the iono­sphere. Of particular importance for greater theoretical understanding were the Naval Research Laboratory’s data showing that the then existing simplified description of the ionosphere was less complete than had been thought previously. The nonuniform electron density through a cross sec­tion of the ionosphere raised concerns at APL that more than two fre­quencies would be needed to correct for ionospheric refraction with suffi­cient accuracy Guier’s and Weiffenbach’s work with Sputnik II did not settle this question.

Another potential complication was that electron density, which influences the amount of refraction, varies with the amount of energy the sun is pouring onto the earth. There are, for example, more free electrons at noon than at night, and the density varies according to the latitude, the time of year, and the stage of the solar cycle.

Thus in November 1957, the ionosphere was the first quagmire that Guier and Weiffenbach encountered as they analyzed their Doppler data. Their experience led them to conclude in the first Transit proposal, erro­neously as it turned out, that the ionosphere would be the biggest obstacle to developing a navigation system.

Once the Transit program was underway, Weiffenbach and then Guier and then others tackled the ionospheric physics in greater detail and with more sophistication than in Guier and Weiffenbach’s initial paper in April 1958, entitled Theoretical Analysis of the Doppler Radio Signals from Earth Satellites.

Weiffenbach went back to basics, studying Maxwell’s equations describing the behavior of electromagnetic waves as well as the equations that provide a theoretical and simplified description of the ionosphere. He collected much of the published data and satisfied himself that theory and experiment seemed to be in synch. Weiffenbach’s aim was to find the opti­mum frequency for Transit given the constraints that physics and current or foreseeable technology imposed. Ideally, the highest possible value should be chosen, but electronic components of the day did not work at the higher frequencies. Such juggling of theory and practicality was an essential aspect of determining the early specifications for Transit, and it focused the minds of many other satellite designers.

By the end of 1958, Weiffenbach had concluded that two frequencies should do the job. The analysis he submitted to Richard Kershner, the team leader, warned that only experiment would clarify the situation, and the first experimental Transit satellite was aimed at doing just that.

Guier’s later basic theoretical analysis, bolstered by results from early experimental satellites and discussions with Weiffenbach, showed that for Transit’s purposes, physical phenomena such as the irregularity of electron density could be ignored, and that two frequencies provided an accurate enough correction for ionospheric refraction.

Shortly after the first Transit proposal was written in April 1958, they realized that the earth’s magnetic field would also affect passage of radio waves through the ionosphere. Therefore, Weiffenbach, who became responsible for space physics and instrumentation at APL, recommended circularly polarized transmitters. Such transmitters were not unusual, but Henry Riblet, who went on to head space physics and instrumentation at the lab, had to modify existing designs so that they would be suitable for the spherical surface of Transit. Having chosen circular polarization, Tran­sit’s designers were constrained in their approach to stabilizing the satellite in orbit. Thus the physics affects the technology and each technological decision affects others.

As 1957 drew to a close, Guier, later responsible for space analysis and computation, was refining the mathematical model. Weiffenbach was gath­ering data and improving the experimental setup, and together they con­tinued to explore what the model could tell them about orbits. In the meantime they were reading madly, educating themselves in ionospheric physics and orbital mechanics.

Around this time they met someone who was to become their “good angel.” His name was John O’Keefe, and he was working with the Van­guard tracking team, was in fact at the radio tracking station near Washing­ton D. C. on the morning after the launch of Sputnik I.

O’Keefe, who was to become a pioneer of satellite geodesy, had stud­ied the moon’s motion in search of clues to the nature of the earth’s gravi­tational field and had eagerly anticipated the launch of satellites. For the previous year, in preparation for the space age, he had studied orbital mechanics every morning before going to work. He was devastated when the Soviets launched first.

O’Keefe, whose son heard Sputnik’s Doppler shift on a ham radio set, was intrigued when he learned of the quality of Guier’s and Weiffenbach’s Doppler data. He went to APL to take a look and was impressed. When Guier and Weiffenbach determined Sputnik’s orbit, O’Keefe was astounded; he didn’t think they would be able to get that much informa­tion from the data.

Yet there was actually even more in the data. Later, the same curve­fitting technique enabled them to vary values for ionospheric refraction and thus to find indices of refraction in addition to transmitter frequency and the orbital parameters.

O’Keefe tweaked Guier and Weiffenbach about their lack of knowl­edge of the ionosphere and pointed out, too, that the Earth’s gravitational field would turn out to be far more complicated than people yet realized. He brought much humor and knowledge of physics to their relationship.

As a regular attendee at IGY meetings, O’Keefe was up-to-date on emerging results. In the following year, he would analyze observations of Vanguard i, known as “the grapefruit,’’ and he recognized that for the satel­lite to be in the observed orbit, the Earth must be pear-shaped in addition to being oblate. The southern hemisphere, in effect, is larger than the northern hemisphere.

The pear-shaped term for the Earth eventually became the second brush stroke on the canvas of that very simple mathematical model that Guier had initially constructed for his and Weiffenbach’s research during the autumn of 1957. And when the gravitational consequences of the pear-shaped earth were folded into the model, the fit between theoretical and experimental curves improved yet again, reducing the error of the orbital determination and prediction.

Immediately after the launch of Sputnik I, O’Keefe had very little data to work with. Hence his fascination with Guier’s and Weiffenbach’s Doppler curves. He invited them “downtown” to Washington D. C. to meet the Vanguard’s Minitrack team. At the time the Minitrack group was inundated. Calls were coming in from many people whom they really didn’t want to talk to. Guier and Weiffenbach fell into the category of nui­sance, and to their chagrin, the Minitrack people dismissed them and their work. The rebuff rankled. Weiffenbach recalls thinking, “OK, we’ll show you; you will take notice.”

Throughout the early part of 1958, Guier and Weiffenbach focused on improving orbital determination. By early spring, they thought they had the satellite’s position to within two or three miles, and they began writing their key paper on the theoretical analysis of Doppler data. But what next?

It was their boss, Frank “Mack” McClure, head of the lab’s research center, who took the next step. McClure seems to have been a compli­cated character. Various descriptions crop up from those who knew him: smart as hell; prone to terrific rows; blunt; impatient; enormous ego (I doubt this was a unique characteristic); someone who “didn’t fool himself about himself” recalls Weiffenbach. Certainly he seems to have impressed the research center’s scientists with the breadth and depth of his knowl­edge of physics.

At this time McClure’s main interest was in solving the problem of insta­bilities in the burning of fuel in solid-fuel rockets, one of the critical technolo­gies for the Polaris missiles. Hence he was spending a lot of time at Special Pro­jects, as was the man who became the Transit team leader—Richard Kershner.

On Monday, March 17,1958, Frank McClure called Guier and Weif­fenbach to his office. He told them to close the door; a clue, they knew, that something interesting or classified would be said. McClure asked them, Can you really do what you say you can? In the manner of the best courtroom attorneys, McClure was asking a question to which he was sure he already knew the answer. Guier and Weiffenbach did not know this, but they answered yes.

In that case, McClure told them, if you can determine a satellite’s orbit by analyzing Doppler data received at a known position on the earth, it should be possible to determine position at sea by receiving Doppler data from a satellite in a known orbit. The navigation problem, in fact, would be easier, argued McClure, because only two values—latitude and longitude—would have to be determined.

McClure sketched out the concept. The satellite would transmit two continuous waves, which would allow a receiving station on a submarine to record two Doppler curves and to correct for ionospheric effects. The satellite would also broadcast its position at the time of the transmission.

The submarine’s inertial guidance system could then provide an esti­mated value of latitude and longitude. A computer program would gener­ate the Doppler curves that a submarine at that estimated location would receive from a satellite at a known position. It would then continue to generate Doppler curves that would be received at nearby values of lati­tude and longitude. When a best fit was found between the estimated and received Doppler curves, those values of latitude and longitude would be the latitude and longitude of the submarine.

Thus the method that Guier and Weiffenbach had developed would be used in two ways. First, to find a satellite’s orbit by observing it from ground stations at well-determined locations, allowing a prediction of its position. The positions for the next twelve hours would then be uploaded

From Sputnik II to Transit

From left to right:William H. Guier, FrankT McClure and George C. Weiffenbach. Drs. Guier and Weiffenbach first employed Doppler tracking to determine the orbits of satellites when tracking Sputnik. Dr McClure used this principle as a basis for inventing a worldwide navigation system. Courtesy of Applied Physics Laboratory.

twice a day. Second, the same computational and statistical techniques would provide a means of fixing latitude and longitude.

McClure asked them what they thought. They agreed that it sounded plausible. Go away, McClure told them, and do an error analysis.

They did. After the computer simulations they had been working with, simulating the errors in the navigation scheme proposed by McClure was, they say, next to trivial. They looked at the answers and didn’t believe them. They seemed too good. They wondered whether they had left something out, but they knew that they had not. So they increased the errors in the assumed depth and speeds of the submarines as well as several other parameters. Then they went back and told McClure that it would work, and work beautifully.

McClure smiled and said, “I know.”

McClure told Guier that he had had the idea the weekend before and had called Richard Kershner. The two of them, who frequently spent time together away from the lab, had fleshed out the idea over the week­end. They had concluded that the navigation method would work if Guier and Weiffenbach could do what they said they could.

