The Score Project, launched in 1958

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I am very pleased with the warm reception you've given my stories on early space projects. The new chapter 28 in Reflections 3 describes several of the space projects in which I was intimately involved, as in ECHO and TIROS.

I have another story here concerning the SCORE project, in which the first satellite of significant weight and size was launched into space on December 18, 1958. That satellite was an ATLAS ICBM, which also carried the World's first two-way communication system from space. RCA was responsible for designing and building all the communication systems that included the system aboard the ATLAS and the five ground stations spread across the Country from Cape Canaveral to California. My assignment on this project was to design and build the RF components for the five ground stations.

But before I get into the story I want you all to know this: Although I consider myself an electrical engineer, I am not a graduate EE, as I have had no formal engineering training whatever, my only engineering knowledge was self taught from my own extensive engineering library and on-the-job training. An avid HBer as a ham during the 30's and 40's also helped. My BS major was math, plus one college course in Physics. So as I said in an earlier post, I'm one very lucky guy to have been in the right place at the right time to have been able to partake in such a new and challenging environment as the earliest time in the beginning of the space age.

Now to the SCORE story--hope you enjoy this one also:

Chapter 28  

Antennas in Space from an Historical and Archival Perspective

Sec 28.1  The SCORE Chronicles


     This paper chronicles the series of events leading up to the launch of the World’s first Earth-orbiting communications satellite. The project was known as SCORE, the acronym for Signal Communication by Orbiting Relay Equipment. The project was secret until the launch occurred, with only 88 people on the need to know list that included the Author. This paper also tells of the vital part the Author played in the project. The communications relaying equipment was carried as payload on an Air Force ATLAS B ICBM (Intercontinental Ballistic Missile) rocket, launched into orbit from Cape Canaveral on December 18, 1958. Among other firsts, it was also the first rocket-propelled missile to be launched into Earth orbit instead of following the usual down-range trajectory and landing in the Atlantic Ocean. At this early stage of the World’s space programs the Russian Sputniks 1 and 2 had been launched only a little over a year earlier, on Oct. 4 and Nov. 3, 1957.
     The successful orbiting of the Sputniks was a shocking development, a huge surprise to everyone Worldwide, and especially to the agencies in the United States that had been striving unsuccessfully to launch a satellite into orbit before the Sputniks appeared on the scene. Except for the grapefruit-sized Vanguard 1 and the slightly larger Explorers 1, 2, and 3, launched in 1958 since the Sputniks, all other attempts to place a satellite in orbit failed. A depressing situation for the US agencies to have been outperformed by the Russians during the height of the Cold War. In the meantime President Dwight D. Eisenhower had directed the establishment of the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) within the Department of Defense. He then directed ARPA to come up with a plan for the Nation to recover from the embarrassment caused by the Sputniks.  
The Deception Surrounding the ATLAS Rocket

     The ATLAS rocket was a product of Convair Aircraft (formerly Consolidated-Vultee) in San Diego, California. Several months earlier ARPA Chief Roy W. Johnson had visited the Convair plant, and while there he heard that the ATLAS was capable of being launched into orbit. The wheels in his brain suddenly started turning—putting ATLAS into orbit could be just what the doctor ordered to dispel the Nation’s embarrassment. Johnson immediately flew to San Diego to consult with Convair’s chief design engineer, who drew some pencil-sketch design changes to the ATLAS that would allow it to go into orbit. As of that moment the project became cloaked in melodramatic secrecy to avoid the kind of premature publicity that had turned some of the failed launchings into embarrassments. No one else at Convair was to know of the plan, and no formal design drawings were to be made, ensuring that no draftsman could leak the information. In fact, it was to be understood that if knowledge of the project became public it would be scrapped, the reason being that since such an attempt had never been tried there was the possibility of another failure.
     Johnson took the pencil sketches to Senior Convair Engineer Travis Maloy at Cape Canaveral to have him perform the required changes to the ATLAS II that was selected for the project. However, the secrecy of the mission required that only those at Cape Canaveral with the need to know were told what was to happen to the rocket in the way of changes in the design that would allow it to go into orbit. Maloy handed the sketches to Convair’s head mechanical technician at the Cape outlining the changes to be made on the rocket, but because they were only informal drawings, and not signed off by Convair’s chief design engineer, he refused to comply with the change orders called for in the sketches. Maloy couldn’t give the technician the reason for the changes, because he was not on the need-to-know list. Maloy then telephoned Convair’s chief design engineer in San Diego and told him of the problem. The chief design engineer told Maloy to put the technician on the phone, who then told the technician to make every change detailed in the pencil sketches or he would have to find a new job starting immediately. The technician then complied without question.
     So as to not arouse suspicion, Maloy made many of the changes himself. He would also assemble some components needed for a normal down-range trajectory, but then would remove them at night when no one else was around. Another deception was that a blockhouse test indicated that the fuel cutoff mechanism for the main engine was operating. If this had been really so, the engine would have stopped working too soon for the ATLAS to achieve orbit. Actually the cutoff switch was not working at all, but the man who was checking it thought it was. An accomplice of Maloy’s disconnected a wire and at the moment when the cutoff light would normally have flashed on the panel, he instead sent in a charge that caused the light to flash on schedule. Even the blockhouse was rigged!
     The ultimate irony in the deception came shortly after the launch key on the program console was pressed initiating the launch of the ATLAS carrying the communications payload. Following standard procedure, engineers down range in the Bahamas who monitor the progress of each missile launch by radar, but not knowing of the plan to place the ATLAS into orbit, immediately signaled the Range Safety Officer for destruction of the rocket because it was going way off course, constituting a safety hazard. The Safety Officer was on the need to know list, ignored the signal, and allowed the ATLAS to continue. Of course as we know, the ATLAS orbited successfully, and the communications system riding aboard performed brilliantly as it relayed President Eisenhower’s Christmas Message from Space for everyone in the World to hear. For Roy Johnson the success of the communications system was the icing on the cake.

