August 2005 
Volume 04, Issue 4 
Main Feature

Setting the pace in satellite communications

Doug Bender has developed modern spacecraft attitude-control tools and technologies that are the ‘bread and butter’ of program execution

Doug BenderRigorous preparation. Fine-tooth precision. Rock-solid discipline. These qualities are just as vital when Doug Bender races his 1966 Alfa Romeo or 1967 Lancia Fulvia as they are in his daily work at Boeing.

His prowess both on a race track and in the satellite communications field garners many accolades. Most recently, Bender, a leading expert in spacecraft attitude control for communications satellites, earned the distinction of Senior Technical Fellow for having been instrumental to the design, development, operation and failure recovery of five generations of Boeing satellites spanning 25 years and more than 100 launches.

Based in El Segundo, Calif., Bender has been involved with mission-critical projects since he joined then–Hughes Aircraft Company 25 years ago. Over the years, he has been pivotal in establishing new techniques and tools that moved the industry forward. His contributions include leading a team through a highly complex nine-month operation to recover Tracking and Data Relay Satellite (TDRS) I following an anomaly in its propulsion system. TDRS is a key NASA program for relaying signals and data from the ground station to NASA assets, such as the International Space Station. This unprecedented recovery resulted in a fully functioning satellite for Boeing’s customer—a task few thought could be done.

“Doug has pioneered modern spacecraft attitude-control tools and technologies at Boeing. Those developed by Doug are the ‘bread and butter’ of how we execute our programs today,” said Naveed Hussain, Flight Engineering manager, Space and Intelligence Systems, and a colleague of Bender’s for more than 15 years, most recently serving as his manager. He cited Bender’s key skills of strong leadership and in-depth knowledge of space systems and engineering.

Bender’s extraordinary expertise and successes are just part of what distinguishes him, however. Bender’s dedication to mentoring others has impressed Hussain the most.

“Doug epitomizes what a technical mentor should be. He takes the time to teach, guide and coach. He’ll roll up his sleeves and own your problem,” Hussain said. “Doug shines in mentoring people. He builds people’s careers. I draw on lessons learned from Doug daily and will be forever grateful for what he’s passed on to me.”

Growing up partly on a dairy farm in Vermont and driving tractors is a far cry from spacecraft attitude control for intricate, complex and mission-critical communication satellites. College exposed Bender to interests and opportunities that steered him on this career path.

“It’s an exciting industry to be in,” Bender said. “What drives my passion is seeing systems I designed or contributed to turn into reality.” He credits learning from some of the best engineers in the business, who helped shape his career. “The one thing I learned from all of them is to do a quality job and not be satisfied until my own standards are met.”

And advice he’d give others for business success? “Don’t be afraid to let others shine,” Bender said. “No one can do all the work, and we benefit if everyone gets the best chance to shine.”

And like a pace car in a race, he continues to be instrumental in shaping the path for his colleagues and Boeing’s future.

—Katherine Sopranos

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