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Frontiers July 2013 Issue

BOEING FRONTIERS / JULY 2013 13 new project when one of the company’s biggest programs, to develop an advanced radar system, was shelved. Rosen conferred with several colleagues, including Hudspeth, a communications engineer, who pointed out the sad state of international communications—it was expensive, hard to schedule and transoceanic television was impossible. More important, communications satellites were placed in low Earth orbits, which required huge ground antennas to track them as they passed overhead. But a well-designed communications satellite in a geostationary orbit around the equator, at 22,238 miles (35,790 kilometers) above Earth and traveling at 6,878 mph (11,070 kilometers per hour), would be synchronized with the speed of Earth’s daily rotation. The satellite would remain overhead, a fixed location. Rosen and Hudspeth, along with another Hughes scientist Donald Williams set about to design just such a satellite—Syncom, short for synchronous communication. A key design challenge was how to keep the satellite stable in orbit without using a complex system of thrusters that would require lots of onboard fuel and add too much weight. Rosen remembered back to discussions he had in college about the stabilizing dynamics of spin on objects such as a football or artillery shell. Syncom would be designed to spin around its axis. Williams invented and patented a device that would control the satellite by pulsing a single thruster in synchronism with its spin. The prototype was ready in the spring of 1961—but without a customer. So Hughes decided to display the satellite at the Paris Air Show. In August, not long after the air show, Hughes Space and Communications won a $4 million contract from NASA and the U.S. Defense Department to build three geosynchronous communications satellites. The first Syncom was launched from Cape Canaveral on Valentine’s Day in 1963. All systems were working until the satellite’s onboard engine was fired to place Syncom into its final orbit. Syncom was not heard from again. Syncom II followed in late July. Days later, President John F. Kennedy called Nigerian Prime Minister Abubaker Balewa from the White House. It was the first live two-way satellite telephone call between heads of state. A year later, Syncom III was placed into geosynchronous orbit over the equator and subsequently broadcast, with the help of Syncom II, live coverage of the 1964 Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo. During that first year Syncom II was in orbit, NASA conducted public demonstrations of its capabilities. One took place at the Hughes Aircraft plant. “We had a portable terminal, with a soldier at an Army base on the other end,” Rosen would later recall. “My wife said, ‘Hello.’ The soldier said, ‘Hello.’ She dropped the receiver and said, ‘My God, Harold, it works!’ ” Indeed. Syncom II had started a global communications revolution. And it was also the beginning of 50 years of satellite innovation by Boeing and its heritage companies. n patricia.m.mcginnis@boeing.com “Syncom started our journey.’’ – Craig Cooning, vice president and general manager, Boeing Space and Intelligence Systems PHOTOS: (Opposite page, clockwise from top) The Syncom satellite; Donald Williams, from left, Harold Rosen and Thomas Hudspeth with Syncom; Hudspeth, left, and Rosen with the Syncom prototype atop the Eiffel Tower in 1961. (This page, from left) In late 1963, President John F. Kennedy telephones Nigerian Prime Minister Abubaker Balewa via Syncom II; the 1964 Summer Olympic Games broadcast from Tokyo by Syncom III. boeing archives


Frontiers July 2013 Issue
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