Developing the Communications System Payload

     Now it’s time to tell of the events relating to the development of the communications package that delivered the President’s Christmas Message from Space, which was the first ever radio relay and repeater system operating from an Earth-orbiting platform in space.  ARPA Director Roy Johnson decided that although the orbiting of an entire rocket the size of the ATLAS would in itself be a humungous display of recovery from the scientific doldrums, he considered the effect would be significantly more dramatic if an additional feature were to accompany the orbiting ATLAS. After consulting with people at the Army Signal Corps’ Signal Research and Development Laboratory (SRDL) at Ft. Monmouth, NJ, it was decided that a first time ever two-way communications system operating in outer space would enhance the project dramatically. SRDL was then directed to develop such a system. The system was not intended to be just a cosmetic attraction, but what turned out to be the forerunner and prototype of the practical operation of a satellite radio relay system with intercontinental capability.
How SRDL and the Media Misled the Country Concerning the Development of the Communications Package

    At this point, speaking from first-hand knowledge, the Author takes a contradictory position with the myriad of misleading reports on the SCORE Project dished up by SDRL and the media, reports that can be viewed on the Internet by inserting ‘SCORE’ into either the Google or Yahoo search engines. One aspect appearing in all the reports is simply not true. Those reports state incorrectly that the communication system was developed and built by SRDL engineers in the SDRL laboratory at Ft. Monmouth. In addition, quoting from an article in Life Magazine, January 1959, “Scientists of the Army Signal Laboratory at Fort Monmouth, N.J., painstakingly adapted standard equipment, rearranged components, and hand built the final system for this specific task.” This did not happen as told in Life Magazine and as also reported in newspapers across the country. On the contrary, SDRL had no such equipment available, but contracted out the entire communications package that flew on the ATLAS to the RCA Laboratories in Princeton, N.J. for the design and fabrication, while SDRL engineers watched over our shoulders. Indeed, even the modification of the standard off-the-shelf receivers and transmitters used in the SCORE ground stations were performed by RCA engineers at both the RCA Laboratories and at the new RCA Astro-Electronic Products Division plant in Hightstown, N.J. The contract with RCA for both the payload package and the ground stations was signed in late June 1958. The entire RCA portion of the project was completed and delivered to SRDL around the first of September, slightly less than three months from start to finish. During the time between the RCA delivery to SRDL and the launch of the ATLAS on December 18, 1958, SDRL engineers and technicians installed the payload communications components in the ATLAS rocket at Cape Canaveral, installed additional operational-related equipment in the vans, trained technicians in the operational ground station procedures, and moved the vans to the various ground station locations.
RCA’s Development of the Communications Payload and Ground Stations