On the day after his meeting with Guier and Weiffenbach, McClure sent a memo to Gibson, APL’s director. The topic was “satellite Doppler as a means of ship navigation.” McClure suggested that APL’s patent group should consider seeking protection for the idea. He pointed out that “While the possible importance of this system to the Polaris weapons sys­tem is clear… an extension of thinking in regard to peacetime use is to me quite exciting.” Other advantages did not escape him, and he added that the establishment of such a system “ … might provide a wonderful cold war opportunity…. This would put the U. S. in the position of being the first nation to offer worldwide service through its venture into outer space.” Work on a technical proposal began immediately.

Developing specifications for a complex engineering system is like plan­ning an elaborate meal without reference to recipes, knowing only what combinations are most likely to work, what fresh produce is likely to be available, and making last-minute adjustments for what is not. The occa­sion for the meal guides the process. First there is the overall plan of suit­able and compatible courses. Then comes the detail, working out all of the recipes, testing quantities, temperatures, cooking times.

McClure defined the occasion and made clear what the “diners” would swallow. He knew the technical needs of Polaris in detail, but of equal importance was his sense of the technological likes and dislikes of Special Projects. If he thought Special Projects wouldn’t like a particular technical approach, he would point that out.

Several factors, therefore, converged to ensure that the Transit pro­posal would win the backing that it did in the face of opposing schemes that were emerging for satellite-based navigation. First, APL was present­ing a good idea and had some smart people able to see it through from theoretical analysis to engineering application. Second, the lab had an acknowledged history of completing complex and difficult applied physics and engineering projects, starting with the proximity fuse. (The Naval Research Laboratory’s experience with Vanguard after the success of Vi­king, however, showed that previous success is not always a harbinger of future triumphs.) Neither factor would have been enough alone, but Tran­sit would clearly have been dead in the water without the lab’s expertise and reputation. Additionally, of the emerging ideas for satellite navigation, Transit met the needs of Special Projects and, because of the Brickbat-01 status of Polaris, was compatible with national priorities.

Of the competing schemes, one, taking angles to emitting radio waves was impossible because the antennas needed would have been far too large for submarines. Even had the antennas been usable by the surface fleet, the scheme would not have been serious competition for Transit because the surface fleet was not expressing a strong desire for improved position fixing, nor had its missions the same high priority as those of Spe­cial Projects.

Another scheme, radar ranging, might have met the needs of the U. S. Air Force, but although Air Force missions did have a high priority and the Air Force had proven in its ten years of existence to be highly success­ful at lobbying the government, the preferred scheme within the Depart­ment of Defense at that time was to develop inertial guidance for aircraft. Since aircraft are not aloft for months at a time, the errors do not have as long to accumulate as they do during a submarine’s tour of duty. (Radar ranging resurfaced as the technical basis for the GPS satellites, which have replaced Transit.)

Also operating in APL’s favor was the lab’s relationship, as the consul­tant assessing the Polaris weapons system overall, with Special Projects. The organizational relationship was bolstered by professional relationships at all levels and by McClure’s political astuteness in making his inside knowledge of Special Projects work to further the technical acceptability of the Transit proposal. In short, the people who proposed Transit were the right people, in the right place, at the right time, and with the political and scientific smarts to see it through.

There was another influential factor, and that was Richard Kershner’s reputation. Kershner’s approach to technical problems was similar to that taken by Captain Levering Smith, then technical director of Special Proj­ects. Commander “Chuck” Pollow, who assisted in the day-to-day man­agement of Transit, is convinced that the perception that Special Projects and Smith had of Kershner was critical to Transit’s initial acceptance. And the Transit team members are convinced that Kershner was critical to the success of Transit.

All of the following documents provided details on which the discussion of policy on pages 176-179 are based

Management of Advent (March 1961): including TAB F—Memorandum from the Acting Secretary of Defense of the Army and the Secretary of the Air Force, subject, Program Management of Advent (15 September, 1960); and TAB G—Recommended Action: Memo for Signature of Sec­retary of Defense.

The problems in the Advent program were spelled out by, among others, Harold Brown, DDR&E, on May 22, 1962, in a memo for the secretary of defense, Robert McNamara. In an appendix, Brown states categorically that the contractors management of Advent (General Electric) was poor. He also wrote, “During 1961 and until February 28, 1962, USAAMA (Army Advent Management Agency) decided to gamble on the contrac­tors to realize first a March and then a June firing date. The rate of expenditures rose to twice the amount allowable on the basis of available funds and the whole project went out of balance; training, ground equip­ment and operational control rooms were fully engineered before the spaceborne equipment was out of the breadboard stage; schedules were manipulated to a point where the completion date of the first flight arti­cle was set ahead of the engineering test model” (John Rubel’s papers).

Memorandum for John H. Rubel, Deputy Director of Defense Research & Engineering, from Ralph L. Clark, Assistant Director for Communica­tions, dated January 17, I960. A number of policy documents on commu­nication satellites are attached. These are: Briefing paper for Mr. Gates, subject: Cabinet paper CP60-112—Communication Satellite Develop­ment, December 19, 1960; Draft policy presented by ODRE to the unmanned spacecraft panel of the AACB; Summary of Cabinet Paper CP60-112/1, December 23, 1960; Briefing paper by Clark and Nadler setting out their concerns with the Cabinet Paper; draft of a policy state­ment prepared by the service secretaries summarizing the DoD’s role and interest in communication satellites (John Rubel’s papers).

Memorandum for Members of the Unmanned Spacecraft Panel: State­ment of NASA Program Philosophy on Communication Satellites. November 21, 1960 (НАС archives).

The NASA Communication Satellite Program, February 9, 1961 (John Rubels papers).

“United States Policy Toward Satellite-Based Telecommunications,” cir­culated among a small group by John Rubel in April 1961 (John Rubel’s papers).

Informal Notes of the Interim Steering Committee for Satellite-Based Telecommunications Policy, second meeting, held in the Pentagon, 11 May, 1961. Appendix В was:“DoD Position on what Technical Charac-

teristics and Capabilities DoD Desires from a Commercially Operable Satellite-Based Telecommunication System”. Appendix C: Industry – Department of Defense Cooperation in Satellite-Based Telecommunica­tions (John Rubel’s papers).

A memorandum dated September 6, 1960, records a meeting at AT&T’s headquarters on that day. The meeting discussed a request from NASA for information about Bell System’s plans for satellite communication and research. Memo gives AT&T’s policy views. The views were laid out in a letter of September 9 to T. Keith Glennan, which said that satellites should be operated by commercial companies, not government, and that enough information existed from Echo 1 for Bell to want to proceed immediately to work on active repeaters. (Box 85080203, AT&T archives).

AT&T was clearly fighting for a comprehensive role in satellite commu­nication, as numerous documents in AT&T’s and NASA’s records show. For example; on March 10, 1961, Jim Fisk, head of BTL, sent a letter to Richard S. Morse, assistant secretary of the Army, expanding on an infor­mal proposal sent by Bell to Morse on March 3. Even though the letter refers to Bell’s ideas for an experimental, not operational, program, the proposal’s completeness, with all the control that it would have ceded to AT&T, might reasonably have raised concerns in government over the extent of the control that the monopolistic AT&T would yield over something as vital as international communications.

Fisk wrote, “Bell Systems’ interest is simply stated: communication satellites promise a natural extension of the present microwave common – carrier networks and a natural supplement to present overseas radio and cable circuits.”

Specifically, Fisk proposed that Bell should design, construct, and pay for the fixed ground stations in the U. S.; arrange for foreign ground sta­tions with overseas common carrier partners; design, construct and pay for repeaters, providing frequencies for specific military uses as well as common carrier uses; accommodate the experimental requirements of the other common carriers on terms mutually agreeable; provide systems engineering assistance to the Department of Defense from the develop­ment of transportable or mobile ground terminals; provide systems engi­neering assistance to the Department of Defense to adapt the low-orbit satellite repeaters into synchronous orbit repeaters when the orbiting, ori­entation, stabilization and station keeping problems of that satellite are solved; cooperate with the Department of Defense in the initial launch operation, and share the costs of launching, as may be agreed; work with other Department of Defense contractors on portions of the program of primary military interest to insure efficient planning and to insure system compatibility.

The tensions between NASA and AT&T at both policy and technical levels are also well documented. A letter from Fred Kappel, the presi­dent of AT&T, to James Webb, the administrator of NASA, written on April 5, 1961, says, “It has come to my attention that an article that The Wall Street Journal carries… that NASA has yet to receive any firm pro­posal from any company.” Kappel goes on to write, “In view of the events which have taken place during the past few months, this state­ment… is of deep concern to me. The specific events to which I refer are as follow.” Over four pages, Kappel itemizes approaches made by AT&T to NASA (George Washington University, passed to me by David Whalen).

The Department of Justice’s concerns about the antitrust implications of AT&T’s plans for an operational communication satellite system are men­tioned in various places. One source is a memo for Alan Shapley from James Webb, NASA administrator, dated August 12, 1966. In this memo Webb also makes the point that the RCA proposal (Relay) was clearly the best for the “experimental and research requirements of NASA, although not necessarily the best for the first step toward an operational communi­cation satellite as desired by AT&T” (NASA History Office).

