Boeing Frontiers
November 2003
Volume 02, Issue 07
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Integrated Defense Systems

The legacy of Syncom


Above: Hughes Aircraft Company scientists Thomas Hudspeth (left) and Harold Rosen hold a Syncom satellite prototype atop the Eiffel Tower during the 1961 Paris Air Show. The third member of the original Syncom design team was Donald Williams.
Every capability delivered by The Boeing Company's satellites over the last 40 years descended from a spacecraft launched on July 26, 1963, that measured approximately two feet high by two feet wide.

"Revolutionary" might seem a grandiose description for such a modest cylinder, but all subsequent Boeing satellites, most notably those that support lifesaving defense, weather-monitoring and intelligence applications, bear the legacy of Syncom 2, the world's first geosynchronous communications satellite.

40 years of firsts
Boeing Satellite Systems' history includes many notable achievements. BSS built the first:

  • Communications satellite in geosynchronous orbit (Syncom 2, 1963).
  • Satellite used in a live two-way call between heads of state (Syncom 2, President John F. Kennedy and Nigerian Prime Minister Abubaker Balewa, 1963).
  • Satellite used to provide the first continuous trans-Pacific broadcast (Syncom 3, Tokyo Olympic Games, 1964).
  • Spacecraft to make a fully controlled soft landing on the moon (Surveyor 1, 1966).
  • Spacecraft to transmit color pictures of Earth from synchronous altitude (ATS-3, 1967).
  • Dedicated system in North America for mobile telephone, radio, facsimile, paging, position location, and data communications for users on land, at sea, and in the air (MSAT, 1990s).
Today, entering the satellite era's fifth decade, BSS plays a central role in many crucial programs that Boeing Homeland Security & Services, NASA Systems, Air Force Systems, and Space & Intelligence Systems are executing. These include Tracking and Data Relay Satellites, Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites, Prometheus, Ultra-High Frequency Follow-on, Wideband Gapfiller, Mobile User Objective System, and Future Imagery Architecture, among many others.

This portfolio of satellite-based government systems, which currently represents 70 percent of BSS business, traces its origin to the 78-pound, 28-inch-diameter Syncom 2, whose launch capped a four-year, NASA-sponsored development effort.

"Many people thought we were unrealistic," said Thomas Hudspeth, who, with Harold Rosen and Donald Williams, made up the Hughes Aircraft Company Syncom design team. "Our boss was sympathetic and got us the funding to continue on."

Syncom 2 and Syncom 3, launched in August 1964, carried television and telephone transmissions, expanding direct, 24-hour communications access to two thirds of the Earth's surface. The spacecraft remained active through 1966, far exceeding their one-year design life.

Building on Syncom success ever since, BSS—created when Boeing acquired the Hughes satellite business in 2000—has led the satellite revolution, spawning the modern communications industry, enabling dozens of new applications, and lending technology and expertise to dozens of Boeing programs. Government agencies—and millions of people served by them—are indebted to Syncom 2 for the satellite systems that help direct troop movements, acquire required information in real time, bolster law enforcement and manage air traffic.

Forty years after Syncom 2, Boeing is still leveraging its success with that little spacecraft, working on a $3 billion backlog and preparing for several new opportunities in 2004. The principal Syncom legacy is BSS' central role within Boeing and the ingenuity with which the enterprise captures government satellite market opportunities, helps build a battlefield-management network that will provide strategic superiority, and pursues profitable commercial satellite market opportunities.

As for the pioneering spacecraft itself, though now spent and silent, Syncom 2 remains an orbiting monument to a bold idea, its legacy embedded in the hundreds of descendants that have since circled the Earth.


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