    The engineer who led the entire Project SCORE operation at RCA was Sidney Metzger. Working under Metzger were Seymour (Sy) Roth, who directed the design, construction and modification of the receiver, transmitter, tape recorder, and control system that flew on the ATLAS, and Author Walter Maxwell, who was responsible for the design and construction of the ground stations. Five ground stations were assembled, each built into a standard Army type V-51 van and trailer combination and each driven to a specific location across the Country, at Cape Canaveral, Fort Stewart, Georgia, Fort Sam Houston, Texas, Fort Hauchuca, Arizona, and Fort MacArthur, in California.
      Because the goal of the project was to alleviate the embarrassment to the agencies in the US space program as quickly as possible, the activity at RCA proceeded with extraordinary expedition. After determining the components required to build the systems, it was decided to first explore the shelf inventory to determine whether there were existing components that could be used with a minimum of redesign and rework. Fortunately, a large percentage of the components that would fit the requirements with a minimum of rework were already available.
The Communications System that Flew Aboard the ATLAS as Payload

     For starters, RCA was already well along in the development of the communications components for the TIROS weather satellite program, which began a few months earlier; the receiver, transmitter, and tape recorder. The principal modification to a TIROS receiver required to ready it for the SCORE project was the change in input frequency from the 148-MHz TIROS frequency to 150-MHz SCORE frequency, a minor change. The original design and the modification to the receiver were performed by Harold Goldberg. A nearby supplier for the transmitter offered to deliver it on short notice in conformance with the required specifications. Finally, the tape recorder developed for TIROS needed only minor modifications to ready it for use with SCORE. However, an entirely new control system was developed by RCA engineer Al Aronson for remotely controlling the operation of the communications equipment in the ATLAS from the ground stations.
The Modification and Assembly of Available Components for the Ground Stations

     The RF engineers at RCA studied the propagation paths that would occur between the ATLAS satellite and the ground stations, and concluded that only a small amount of RF power transmitted from the ground stations would be required to obtain a high signal-to-noise ratio at the input of the receiver aboard the ATLAS. A power of 100 watts into a moderate gain antenna was considered sufficient to provide a large margin for error. However, because these propagation paths were virgin territory, the engineers at SDRL were skeptical. Because so much emotion was riding on the success of the mission, the SDRL engineers insisted on using much higher power to be transmitted from the ground stations than that considered sufficient by the engineers at RCA.
     The Army Signal Corps at Fort Monmouth made available five sets of trailer-mounted helical antennas called ‘Radiquads’ that consisted of four helical elements, each mounted on a corner of a square horizontal ground plane. Each helical element had a gain of approximately 10 dB at the SCORE-assigned frequency of 150 MHz. Consequently, the total gain of the array of the four helical elements was approximately 16 dB, for a power gain of approximately 40 times. The Signal Corps furnished five Radiquads, one for each ground station. The SDRL specifications called for 1,000 watts delivered to the Radiquads. With 1,000 watts from the transmitter along with a 16 dB gain in the antenna, the effective radiated power amounted to approximately 40 kilowatts, 40,000 watts! These conditions required by the SDRL engineers gave Maxwell the information he needed to start thinking about how to develop the 1000 watts for the ground station transmitter.
      He first checked with the RCA Broadcast Division to determine whether there were any 1000-watt FM broadcast transmitters on the shelf. Unfortunately, there were none available in finished condition. However, a manufacturer in Philadelphia had several 1000-watt amplifiers available that were built for the 88 to 108 MHz FM broadcast band. These would be satisfactory if they could be modified to operate at 150 MHz. However, these amplifiers needed from 10 to 50 watts of excitation power to deliver 1000 watts. Maxwell then checked with RCA’s mobile communications division and discovered that their CarFone models were available in quantity. CarFone was the name RCA assigned to its two-way FM mobile radios used in police cars, taxis, etc, with both receivers and transmitters operating in the 160-165 MHz band. However, the frequencies assigned to the SCORE project were 150 MHz for the uplink and 132 MHz for the downlink. Consequently, to use the CarFones, both the receivers and transmitters required modification to operate on the frequencies assigned to SCORE. Three technicians from the RCA Service Company were made available to perform the modifications to the five sets of CarFone units, modifying the input frequency of the receivers to 132 MHz and the output frequency of the transmitters to 150 MHz. When the modifications were completed the CarFone transmitters, with a pair of 6146 tubes in the output, delivered approximately 100 watts, more than enough to excite the 1000-watt amplifiers. The FM modulation characteristics of the CarFone transmitters also satisfied the requirements of the SCORE mission.
     However, modifying the RF frequency-determining components in the plate and grid circuits of the amplifiers was quite another matter. The VHF plate tank circuit accompanying the two 4–400 push-pull amplifier tubes was a variable-length transmission line tunable only between 88 and 108 MHz. Consequently, the line was too long to resonate at the SCORE frequency of 150 MHz, requiring the fabrication of a new transmission line to operate at 150 MHz. However, when the attempt was made to operate at this frequency the amplifier was unstable. Maxwell, himself, fabricated and installed the new transmission line, but he also provided the expertise to tame the instability of the amplifier that resulted in satisfactory operation at the new frequency. Under his direction five sets of the CarFone and amplifier combination were installed in the five Signal Corps vans.
     While the flight hardware was still in the RCA laboratory, the complete system was tested with each of the ground station equipments to assure that all components were operating correctly prior to delivering any portion of the system to SDRL.