A memorandum for the record by Robert Nunn of December 23, 1960, describes a meeting between himself; John Johnson, NASA’s special coun­cil; and Attorney General Roberts. They were discussing a paper on com­munication policy to be submitted to the White House. December 1960 was, of course, the eve of the Kennedy administration. The policy ques­tion at stake was private or public promotion of communication satellites. All acknowledged that AT&T might be the only company capable of owning and operating an operational system of communications satellites. Roberts said, “Whatever we do, we cannot act as though NASA is putting AT&T into a preemptive position…” And he said,“. . . we cannot assume. . . that when all is said and done AT&T will emerge owning and operat­ing a system. . .Nunn explained/4 … the feeling in the White House apparently favors taking a position on principle which the succeeding administration will be obliged to overturn if it does not concur. Rogers said that this was unrealistic. Their aim was to find a way of supporting the White House’s stance in favor of the private sector without “seeking to nail down the conclusion concerning what the government will or will not do in future.”

A memorandum for the special assistant to the administrator at this time spells out AT&T’s dominance of international communication. The voice segment (cable and radio) was operated exclusively by AT&T. Some nine­teen companies competed for telegraph traffic (NASA History Office).

A number of policy documents and internal ODR&E memos point out that the solar minimum of 1964 to 1966 would reduce radio communica­tion circuits by up to two-thirds. These include a letter from Jerome Wiesner, who wrote on July 7, 1961, to Robert McNamara urging him to give his personal attention to the strengthening of the Defense Com­munications Agency.

The cooperation between NASA and the DoD with respect to which organization would develop which satellites (at least at the highest levels) is apparent in a letter from James Webb to Robert McNamara, secretary of defense. On June 1, 1961, Webb wrote, “I also wish to take this oppor­tunity again to make clear my firm intent that you are kept informed of activities concerning communication satellites and that your views and interests are kept in mind at all times.” At lower levels, and even within the separate organizations, relationships were not always so open. A memo from James Webb to Hugh Dryden, dated June 16, 1961, says, “I think it important that we not ever indicate that some of our military friends, par­ticularly those down the line in the services, may not have had full access to all the information, documents, and so forth relating to the kind of decisions that Mr. McNamara, Mr. Gilpatric, and I have made on the big program” (David Whalen from NASA History Office).

The issue being discussed at this time was NASA’s involvement in synchronous altitude, or 24-hour; communication satellites. The succeeding agreements that NASA and the DoD had, first that NASA should develop only passive satellites and then that it develop only medium-altitude satellites was explained to me by John Rubel.

Letter from James Webb, NASA administrator, to the director of the Bureau of the Budget, dated March 13, 1961. On communication satel­lites, Webb wrote, “This proposal specifically contemplates that this Administration should reverse the Eisenhower policy under which $10 million of the NASA active communication satellite program would be financed by private industry In my view this would not be in the public interest at this stage in a highly experimental research and development program” (David Whalen, NASA History Office).

A memorandum, dated April 28, 1961, for John A. Johnson, NASA gen­eral council, from James Webb, on the subject of a letter to Fred Kappel, president of AT&T, gives Webb’s view that government should not reach a hasty decision about its policy on experimental programs, such as com­munication satellites, without thoroughly considering all possible interest groups (David Whalen from the NASA History Office).

Memorandum for the associate administrator, dated May 16, 1961, con­cerning expansion of the active communication satellite program, by Robert Nunn. The memo discusses the policy issues and the public ver­sus private development of operational communication satellites.

Summary of the Comsat Bill:

Comsat stock was issued on June 2, 1964. There were ten million shares at $20 per share. The net proceeds to Comsat were $196 million. Half the capital was raised from individuals and half from 150 communications companies.


I remember that when we were working towards Telstar, Harold Rosen and some colleagues came to visit. He was arguing for a geosynchronous satellite and putting forward every reason he could think of. I thought he was a whippersnapper, that he was

just saying anything he could to get support______ He turned out

to be an inspired electrical and mechanical designer.

—John Pierce to author, speaking about Harold Rosen on October 2, 1995.

Looking back, you have to admire them.

—Robert Davies, chief scientist at Ford Aerospace, formerly with Philco, in an interview with the author.


at Hyland is one of those people who are referred to as larger than life.

He died in 1992 at the age of 95, having lived in a world where gals were gals and alcohol had yet to be banished from the corporate board­room. In his time, he made some spectacular mistakes, succeeded spectacu­larly, and knew and influenced the “great and the good.” By 1958, he was running (and rescuing) the Hughes Aircraft Company, operating, so he recalls, an open-door policy through which any of his staff could walk. Through that door, one morning, walked Harold Rosen and Donald Williams.

This is how Hyland recalled the story in 1989.

He had known that Rosen and Williams, who were comparatively junior engineers, had some “harebrained” scheme for putting up a satellite, and that they thought it was pretty good but couldn’t get anyone to spon­sor it, and that it was going to cost a lot of money. Hyland, therefore, had not been surprised when they wanted to talk to him.

“Harold got up to the easel, like that, and drew all the stuff out and explained it. … I think I understood what he was talking about pretty well, although I can’t describe it… and they seemed pretty confident
about what they were doing. .. and they told me it had to go up on the equator, or very near to it. . . .”

Hyland realized that Rosen and Williams were saying they would need to put a launch site on Christmas Island. Recalling that Christmas Island was British territory, he seized on this as his defense, pointing out that Britain was not notable as a place that let people in, especially out­siders that might be in competition with them.

. you can’t get on the damn island with any heavy equipment; it’s a rockbound coast, and it’s going to be very hard to get at, and it’s going to take a lot of money, and furthermore.. .”

Hyland was, he remembers, beginning to like the sound of his own voice, “talking about these immense things, you know, and I convinced myself that what I was saying was true, and I thought that I had convinced them.” Rosen and Williams retreated.

And regrouped.

Hyland, in the meantime, was not happy at having discouraged two young engineers with innovative ideas. He needn’t have worried. Shortly afterwards, Williams turned up with a check for $10,000, saying that this was his contribution to the development of the communications satellite and that colleagues wanted to contribute too.

“Well,” said Hyland, “this posed a real problem because this guy was really serious. I had met him two or three times in the interval; he was a great guy, a magnificent mind, and I was kind of flabbergasted inside, but I couldn’t do anything about it because I knew this guy was serious and that somehow or other I’d have to put it in a palatable form.” Hyland had learned “how to do a hell of a lot of talking without saying anything,” and he did so now, stalling until he made a decision. In making that decision Hyland says that he found out what his job in running the company should be.

“I could no longer keep up with them. I was a pretty good engineer in my day and time… but the art had gone beyond me, and the contribu­tion I could make was to provide… an environment in which young guys like that should work. I was no longer capable firsthand of making deci­sions of that sort. They had made the decisions about what they could do, and I had to back it up or deny it. So, I decided to back it up.”

And Hyland did back the project. Rosen and Williams were vindi­cated. Their satellite was built and launched. The Hughes Aircraft Com­pany is now the world’s largest manufacturer of satellites.


How accurate is Hyland’s recollection of events? It contains a lot of truth, in essence if not literally: Without Hyland’s support, the satellite would not have progressed beyond paper studies; Rosen and Williams were brilliant engineers; they (and Tom Hudspeth) did offer to invest $10,000 of their own money in the development; and Hyland did allow engineers room to do their job.

The whole story, though, is both more and less colorful, and Rosen and Williams needed far more persistence than Hyland’s recollection demonstrates.

The Hughes Aircraft Company was not one of the first to see com­mercial promise in the space age. The company’s executives watched with amusement, perhaps with a little schadenfreude, the tribulations experi­enced by the Vanguard team. Even after Sputnik I was launched, satellites did not immediately seem to promise great business opportunities. Their launch vehicles failed routinely. Satellites that did reach space did not attain their nominal orbits. They tumbled. Their components failed.

But at the beginning of 1958, the Advanced Projects Research Agency was formed, and later in the year, NASA came into being. Com­panies like RCA, Lockheed, General Electric, Ford Aerospace, and Philco were exploring the opportunities that satellites offered. Scientists and the Department of Defense were keen to exploit the new frontier. The Soviet Union’s achievements challenged the nation’s sense of itself.

So by 1959, when Harold Rosen was asked to think of new business ventures to replace the radar contracts that Hughes was losing, space was an obvious area to consider. Rosen discussed the situation with Tom Hud­speth, who as a keen amateur radio operator knew of the parlous state of international communications and of the upcoming solar minimum. Rosen talked, too, with John Mendel. Both wondered whether communi­cations satellites might not be the thing to get involved with. Both men were to make crucial contributions to Rosen’s proposal for a twenty-four – hour satellite.

Rosen also talked with Don Williams, whose contribution to the twenty-four-hour satellite was to be the subject of a thirty-year patent bat­tle between Hughes and the government, Intelsat, and Ford Aerospace. Hughes won the battle in the mid 1990s.

Williams, by all accounts, was brilliant, technically very broad, but socially a little narrow. He saddened colleagues and friends when he killed himself in 1966. Bob Roney, who recruited him to Hughes, said, “You asked me if I could remember where I was when Sputnik was launched. I can’t. But I remember that day, when I heard about Don.”

Williams applied to Hughes from Harvard. The position he was interested in had already been filled, but Roney, after reading his resume, decided that “this was not the sort of person you waited until a vacancy came up to employ.” Roney offered Williams a job. But then Williams, whose legacy of memos and technical notes suggest an acutely active and restive intellect, left Hughes to set up his own business with an entrepre­neurial friend. There was some story at the time about bugs in Coca Cola bottles, recalled Roney. Williams and his friend developed an inspection device for bottles and were doing quite well.

