Astro Introduction

 

RCA ASTRO INTRODUCTION

 

 

homeHome /
Hogar

 

 

ASTRO SPACE, for nearly 4 decades, was one of the principal US designers and manufacturers of space satellites and systems. Astro-Electronics Products was founded in 1958 by the RCA Corporation. Shortly thereafter it became known as the Astro-Electronics Division, achieving the status of a division of RCA Defense Electronics Products. A widely used nickname was RCA Space Center. This division became Astro Space (Astro for short) after the acquisition of RCA by GE, and the merger of Valley Forge and East Windsor facilities into one operating division. The name Astro Space survived the Martin Marietta purchase of GE Aerospace, and the merger of Martin Marietta and Lockheed. Following that merger and the decision to close the two facilities, the name Astro Space ceased being used, and the two facilities were separated again.

During its peak years, Astro was the primary manufacturer of weather satellites for the US National Oceanic and Space Administration (NOAA) and for the Defense Department. It also became one of the world’s primary manufacturers of communications satellites.

 

TRIGGER EVENT, FOUNDING AND EARLY YEARS

The launch of the first man made satellite, SPUTNIK, by the Soviet Union in 1958, caused a profound shock to the American public, who believed that US space technology was far in advance of the Russians. The US Army Signal Corps, headquartered in Fort Monmouth, NJ, was given the task to quickly correct this situation. Several companies, including RCA, had submitted proposals to the Signal Corps for store-and-forward relay communications packages that could be orbited. These packages could be used to receive and store a message and play it back to a distant geographic location. The Signal Corps awarded a contract to RCA to build such a package, which became project SCORE.

Traditionally, defense projects were designed and built at facilities equipped with extensive security infrastructure and personnel. RCA management was reluctant to burden their main commercial research center at RCA Laboratories in Princeton, NJ with this security overhead. RCA ASTRO was created in 1958, just a few months after the launch of SPUTNIK, devoted entirely to building spacecraft and spacecraft subsystems. RCA ASTRO was established in East Windsor, NJ, on Old Trenton Road (NJ 535), just North of the “Locust Corner” intersection with the Princeton-Hightstown Road (NJ 571). This location was just a few miles East of RCA Laboratories, had good railroad and highway connections and was less than 1 hour from Newark Airport. Personnel was recruited from several other RCA Divisions to form the core engineering and manufacturing staff of the new organization.

 

PROJECT SCORE

The first voice message from space came from Project SCORE (Signal Communications by Orbiting Relay Equipment), a communications package designed and built by RCA Astro that was orbited on an Atlas rocket. On December 18, 1958, it sent a Christmas message of peace from President Eisenhower.

 

MERGERS AND ACQUISITIONS

In 1986, GE re-acquired RCA and merged the activities of their GE Space division in Valley Forge, PA with those of RCA Astro. In 1993, GE sold their aerospace business to Martin Marietta of Denver, CO. In 1995 Lockheed and Martin Marietta merged to form Lockheed Martin and the Astro Space Division was renamed Lockheed Martin Astro Space. In 1997 Lockheed Martin formed Lockheed Martin Telecommunications as an umbrella structure for satellite communications operations, including Astro Space Commercial, SATPHONE International, Astrolink and other emerging opportunities. The name was changed to Lockheed Martin Global telecommunications (LMGT). In 2000 LMGT and COMSAT were combined.

 

ASTRO’s END

In 1995, Lockheed Martin Management decided to close the former RCA and GE divisions, including RCA Astro, and move the engineering organization to Sunnyvale, CA, and Reston, VA, renaming it Lockheed Martin Global Telecommunications and primarily concentrating on satellite communications and the Astrolink program.  They also moved the remaining civil space projects to the Martin facility in Denver.  Some of the payload technology remained on the East Coast, in Newtown, PA, approximately midway between the old RCA and GE facilities.  The former Lockheed Martin East Windsor, NJ facility was dismantled and eventually became a Corporate Park.  In November 2013, Lockheed Martin also closed the Newtown, PA facility.

 

Abbreviations

The following acronyms and abbreviations appear in the tables in this section of the web site:

  • AKM - spacecraft Apogee Kick Motor
  • B&W Black & White
  • CCTV Closed Circuit Television
  • C-Band 6GHz receive & 4 GHz transmit
  • DBS Direct Broadcast Satellite
  • DMSP Defense Meteorological Satellite Program
  • GE General Electric Corporation
  • ITOS Improved TIROS Operational System
  • Ku-Band 14 GHz receive & 11 GHz transmit
  • Ka-Band 27-30 GHz receive & 11-20 GHz transmit
  • LM Lockheed Martin Corporation
  • LMGT - Lockeed Martin Global Telecommunications Corporation
  • LMT - Lockeed Martin Telecommunications Corporation
  • L/V Launch Vehicle
  • MM - Martin Marietta Corporation
  • NOAA National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
  • PAS Pan-American Satellite
  • RBV Return Beam Vidicon TV camera
  • RCA Radio Corporation of America
  • S/C spacecraft
  • SR Scanning Radiometer (sensor)
  • STS Space Transportation System (Space Shuttle)
  • TIROS Television Infra-Red Observations System
  • VHRR Very High Resolution Radiometer (sensor)

 

References:

  1. Communications Satellites RCA Astro Electronics Division marketing brochure (undated).
  2. TIROS 50th ANNIVERSARY web site - http://ubtrue2.net/tiros50thanc/Index.htm
  3. TIROS Wikipedia link - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Television_Infrared_Observation_Satellite
  4. DMSP Wikipedia link - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Defense_Meteorological_Satellite_Program
  5. Bob Cenker Wikipedia link - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_J._Cenker
  6. Astrolink Wikipedia link - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Astrolink
  7. TRW Space Log 1996 Vol 32 1957-1996, TRW Space & Electronics Group

 


Copyright © Ed Elizondo   - All Rights Reserved / Todos los derechos reservados.
( last updated / actualizado 08-Feb-2022 )