The Radiquad Helical Antenna Array

     Now we come to the antenna system described earlier. The stability of the 1000-watt transmitter required the load impedance to be very close to a non-reactive 50-ohm resistance. The impedance presented by the four helices connected in parallel was miles away from 50 ohms, thus requiring an impedance-matching network inserted between the antenna array and the transmitter to ensure the stability of the transmitter. Using data he obtained from measuring the impedance of the antenna array, Maxwell then designed and constructed the transmission-line stub matching network that provided the required 50-ohm impedance appearing at the input of the transmission line connecting the transmitter to the four-helix  Radiquad antenna array. The array was mounted on a searchlight base atop the trailers attached to the V-51 vans. The receivers, with their input tuned to 132 MHz, operated satisfactorily, oblivious to the input impedance mismatch appearing at that frequency, while the transmitter was matched to the 150 MHz transmitter frequency.

The Final Operation

     The SCORE package worked perfectly, responding to 78 real ¬time and store ¬and forward voice and teletype transmissions between ground stations located at Cape Canaveral, and in Georgia, Texas, Arizona and California. On December 19, the day after the launch, President Eisenhower’s recorded Christmas Message from Space was broadcast from the satellite:
     "This is the President of the United States speaking. Through the marvels of scientific advance, my voice is coming to you from a satellite traveling in outer space. My message is a simple one: Through this unique means I convey to you and all mankind, America's wish for peace on Earth and goodwill toward men everywhere."
     After 12 days the batteries failed. On 21 January 1959, the satellite reentered the Earth's atmosphere and burned up.
     Dr. Hans K. Ziegler, writing in 1960 when he was chief scientist of US Army Signal Research and Development Laboratory, characterized SCORE as the first prototype of a communications satellite, and the first test of any satellite for direct practical applications. According to him, the significance of the experiment lay in the fact that it effectively demonstrated the practical feasibility of worldwide communications in delayed and real time mode by means of relatively simple active satellite relays. During the twelve-day life of its batteries, the satellite was interrogated by Signal Corps ground stations seventy-eight times, using voice and teletype messages for the communications tests with excellent results. The project provided valuable information for the design of future communications satellites. An exact copy of the communications package that flew on the ATLAS can be seen in the Smithsonian Institution Museum in Washington, D.C.
     It seems only fitting that all RCA personnel who were involved with the project, including the Author, were invited to the Smithsonian to participate in the ceremony sponsored by the State Department, the U.S. Army Signal Corps, and the Advanced Research Projects Agency, dedicating the communications package to the Museum.

Hi Walt,

Absolutely fascinating to read.

I think you may have posted information about the SCORE Program at some point earlier. I can clearly recall the reference to the use of the RCA Carfone rigs as the exciters for the high-powered final amplifier units.

What is also amazing is the incredibly short time associated with the overall execution of the project, from the early conceptual discussions with Convair, to the launch and successful operation of the SCORE payload. It is questionable if an effort of this magnitude could be pulled off today in a similar timeframe.

Sputnik 1 also used a booster orignally intended for sub-orbital ICBM application, which was subsequently modified for achieving earth orbit with it's world's first satellite payload.

I can recall three earlier generation communications satellites; Courier, Syncom, and Early Bird. Was RCA Astro involved with these programs as well? I think Syncom was the first communications satellite deployed in a geosynchronous orbit, and was used extensively to televise the 1964 Tokyo Olympics to North America.

Telstar, of course, was an AT & T project dating to 1962, and was the first active communications satellite to transmit live video feeds and two-way telephony across the Atlantic. It's orbit was not geosynchronous, and Telstar was more of a proof-of-concept program than anything else.

Please continue to post similar information about your association with these very early efforts in this country's space program. Were you involved in any projects whilst at RCA that were associated with the manned space program, such as the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs?



Hi Bruce, glad you found the SCORE story interesting. If I made an earlier post on SCORE I don't recall it.

I can't remember whether Courier was built by RCA or not--if it was I was not involved with it.