Rosen watched and waited. When he sensed that Williams was ready to return to Hughes, Rosen set about enticing him back. Hughes had heard from its Washington office that there was a need for radar to detect Soviet satellites. “We wanted to build a giant radar that would look up into the sky and determine an orbit very quickly, and I knew that Don, who was a wonderful mathematician, would be really great at this work. And besides, he was the only one I knew who had any training in astronomy— it was a kind of astronomical problem. So I figured he’d be good for the job, and that’s how I lured him back into the company. I told him that space was really hot.”

Nothing came of this project, but Williams became interested in nav­igation satellites and started to think about geostationary orbits. This was a problem that interested Allen Puckett, one of Hughes’s senior executives, who would take over the company when Hyland retired.

Rosen, in the meantime, had searched the sparse literature on com­munications satellites and had found an article by John Pierce that pre­dicted that it would be decades before communications satellites could operate from geostationary orbit. Pierce was perhaps hampered by his more intimate knowledge of the unfolding debacle that would be Advent and his concerns about whether people would find the time delay and echoes intolerable. Unhampered by these doubts, Rosen was convinced that the job could be done much sooner. Knowing ofWilliams’s interest in geostationary orbits he went to talk to him, and the two began working on some ideas for a twenty-four-hour satellite. Thus a formidable engineering partnership was born, with Rosen as the senior partner. Rosen decided that Hughes should develop a small, lightweight, spin-stabilized communi­cations satellite for a twenty-four-hour orbit that could be developed and launched in a year on an existing, comparatively cheap launch vehicle. His suggestion today would be about as revolutionary as observing that cars might have a significant role to play in transportation. In September 1959, his idea was provocative.

The most important decision Rosen made was that the satellite would attain and maintain its stabilities by spinning.

The only other method of stabilizing a satellite in a twenty-four- hour orbit is by spinning wheels arranged internally on each orthogonal axis—three-axis stabilization. For various technical reasons, which hold true for satellites constructed with today’s technology, three-axis stabiliza­tion is the better choice for large satellites in a geostationary orbit. Even Hughes, which built its reputation by taking spinners to their design limits, now makes three-axis stabilized communications satellites.

To the military, which in 1959 was sponsoring the only twenty- four-hour satellite, three-axis stabilization seemed like a good idea. A three-axis stabilized, twenty-four-hour satellite keeps its antennas point­ing directly toward the earth and its solar cells oriented towards the sun. Thus high-gain directional antennas can be mounted, and all the solar cells provide power. By contrast, a spinner in 1959, before the days of de­spun antenna platforms, needed an antenna that radiated a signal in all directions, thus dissipating a lot of power to space, and because it was spinning, only about a third of its solar cells could be directed toward the sun at any time.

On the face of it, then, there were good reasons for the Army’s deci­sion to make its twenty-four-hour satellite a three-axis stabilized space­craft. Nevertheless, the choice was a poor one given the technology of the day. First, three-axis stabilized spacecraft below a certain size are more complex than comparable spinners. Second, the twenty-four-hour satellite (which would be called Advent) relied on triodes, which are weighter than transistors. Finally, the limitations of the existing launch vehicles and guid­ance and control made weight an even more critical consideration than it is today.

By choosing spin-stabilization, Rosen automatically saved weight compared with a three-axis stabilized satellite of comparable size. There were immediate weight savings—in the thermal subsystem, for example.

Having decided on a spinner, Rosen was left facing the difficult issue of how to provide a detectable signal from an omnidirectional antenna at geosynchronous altitude. What they realized was that they could provide a usable signal if they selected an antenna that radiated a signal like a giant doughnut rather than the spherical signal of an omnidirectional antenna. Such an antenna would yield higher gain than an omnidirectional antenna even if the gain were not as high as that of the focused antenna that can be mounted on an three-axis stabilized spacecraft.

If the signal were to be usable, however, the satellite, which would be spinning on injection into orbit, had to be stopped (de-spun), turned through ninety degrees, and spun up with its antenna correctly oriented with respect to the earth. Then it had to be moved into position and to keep that position (station keeping). One of the ingenious aspects of the Hughes twenty-four-hour satellite was how this attitude control and sta­tion keeping were achieved, and the enabling technology was the subject of the controversial Williams patent.

Williams’ idea took advantage of the fact that the satellite was spin­ning. The Williams patent describes a satellite with two thrusters, one radial and one axial. These could be controlled from the ground and instructed to expel compressed nitrogen, say, during carefully calculated portions of successive revolutions. These spin-phased thrusts would thus move the satellite to the desired attitude or position in orbit. The spin – phased pulses were Rosen’s idea, but it was Williams who developed the concept into a feasible technical solution.

In addition to being lighter and simpler than the elaborate system of station keeping and attitude control employed by three-axis stabilized spacecraft, the Rosen-Williams approach had no need of a complex sys­tem to deliver the fuel to the thrusters, because the satellite’s centrifugal force did the job.

That Rosen should consider a spinner was not that surprising. In his days at Caltech, which he had selected not because of its academic reputa­tion but because of an article in Life about Southern California beach par­ties, Rosen became intrigued by the dynamics of spinning bodies. Sid Metzger, then at RCA, who later headed Comsat’s engineering division, said that when RCA’s engineers heard about the Hughes spinner they could have kicked themselves for overlooking this approach.

The electronics in the Rosen—Williams proposal were equally important. First, John Mendel suggested that the traveling wave tube’s magnet should comprise a row of tiny ceramic magnets, which would weigh less than a solid magnet. Tom Hudspeth’s goal was to ensure that this was the only tube in the satellite, which in 1959 was a tall order. His toughest job was finding a way to provide the local oscillator that con­verted their uplink frequency of five hundred megacycles to a downlink frequency of two kilomegacycles (more familiar today as two gigahertz). Transistors did not work at these frequencies, so he used transistors that operated at lower frequencies and designed a cascade of frequency multi­pliers into what Rosen calls “a genius geometry.” Hudspeth is a reticent man who says little about those early days and even finds it depressing to talk of the past. Nevertheless, he still had one of these early frequency mul­tipliers in a brown paper bag under a desk in his lab.

Rosen and Williams wrote up their proposal for a twenty-four-hour satellite in September 1959, the same month that Leroy Tillotson sent his proposal for a medium-altitude active repeater to Bell’s research depart­ment. On September 25, Rosen’s immediate superior Frank Carver, who had asked Rosen to think of new business ventures, took the proposal to Allen Puckett, a senior executive. Though not immediately convinced, Puckett did not kill the idea. In October, Rosen and Williams’s proposal, “Preliminary design analysis for a commercial communication satellite,” was circulating internally. It contained the principles that would become Syncom, though they were embodied in what would seem to today’s eyes to be an unfamiliar design. The satellite, a spinner, was to be a cube seven­teen inches on each side because, because, they argued, a cube was easier than a cylinder to construct. It would be equipped with a gun and bullets or powder charges capable of imparting four different thrusts for station keeping. The gun would be triggered from the ground at the moment in a revolution that would impart the necessary velocity correction. The gun could be either “an automatic type firing multiple shots from a single bar­rel, or a multiple-barrel device using electric primers.” An amended pro­posal envisaged bullets or charges capable of imparting sixteen increments of thrust. Not until early 1960 did the satellite begin to look familiar to a modern eye. By then it was cylindrical and expelled compressed nitrogen for attitude control and station keeping.

They were not sure in their first proposal whether they needed to correct for lunisolar gravity, but they had calculated how much the satellite would drift if they did not get quite the right velocity for a geosynchro­nous altitude.


Thomas Hudspeth, Harold A. Rosen and Donald D. Williams pose with the Syncom satellite they pioneered and which led to the era of commercial communication satellites. Dr. Williams holds the travelling wavetube that was a crucial component of the satellite.

The satellite, they said, would weigh twenty pounds, be developed in a year, and cost $5 million. It would have sufficient bandwidth for either TV transmission or 100 two-way telephone channels. The weight grew during the next few years, but still Syncom was about a tenth of the pro­jected weight of Advent.

Like Pierce, Rosen wanted to exclude the government and to keep the twenty-four-hour satellite as a private business venture. The proposal suggested that Hughes should build a launch site on Jarvis Island (not Christmas Island), close to the equator, and buy some Scout rockets to launch the satellite.

“When Harold came up with the idea,” said Roney, “there was inter­nal tension. Some people in the communications lab thought it should be theirs, not over m the radar lab.” But not Samuel Lutz, who headed the communications lab. “He was,” says Roney, “fascinated by Harolds work.” He was also deeply ambivalent.

During 1956 and 1957, Lutz had presented his own ideas for com­munications satellites to Hughes’s executives. Amused as they were by Vanguard, the executives concluded that Lutz’s ideas were romantic. He was, however, an obvious person to examine the concepts outlined in the Rosen-Williams proposal. From the beginning he saw the innovativeness of what Rosen and Williams were doing, but then he would fret that the design was “far from conservative.” Sometimes he saw market opportuni­ties; at other times he was skeptical of Hughes’s involvement in a field that AT&T dominated with such assurance. As for Rosen’s plans for live inter­national television, he had profound doubts.

“Undeniably,” he wrote on October 1, 1959, “they [live TV pro­grams] would have novelty and propaganda value, and there always would be occasional events of international interest. Many race-crazy Europeans would stay up all night to watch our Indianapolis races, while some of our wives might get up before breakfast to watch a live coronation or royal wedding—but not very often. … Most of the few programs of interna­tional interest are already being flown by jet or transmitted at slowed down rates via cable, with the time difference in its favor. Thus Rosen’s estimate of an hour per day of TV revenue appears optimistic. An hour per week seems more realistic. …”

Nine days later, Lutz was one of five people given two weeks to review the proposal. Rosen was the chairman of the small panel. By Octo­ber 12, they had made good technical progress but were struggling with the economics. On October 22, they concluded unanimously that the project was technically feasible in close to the time and price suggested and that it should not encounter any legal or technical problems. Mendel’s assurance that the travelling wave tube was feasible won Lutz’s backing.

They said that the economics needed further study, but that popula­tion increase, the shrinkage of travel time via commercial jet, increasing foreign industrialization and international commerce, and the forthcoming decrease in high-frequency communication because of solar minimum all made the proposal economically attractive.

Four days later the plan was put to Hyland. He ordered “an immedi­ate and comprehensive study of patentability” and an inquiry to determine NASA’s position with respect to commercial rights. From the beginning Hyland wanted the satellite to be a government rather than private project.

On October 29, 1959, Hyland learned that there might be pat­entability in the attitude control and station keeping method, and the company’s lawyer advised that it should be reduced to practice before any presentation was made to NASA; otherwise, NASA might seek to patent anything made during a contract with them.

On November 2, Rosen and Williams signed an invention disclosure that stated, “a series of discrete impulses obtained from the recoil of a mul­tiple shotgun are used to provide vernier velocity control and position adjustments.” Three days later, Williams traveled to Washington to brief Homer Joe Stewart. Williams, wrote Edgar Morse in a NASA historical document m 1964, was “very conscious of Hughes commercial plans and began by establishing that Hughes would not lose its proprietary and patent rights by having the discussions.” Williams’s caution, as three decades of litigation show, was well placed.

On his return to Culver City, Williams immersed himself in work stemming from Stewart’s critique. Allen Puckett approached Roney to conduct another review. Puckett was fascinated but was hearing technical criticisms and cautions that communications satellites were a bad idea politically for Hughes. Could he, Puckett asked Roney, stake his reputation on this idea?

To men of Rosen’s and Williams’s disposition these and other studies must have been a sore trial. Rosen was not a diplomat. Even though the satellite was his idea, it was Allen Puckett, not Rosen, who carried news to congressional hearings. “No one in their right minds,” said Roney, “would have let Harold testify. He was volatile.” And once the twenty-four-hour satellite had become Project Syncom, C. Gordon Murphy was the project leader, Rosen the project scientist. Gordon Murphy was needed, it seems, because by then, “Harold had alienated so many people in Washington.” The memory, when Roney talks, is clearly affectionate.

Nor was Rosen much more conciliatory within Hughes. When the company decided in January 1961 that it would respond to NASA’s request for proposals for Relay, Rosen would have nothing to do with it, nor with the company’s bid for Advent. Williams was equally unbiddable and bombarded Hyland with memos critical of the company’s policy.

As 1959 turned to 1960 what patience they had was already being severely tested. They had up until then done their work with discretionary funds. To go further they needed the company to adopt the project.

On December 1, 1959, Hyland decided not to commit funds “at this time.” Rosen, Williams, and Hudspeth were not acquiescent, nor were they clear about what he could do, but they decided to put up $10,000 each of their own money and to seek outside support. “I invited John Mendel to join us but he didn’t have the, uh, he said he wasn’t gutsy,” said Rosen. They tapped any contacts they could think of. Rosen had a friend who was the chief engineer at Mattel. “Mattel had just come in to a lot of money with a Barbie doll. And I thought they might be looking for some good investments. It turned out they weren’t. They invested in Ken instead.” Hudspeth had a more likely contact in the aerospace industry who had hit it big on some company. “That was frustrating, because he led us on a little bit, but he was really full of hot air,” said Rosen.

No one was biting. “Those were the days,” recalled Rosen, “when our boosters used to blow up in front of the television regularly.” Rosen “stewed and brooded.” Then he contacted his old boss, Tom Phillips, at Raytheon. In February 1960, Rosen and Williams flew to Boston. Yvonne Getting, later head of the Aerospace Corporation, was there, and he was skeptical about the whole idea. “He didn’t even want us to talk to him about it, because he thought we’d get involved in future patent disputes. He eventually listened, but I don’t think he was very enthusiastic.”

But Tom Phillips was, and he told Rosen and Williams that if they would come and work for him, he would give the project his personal attention. Phillips was, at that time, on his way to becoming the president of Raytheon. They also met Charles Francis Adams, who was running Raytheon. Phillips tweaked Rosen and Williams about Howard Hughes, saying, “here you are talking to the president of Raytheon when you haven’t even seen the president of your own company”

Back in Culver City, Rosen told Frank Carver that he was going to work for Tom Phillips. Carver immediately took him to see Allen Puckett, who took him to see Pat Hyland. Who knows whether Rosen’s machina­tions won the day, but, says Rosen, “Mr. Hyland said he was going to sup­port us right here at Hughes, which was great. I was really happy to hear that.” When Rosen told Williams of Hyland’s response, Williams sent his cheque for $10,000 to Hyland asking whether he could invest his money in the new Hughes project.

Hyland authorized an in-house project to develop the spacecraft and the traveling wave tube amplifier on March 1, 1960. He would not order a booster or sign a contract for a launcher. All the same, Williams took a trip to Jarvis Island, where “he got some very nice photographs of birds,” recalls Rosen.

When Hyland authorized the in-house project, Rosen, Williams, and Hudspeth asked the company to release them from their usual patent agreement if Hughes decided not to develop the satellite. Puckett was sympathetic. But in the end, there was no need to release them. Once they were committed to the project, Hyland and Puckett were wholehearted in their support and in their efforts to sell the satellite to the government.

Chapter seven: Pursuit of Orbit

The main sources of information for this chapter are Bill Guier and George Weiffenbach.

The problems in putting this chapter together were that there are no primary written sources that directly confirm what Guier and Weiffen­bach did and when, and they have both told the story several times, including on tape in a 1992 APL video. Thus it took some time to recall memories.

The only way around this seemed to me to go over and over the same ground from as many different angles as possible. And both Guier and Weiffenbach seemed to take to this approach as the proverbial duck takes to water. Each time I gleaned another fact, no matter how small, from one of their colleagues or from a published paper, I went back to one or another of them to ask more detailed questions or the same questions in a different guise. As I learned a little more about the physics for myself, I also went back to them.

The result is chapter seven, which is corroborated as much as possible by memories from other people.

Certain bounds to the time when their work was done are set by undis­puted dates, such as the launch of Sputnik II and the day that their work became an official project.

Lee Pryor, who was at that time studying computing at Pennsylvania State University, confirms much of what Guier says about coding for the Univac.

The richness of information available on the Doppler curve (page 75) is apparent in a highly mathematical in-house paper (Part of APL’s Bumble­bee series) “Theoretical Analysis of the Doppler Radio Signals from Earth Satellites” published in April 1958.

Charles Bitterli remembers working on an algorithm for least squares (page 78).

Henry Elliott’s memories corroborate Weiffenbach’s view of himself as a painstaking researcher who would check the quality of data in detail (page 79).

Chapter eight: From Sputnik II to Transit

Project D-54, to determine a satellite orbit from Doppler data, APL archives (page 82).

Guier and Weiffenbach’s briefing about their work (page 82) is from my interview with Harold Black.

Information about Guier’s and Weiffenbach’s early work on the ionos­phere (page 82) is from interviews with Weiffenbach and Guier.

A textbook consulted on ionospheric refraction is The Feynman Lectures on Physics, volume one, chapter 28 (Addison Wesley, 1963).

Weiffenbach’s memo to Richard Kershner and the first Transit proposal (pages 84 and 85) are in the archives of the Applied Physics Laboratory

Henry Riblet told me of the need to modify the design of circularly polarized transmitters for Transit’s spherical surface (page 85).

Information about O’Keefe and his views (pages 85 and 86) came from my interview with John O’Keefe.

Views about Frank McClure’s character (page 87) came from nearly every member of the Transit team that I interviewed.

Frank McClure’s ideas for a navigation satellite are in a memo dated March 18, 1958, reproduced in The First 40Years, JFIUAPL (Johns Hop­kins University Press).

What McClure said to Guier and Weiffenbach about his satellite naviga­tion idea is a story that both told me separately (page 88).

Kershner’s Roulette

You have to give yourself a chance to get lucky.

There’s plenty of time, if we work hard enough.

—Richard Kershner, Transit project leader


f people leave a legacy in the eyes and voices of those who knew them well, then Richard Kershner should rest easy Kershner led the Tran­sit team with an authority bestowed willingly by those who worked for him.

He instituted a policy of “cradle to grave” engineering, which means that the person who designs a particular component also has responsibility for testing it. This was not (and is not) a common practice, but Transit team members perceive it as having been critical to the project’s success. Kershner eschewed line management as much as possible. If he had a ques­tion about a particular component, he would go directly to the person building that component rather than the department head. The policy was applied widely. Someone working for Guier, for example, could and would go around Guier if he thought an issue would be discussed more profitably with someone else.