You mentioned Telstar, but omitted 'RELAY'. RELAY was NASA's answer to Telstar, and did most of the work that Telstar got credit for for a long time afterward. Coincidentally, my next story will be about both of them, because I was also involved in the RELAY project, especially the launch phase at Cape Canaveral.

I don't recall RCA being involved with either Mercury of Gemini, but we did work on Apollo. On that project I was involved with the dish antenna that went on the Lunar Rover, the 'Moon Buggy'. I was part of a three-man team that designed and built that antenna. It went on all of the three Rovers, which are still in NASA's used car parking lot on the Moon, thus I guess I could say I have three antennas on the Moon.

73, Walt

Quote from: W2DU on January 07, 2011, 07:31:26 PM

Hi Bruce, glad you found the SCORE story interesting. If I made an earlier post on SCORE I don't recall it.

I can't remember whether Courier was built by RCA or not--if it was I was not involved with it.

You mentioned Telstar, but omitted 'RELAY'. RELAY was NASA's answer to Telstar, and did most of the work that Telstar got credit for for a long time afterward. Coincidentally, my next story will be about both of them, because I was also involved in the RELAY project, especially the launch phase at Cape Canaveral.

I don't recall RCA being involved with either Mercury of Gemini, but we did work on Apollo. On that project I was involved with the dish antenna that went on the Lunar Rover, the 'Moon Buggy'. I was part of a three-man team that designed and built that antenna. It went on all of the three Rovers, which are still in NASA's used car parking lot on the Moon, thus I guess I could say I have three antennas on the Moon.

73, Walt

Hi Walt,

Thanks for the reply.

Here is a video on the SCORE project, and Eisenhower's broadcast over the satellite:

Perhaps the antennas and some of the equipment will appear familiar to you. Notice the R-390A in the top of the equipment rack on the right.

Yes, I do remember the RELAY program, but I had neglected to include it with the other communications satellite projects I mentioned. I look forward to your story of RELAY and of Telstar whenever you have the chance.

I have a book from the early 1960s that chronicles the Telstar program in considerable detail. I can vividly remember the very evening when the first trans-Atlantic live video transmission took place between the U.S. and France, over Telstar. I was 8 years old, and can recall it as if it was yesterday. My Dad, who was a big science-fiction and Arthur C. Clarke enthusiast, was utterly amazed by that event; it is a very pleasant memory. I remember the live image of the American flag waving in the breeze being transmitted by the U.S. side of the link, and of a popular French male singer being broadcast from the French end of the link.

Prior to the live video feed in the early evening over Telstar, and once the AT & T engineers had completed their testing and performance evaluation of the satcom link, a historic two-way telephone conversation over Telstar took place between the president of AT & T, and Vice-President Lyndon Johnson.

Here are two links to brief videos on Telstar:

Interestingly, the  AT & T engineers at the Andover, Maine end of the link, kept receiving noise no matter where the enormous horn antenna was pointed in the sky, and they were unable to explain it's origin. Later, it was determined they were receiving the background cosmic microwave radiation from the very origin of the universe, the so-called big bang.

I'll have to pull my "Telstar" book off the shelf and read up on the details.

With regard to your not being a degreed EE; there is, of course, zero substitution for practical experience. I have had the good fortune to work with some extremely talented engineers in my career, most with their degrees in electrical engineering, and a few with no degree. Some of the degreed fellows were really second-rate engineers, whilst some the non-degreed guys were superb. All that the degree confers is proof that you were able to pass the subjects taught to you in engineering school, and nothing more.

I just learned earlier this week that Ray de Pasquale, the late founder of the extremely successful Technical Materiel Corporation (TMC) never went to college, yet he and his company were responsible for bringing to market some of the finest HF transmitting equipment ever made. Although a college degree carrys real weight to it, it does not mean everything.



Hi Bruce,

Thanks for your reply also. In the YouTube display I saw the R-390, also the Radiquad antenna, the four helices on the ground plane. Those are the helices I matched to 50 ohms. The view of the R-390 was in one of the ground stations I developed, but the view didn't show the 1KW xmtr that fed the helices.

Regarding Telstar, as I remember it, the constant noise heard at Andover instead of the satellite, was because the Andover engineers had their receiving antenna set for the opposite screw sense of the circular polarization, and the effort wasn't successful until the screw-sense problem was fixed. Somehow, I don't believe the story about the screw-sense problem will appear in AT&T's formal journal. I'll have a lot more to say on Telstar when I post the next story, probably tomorrow.

Regarding college degrees I agree with you totally. However, I didn't say I didn't have a college degree, because I do, only it's a BS in math, not EE.


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