There were the inevitable personality conflicts and disagreements. Yet a widely held memory among the Transit team is that the optimum technical solution determined the outcome of an argument, not an indi­vidual’s position in the hierarchy. All recall that Kershner was the final arbiter. He would tell them, “you together have n votes, and I have n plus one votes.” Yet his decisions seem to have been accepted because of his character, not because of the authority vested in his position. His most admired characteristic was his acceptance of responsibility when things went wrong, and over the years many things did go wrong in the Transit program. Kershner would say that whoever did not like what had hap­pened would have to deal with him first. More than thirty-five years after the project started and fourteen years after Richard Kershner’s death, the Transit team’s respect is still palpable.

One can look for the reasons among articles Kershner wrote about management practice. They are as dry and irrelevant as, I suspect, most for­mulas for successful management. Perhaps they could not be applied by
someone other than himself; he seems to have had a natural tact and respect for his staff that won him great loyalty.

Immediately after McClure had explained his idea for satellite navi­gation, Kershner was brought in to help put together a proposal. He was joined by Guier, Weiffenbach, and Bob Newton, a reticent, elegant An­glophile. During Transit’s development, Newton was to contribute to nearly all areas of the physics. In future years, these four would commemo­rate their early collaboration by celebrating the anniversary of the first suc­cessful Transit launch.

Their initial proposal was completed by April 4, 1958. It was marked “confidential,” a low level of classification. Submarines were mentioned only in passing, even though Polaris provided the impetus for the proposal. Informal discussions about navigation for Polaris must have been going on at high levels of APL and the Pentagon.

During the next few years, details of the proposal would change. The ionosphere, for example, deemed at this time to be the biggest problem, was soon supplanted in importance by the need to understand the earth’s gravitational field. Nevertheless, a surprising amount of the original pro­posal was to remain.

For the first draft, Guier tackled computing, Newton dealt with the satellite’s motion, and Weiffenbach took on the ionosphere and assessment of error—frequency drift, for example. Kershner worked on the overall system design. After the first draft, they all worked on all sections, cri­tiquing and revising, guided by McClure’s intimate knowledge of what Special Projects wanted and would accept.

A worldwide “satellite Doppler navigation system” for all weather was possible, argued the proposal, because of the recent developments showing that it was technically feasible to establish artificial satellites in predetermined orbits with lifetimes measured in years. A position fix with a CEP (circular error probable—a circle of radius within which there is a 50% probability of finding an object) of half a nautical mile should be pos­sible immediately. CEPs of one-tenth of a nautical mile, about six hundred feet, were likely in the near future, and such accuracies, stated the proposal, were greater than those of any known military requirements. Transit team members say that the first operational satellite launched at the end of 1963 achieved a CEP of one-tenth of a mile. Even though there were still prob­lems to be solved, this was an impressive feat.

An alternative approach to navigation, involving further develop­ment of a coastal radio ranging system called Loran, would also have been accurate, but only when the submarines were within range of its signal. Loran, says a former British liaison officer to Special Projects, would have been too limiting for Polaris.

A particular strength, the proposal pointed out, was the passive nature of the proposed navigation system, which would not betray a submarine’s position. The submarine would need only to approach the surface and to deploy its antenna at night for about eight minutes.

Various approaches to calculating latitude and longitude were out­lined. One involved our old friend “miss distance,” that is, the range at closest approach. Given the miss distance, one could plot a line on a map representing positions for which the submarine might be at the corre­sponding range from the satellite. If this process were repeated for signals from two satellites, the latitude and longitude would be the place where the lines of position intersected. Conceptually, this was an approach famil­iar to navigators.

APL, of course, was not trying to persuade anyone that relying on miss distance was a good approach, and the proposal went on to describe in general terms the computational and statistical techniques developed by Guier and Weiffenbach during their research into orbital determination and to say that these would be applied for position fixing. The greater accuracy attainable by comparing the curves of the theoretically generated and received Doppler signals at many points was pointed out. They needed to make this argument explicitly because many opponents at the time, recalls Guier, though that the method was “out in left field.”

To recap, the Transit proposal was essentially this: A satellite in a known position would broadcast two continuous waves. A comparison of the two signals would allow the submarine’s computer to eliminate the effects of ionospheric refraction. That same computer would then generate—for dif­ferent latitudes and longitudes—the Doppler curves that the submarine would receive from a satellite in that position. The inertial navigation unit would provide an initial estimate of position to the computer, which would run through a number of iterations until it found the latitude and longitude that generated the Doppler curve that best fitted that received from the satellite. These values of latitude and longitude would then be fed to the inertial navigation system to automatically correct its output.

The system, which was yet to be named Transit, was explained through the example of a satellite in a polar orbit at an altitude of four hundred miles. Such a satellite takes ninety-six minutes to complete one orbit. During these ninety-six minutes, the earth turns through about twenty-four degrees of longitude. The point immediately below the satellite—the sub­satellite point—moves westward by an equivalent number of miles, depending on the latitude. Thus, how frequently one could “see” such a satellite during the course of a day depends on latitude. Near the poles, the satellite would be visible on every orbit; near the equator, less often.

Simply seeing the satellite, as Guier and Weiffenbach had come to understand by observing Explorer I, would not be enough. The relation­ship of the orbit to receiving equipment on the ground had to fall within certain limits. If the arc of the orbit were too distant, the recorded Doppler shift would change far more gradually with time than if the satellite were nearer. The quantity of positional information would then be less per unit time, and with constant noise being received, the so-called signal-to-noise ratio would be too low for optimum accuracy. Moreover, the signal would be passing through a greater distance and would be subject to more atmo­spheric refraction, which would obscure the more gradual Doppler changes of the distant satellite. On the other hand, if the satellite were to pass nearly overhead, the computations would result in an error in longi­tude. In between, there was a wide region in which the total navigational error would be acceptably small and would be insensitive to the geometry of the satellite pass.

These limitations were pointed out, but the proposal did not recom­mend a particular number of satellites or an orbital configuration. Never­theless, one begins to see how the laws of physics and the requirements of the job to be done, for example worldwide navigation versus position fix­ing in the arctic, combine to impose limits on the configuration of orbital inclinations and altitudes.

A vital part of the system would be the oscillators producing the continuous waves for the Doppler measurements and the reference frequency in the submarines receiver. The stability of the oscillators and the error in the frequency measurement defined the system’s theoretical limit of accu­racy—the limit achievable if all other problems were solved.

The first proposal asserted that the state of the art for oscillators meant that a CEP of a thirtieth of a nautical mile (roughly two hundred feet) was theoretically possible. Although the proposal had made clear that this accuracy was dependent on a number of assumptions, including a favorable geometry between satellite and receiving station, critics thought that APL was saying that it could achieve this number regularly in practice. When the figure leaked out, McClure had to field outraged and disbeliev­ing phone calls, including one from Bill Markowitz, head of the Naval Observatory. Eventually, Transit surpassed even this accuracy, but in 1958 the proposal’s claims seemed implausible.

The situation was not helped by the fact that many of the critics either did not understand or did not want to understand the computa­tional and statistical approach APL was proposing. Guier and Weiffenbach recall one group that converted their data to miss distances, calculated, inevitably, a very poor orbit, and so dismissed their work.

Transit’s history was similar to that of many technological develop­ments. First, Guier and Weiffenbach explored something new and unex­pected, initially with no clear idea in mind. Then they found a purpose for their research—orbital determination. In March, McClure entered the stage with a way of exploiting their research for a practical application. McClure brought with him Richard Kershner, someone who today would be called a systems engineer. Kershner supervised the development of a proposal, which, because it served a military need, won funding. It encountered opposition and was not widely accepted for some time.

One could write of this last aspect of Transit’s development, that there is “nothing new under the sun,” because the satellite’s development has much in common with the pursuit of longitude, the critical navigational problem that occupied physicists of the seventeenth and eighteenth cen­turies—some of these same physicists who laid the scientific foundations for Transit.

A diversion into history is too hard to resist. Geopolitical tensions between two superpowers—Spain and Portugal—provided the initial impetus for the pursuit of longitude. The two countries had a territorial dispute that could not be resolved because they did not know the location of the meridian in the Atlantic ocean that separated their claims to sover­eignty. Before a solution was found, there were political hearings, testi­mony from distinguished scientists, competing technical solutions, pleas for public funding, and suspicion of the new technology from naval officers. Once a solution to the longitude problem was found, it became invaluable to commercial shipping interests.

In the seventeenth century, the problem of determining longitude came down to the need for a means of telling the time accurately at sea. If a clock of some kind were set according to time at a reference longitude, say Greenwich, and local noon occurred at 2 RM. Greenwich time, then you knew you were thirty degrees west of Greenwich. (The earth turns through fifteen degrees of longitude per hour).

Telling the time at sea was acknowledged to be very difficult. On land there was no problem. Pendulum clocks were accurate to within a few seconds, but they did not work well on the pitching and rolling deck of a ship. First the Portuguese, then the Spanish, the Dutch, and the French offered rewards for ideas leading to a method to tell the time at sea. Every crank in Europe responded. Overwhelmed by dubious proposals, Spanish officials returned a promising idea from an Italian named Galileo Galilei that suggested taking advantage of the times of eclipse and emergence of the moons of Jupiter. Given the difficulties of stabilizing a pendulum at sea, the idea was good. But it languished in bureaucracy.

A century after the Portuguese first tackled the problem, the English Parliament bestirred itself in an effort to placate a public scandalized when, in 1707, Admiral Sir Clowdisley Shovell led the fleet onto rocks in bad weather off the tip of Cornwall. Some two thousand men died. Every nav­igator but one had agreed that the fleet was southeast of its actual position just off the coast of Brittany.

After more losses of men and goods, a petition signed by several cap­tains of Her Majesty’s ships, merchants of London and commanders of mer­chantmen was set to the House of Commons in 1714. Though couched in florid, formal language, its message was clear: Parliament should act. The petitioners suggested that public money be offered as an incentive to any­one able to invent a method of determining longitude at sea.

Parliament sought expert advice, calling, among others, Isaac New­ton and Edmund Halley to testify before the parliamentary committee of the House of Commons on June 11, 1714. Newton was not encouraging. He spoke of “ . .. several projects, true in practice, but difficult to execute.”

Rather than celestial schemes, he favored the development of an accurate clock, telling members that of the various options for determining longi­tude, “One is by watch to keep time exactly, but by reason of the motion of the ship at sea, the variations of heat and cold, wet and dry and the dif­ference in gravity in different latitudes, such a watch has not yet been made.” He offered no engineering advice.

A few weeks after this testimony, Parliament enacted legislation offering a reward to the first inventor to develop a clock that met specifi­cations laid out in the act. The award was £20,000, which for the time was a considerable amount of money. The act also established a Board of Lon­gitude, which was given the task of awarding smaller grants for promising ideas as well as responsibility for determining when the terms of the act had been met. An unschooled but skilled cabinetmaker called John Harri­son received several of these grants and eventually developed a chronome­ter (known among the cognoscenti as “chronometer No 4”) that fulfilled the act’s specifications.

The board proved reluctant to pay the full £20,000. There were conflicts of interest, ownership disputes, and numerous sea trials. Unde­terred, the Royal Society honored Harrison, but the monetary reward was still not forthcoming. Then the board paid up in part. Unsatisfied, Harri­son appealed to the king, who offered to appear under a lesser title to argue the case before the Commons. Eventually, the board paid out the full amount.

Another time, another place: In the late spring of 1958, Kershner prepared to do battle for what would be a controversial new approach to navigation. Gibson, McClure, and Milton Eisenhower, the president of Johns Hopkins University and brother to the other president, were playing their parts too.

Kershner made several trips to the Pentagon, often taking Guier and Weiffenbach with him. At first, Guier and Weiffenbach felt apprehensive and out of their depth. Amidst these efforts, Weiffenbach was awarded his Ph. D., something of a sidebar as APL fought competing navigation proposals and criticism. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which had a deservedly high repu­tation, posed a particular threat when it challenged APL’s error analysis. Eventually, there came a meeting at which Guier and Weiffenbach argued for an opportunity to fly an oscillator on someone else’s satellite. This would give them a chance to prove the concept and to show that an ionospheric correction was possible. Their audience, though, had already been convinced of the validity of APL’s approach to developing a navigation satellite, and Guier and Weiffenbach left with the promise of funding for a satellite, not just an oscillator. (An oscillator was flown on the Department of Defense’s Discover satellites as part of the effort to determine the earth’s gravitational field). This happened sometime in the summer of 1958, and APL had by now developed technical plans for eight experimental satellites. Their aim was to have a prototype operational satellite aloft by the end of 1962.

Others had joined the project since April. In July, Weiffenbach sent John Hamblen the operating characteristics for the satellite’s antenna. Weif­fenbach was also designing the first oscillator and reviewing what was known about the ionosphere. Harold Black had his wish and was working for Guier and Newton on the computational effort for orbital determina­tion and prediction. Joy Hook, a skilled programmer, had joined the team and was rapidly becoming invaluable. Many subroutines were being com­pleted, including those for organizing the recorded data on magnetic tape, for applying the refraction correction, and for curve fitting. There was, says Black, a quiet desperation about much of the software effort. Very few people understood it well.

In November 1958, three of APL’s engineers visited Iowa State Uni­versity, seeking advice from George Ludwig in James Van Allen’s group about the kind of environment their satellite would encounter in space. They returned with information about how ISU built and tested its satel­lites and about temperature control. They picked up schematics for the Explorer III satellite, which had been launched on March 26, as well as information about the satellite’s radiation observations. These observa­tions, which were the first data supporting the hypothesized existence of radiation belts, had not yet been widely circulated. They were to be important to Transit because the satellites would be in orbits that took them through the newly discovered radiation belts.

As work on Transit progressed, more detailed questions emerged. How many transistors, for example, would be needed in the clock circuit or the oscillator circuit? The original proposal of April 4 had said that the satellite would be fully transistorized, so these questions were significant, especially at a time when a transistor could cost as much as ninety dollars. How much power would the circuits need? How would they be packed and into what volume? The original specifications were for 293 transistors

Kershner’s Roulette

Researchers from the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory position a satellite from Iowa State University on top of the Laboratory’s Transit 4A satellite in June 1961. Courtesy of Applied Physics Laboratory.

or diodes. With an estimated packing volume of two cubic inches per tran­sistor or diode, the electronics could not be packed into a volume of less than 586 cubic inches and would weigh eighteen pounds. During the rest of 1958 and through 1959, these numbers were refined.

Another difficulty arose—how to affix the electronics to the circuit boards. After some faulty starts with soldering and some burned-out tran­sistors, the engineers decided to weld the components. But different coef­ficients of expansion between the connections and the components led to many breakdowns. Reliability did not really improve until the advent of integrated circuits in the mid 1960s.

On December 15, in the midst of these ongoing problems, the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) awarded APL full funding of $1,023,000 for the Transit project. Although ARPA awarded the contract, the work was sponsored jointly by the Special Projects Office and was administered by the Navy’s Bureau of Ordnance.

The aim was for Transit to be operational by the time the Polaris submarines were on station. This goal was not met. Two submarines were on patrol by the end of 1960, three full years before Transit was opera­tional. But the Polaris deployment had moved ahead of schedule, and the Transit development slipped by a year. Even so, Transit’s development went ahead at a breakneck pace.

The objectives initially fell under two headings: the Transit program and NAV 1—the satellite. The Transit program was defined as the devel­opment of a shipboard navigation system, work on the earth’s gravitational field, and a feasibility study of a Doppler navigation system for aircraft.

The first aim is obvious. The second became critical. The last aim, however, was curious for two reasons. First, single-satellite Doppler naviga­tion was never going to work for aircraft because they need to determine altitude as well as latitude and longitude and thus would need to record either two passes of the same satellite or one pass each of two different satellites. For aircraft moving at, say, eight miles a minute, this was not an option, and the higher echelons of the Pentagon had decided to develop inertial navigation for aircraft. However, there was a new requirement for all-weather navigation for the aircraft of the radar picket fence, which stayed airborne for eighteen hours at a stretch. The thinking was that Transit coupled with interpolation from inertial navigation units might serve these aircraft.

The second part of the contract—Nav-I—comprised three satellites, which were to be delivered to Cape Canaveral in time for a launch sched­uled for August 24, 1959. Once the first satellite was in orbit, its nomen­clature would change from Nav-1 to Transit IA. NAV-Vs objectives were to demonstrate the payload (another word for satellite instrumentation), the tracking stations and data processing, and the Doppler tracking meth­ods, as well as to collect data (from analysis of Doppler curves) about the shape of the earth and its gravitational field.

The plan at the end of the 1958 was that the NAV-1 satellites would weight 270 pounds and be launched on a Thor-Able rocket toward the end of August 1959. This was considerably heavier than the original pro­posal’s estimate of 50 pounds, but Transit IA was an experimental satellite. Kershner later insisted, in the face of considerable opposition from members of the Transit team, that the weight of the operational satellites be lessened to make them compatible with the less costly Scout rockets. Some of the Transit documents suggest that the aim had always been to make the oper-

Kershner’s Roulette

An early tracking station for Transit satellites. The station located at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory was for research. Courtesy of Applied Physics Laboratory.

ational satellites compatible with Scout. Team members remember that they wanted to stay with the heavier-lift launch vehicle. As was often the case, Kershner won the debate. But the transition proved more difficult than anticipated and held up the program for a year, delaying the launch of an operational navigation satellite until the end of 1963.

By February 1959, APL had made good progress with the satellite antenna. The following month, a year after McClure had called Guier and Weiffenbach into his office, seventy percent of the satellite’s electronics had been built and mechanical fabrication had begun. Results of analytical work suggested that by 1963 a simplified Doppler navigation with an accuracy of one mile could be performed by hand, and that with more sophisticated techniques (curve fitting), an accuracy of one-tenth of a mile would be possible.

In the spring of 1959, the first computer program (ODP-1) for determining satellite position was nearly complete. It took the Univac ПОЗА twenty-four-hours to run the program in order to predict an orbit for twenty-four-hours. A year later, when the lab installed the IBM 7090 in the summer of 1960, computation time was cut to about one hour per eight hours of prediction. The 7090 was one of the world’s first largely transistorized computers.

In April, two satellites underwent environmental tests in a thermal- vacuum chamber and vibration tests at the Naval Weapons Laboratory to see whether they would be able to withstand the temperature changes in space and the vibrations and accelerations of launch. Then the two satel­lites were placed outside on a grassy knoll while the radio frequency links and solar cells were tested.

In those early days, APL had no clean rooms to prevent contamina­tion of the spacecraft, and Commander Pollow recalls asking someone to stop flicking cigarette ash on the satellite. The clean rooms that were then creeping into industry were not clean rooms as we know them today. They were intended, say the Transit members, to provide a psychological envi­ronment that made people more careful. APL’s approach to instilling greater care relied on Kershner’s cradle-to-grave policy, which was a good way of encouraging the design engineer to satisfy the test engineer.

Besides testing, April 1959 saw work begin on three permanent and two mobile tracking stations. The spring schedule called for complete installation and checkout of ground stations by June 1; the completion of thermal, vacuum, and mechanical tests on three satellites by July 1; check­out of the entire Transit tracking communication and computing system by July 15; and delivery of three completed satellites to Cape Canaveral by July 19. The scheduled launch date for the first satellite was still August 24.

By the end of July, the timetable drawn up in spring had slipped a lit­tle, but not by many days, nor is it clear from the progress reports why. According to “Kershner’s roulette,” a term that does not appear in the pro­gram’s official progress reports but was common currency among Transit team members, any delay was supposed to be because of some other part of the complicated process of launching a satellite, never because of Tran­sit. Whether or not the Transit team won that particular spin of Kershner’s wheel, the launch date had by July been set back to September 17.

Through the summer of 1959, Guier, Newton, Black, and Hook were putting the finishing touches to the software. Kershner made infor­mal arrangements for the Physics Research Laboratory of the Army Signal Corps to participate in Transit and to evaluate the absorptivity and emis – sivity of paints in an attempt to find the best materials for controlling satel­lite temperature in orbit. He and Gibson were in constant contact with the Cape and with the Air Force, which was responsible for the launch. Kersh – ner was discussing tracking and orbital requirements, drawing up the checkout procedures for the launch site, and visiting candidate tracking sites. The sites were required to be free from interference from nearby sources of radio waves, and the surrounding topography had to provide clear lines of sight to the horizon, or at least to the lowest elevation from which the satellite could provide usable Doppler curves. Each site’s posi­tion had to be accurately surveyed.

Finally, toward the end of July, things started to come together. There were only days to go before the satellites were to be shipped to the Cape. In the year since Guier and Weiffenbach had learned that they had funding for an experimental navigation satellite, the Transit team had worked impossibly hard. They were exhausted and exhilarated.

On July 31, the satellite in which they had most confidence was undergoing a dynamic balancing test. While the satellite was spinning at one hundred revolutions per minute, a structural support member in the test equipment failed. The satellite fell and was shattered.

Kershner spoke into the silence that followed, without anger or histrionics. He asked team members to pick up the pieces and to deter­mine what was still in working order. Somehow, despite the sick feeling in the pits of their stomachs, Kershner’s demeanor inspired them to work flat out to prepare their remaining two satellites for shipping. More than thirty years later, when Weiffenbach recalled Kershner’s calmness and the team’s response, there were tears in his eyes. Sooner or later, each Transit team member tells this story. It never seems very dramatic, but it clearly symbol­izes why they respect Kershner.

On August 2, two, rather than three, NAV-1 satellites were delivered to the Cape.

Throughout August, the tracking stations at APL, in Texas, New Mexico, Washington State, Newfoundland, and England followed a rigor­ous practice schedule. APL staff went to England in the middle of the month. Negotiations were underway with AT&T to ensure that enough teletypewriter and telephone links were in place to handle communica­tions between APL, the Cape, and the tracking sites. During the launch,

Weiffenbach found himself repeatedly reassuring an English operator that the expensive transatlantic telephone line should stay open even though the operator could hear no one speaking.

At APL’s own tracking station, Henry Elliott was in place as the chief operator. During the last few weeks before the launch, Elliott encountered a number of irritants. Phase shifters arrived on September 8 but were not working. The next day, he got one working in time for a practice alert on September 10. During the day a twenty-four-hour clock arrived. On Sep­tember 14, three days before launch, there was a dry run. On September 16, there was another dry run, following a timetable mimicking the next day’s launch. One of the two frequency pairs that NAV-1 carried to inves­tigate whether one pair alone would be enough to correct for ionospheric refraction was swamped by a nearby signal. If it had been the real thing, there would have been no Doppler recording of one of the frequency pairs.

September 17, 1959, was the day of the launch. A final and complete check of the station began at six in the morning. A tracking filter failed and was replaced. News came through that the launch was being held for an hour and a half. At 9:45 a. m. APL’s test transmitter was switched off in preparation for the launch. An announcement was made over loudspeakers asking everyone in the lab to turn off anything that could generate a radio signal that might interfere with the satellite’s signal. At last, at 10:33:27 Eastern Daylight Time, the rocket lifted off.

It was eighteen months since McClure had told Guier and Weiffen­bach of his idea. In that time, the Transit team had learned how to design satellites and had designed and built facilities for mechanical, thermal, and vacuum tests, ground stations, and test equipment for their ground sta­tions. They had carried out innumerable theoretical analyses, had written an orbital determination program, and had built and tested three satellites. They had seen their best work destroyed by a last-minute accident and had shipped two satellites to the Cape. Now the Nav-1 satellite that would become Transit- і A was climbing through the atmosphere.

Chapter seventeen: Of Moons and Balloons

Personal details about John Pierce (mainly pages 180—182) come from my own interviews with him.

Other details are from the next four references: oral history taken by Har­riet Lyle for the archive of the California Institute of Technology in 1979.

The Beginnings of Satellite Communications, by J. R. Pierce, with a preface by Arthur C. Clarke (San Francisco Press, 1968) (copy from John Pierce);

My Career as an Engineer, An Autobiographical Sketch, by John R. Pierce, the University of Tokyo (1988); and

“Orbital Radio Relays,” by J. R. Pierce, Jet Propulsion, April 1955 (page 183).

In Spring 1958, Pierce and Rudi Kompfner read about William O’Sulli­van’s ideas for a balloon-like satellite to measure air density and realized that by bouncing microwaves off its surface they could test many techni­cal aspects of satellite communication (page 184). Interview with John Pierce.

Brief notes describing an ARPA satellite conference on July 13—14,

1958, and John Pierce’s involvement with William Pickering in develop­ing the Echo project (page 184). The notes are in the John Pierce collec­tion (#8309 Box 5, folder-leading to Echo) at The American Heritage Center at the University of Wyoming.

At the sixth meeting of the TPESP on June 7 and 8, 1955, William J. O’Sullivan, from the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA—a forerunner of NASA), presented his ideas for a giant alu­minized balloon that could be observed from Earth, allowing information to be deduced about the density of the upper atmosphere (page 184). Richard Porter told him the idea was interesting, and that the proposal should be sent to the working group on internal instrumentation (NAS archives).

At the seventh meeting of the TPESP, on September 5, 1956, O’Sullivan told the panel that NACA was prepared to build its air drag satellite experiment without the backing of the IGY (NAS archives).

There is a May 13, 1958, memo from Rudy Kompfner to E. I. Green, including John Pierce’s memo “Transoceanic Communication by Means of a Satellite.”

May 26, 1958: a memo by Brockway McMillan, “A Preliminary Engi­neering Study of Satellite Reflected Radio Systems.” The study is based on Pierce’s ideas. McMillan favors twenty satellites at medium altitudes to give continuous service and envisages that there would be a market for a new transatlantic service between 1970 and 1975. He writes, “It is con­cluded here also… there probably exists a potentially much larger market….”

There is a July 25, 1958 memo from E. I. Green to Mervin Kelly evaluat­ing Pierce’s proposals concludes,“In summary, the proposed system would require intensive R&D on a host of problems.. . considering other demands of Bells Systems… it would be my recommendation that we do not attempt to undertake satellite communications as a Bell System devel­opment.” Presumably, it was this memo that led to his “cease and desist order” (page 185).

A letter from John Pierce to Chaplin Cutler of October 17, 1958, gives Pierce’s views of the meeting of the Advanced Research Project Agency he had attended on October 15 and 16 (page 185). Pierce was aware from the beginning of the ideas being considered by the military for communi­cation satellites. At the ARPA meeting he was acting as a consultant to what was an ad hoc panel on 24-hour satellites. ARPA’s views would change considerably. Pierce reported the view then: “It is possible that a spinning satellite with non-directive antennas will be launched early in 1960 and a satellite with an attitude stabilized platform in 1962” (Box 840902, AT&T archives).

A memorandum for the Record from John Pierce, Rudy Kompfner, and Chaplin Cutler on Research Toward Satellite Communication, Research toward Satellite Communication. Dated January 6, 1959, the memo describes a research program directed in general at acquiring the basic knowledge for satellite communication by any means and specifically at aspects of passive Echo-type satellites. A fuller version of the research memo was written on January 9, 1959 (page 185) (AT&T archives).

In a letter to William McRae, vice president of AT&T, of January 7, 1959, Pierce outlines his proposed research program for satellite communication (AT&T archives).

A memo of 16 June 1959 describes a meeting between BTL, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and the Naval Research Laboratory, during which William O’Sullivan provided some technical details on the aluminized balloon and the Langley Research Center’s tests (page 186) (AT&T archives).

Information scattered through the chapter came from: Monthly Project Echo reports starting October 23 1959 (AT&T archives);

Project Echo, Monthly report No. 3, December 1959. Report on the first moon bounce test;

Rudi Kompfner’s correspondence and memos (AT&T archives 59 04 01); and from

Film reels in the AT&T archives:

1. Project Echo 1. An NBC news special sponsored by BTL 409-0213

2. The Big Bounce, BTL film 399-03727.