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Oral-History:Harold Rosen

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Contents

About Harold Rosen

In February 2003 the National Inventors Hall of Fame Committee inducted Harold Rosen into their prestigious club for the Spin Stabilized Synchronous Communications Satellite. Born in New Orleans, March 20, 1926, this dentist’s son demonstrated a penchant for the technical and electronics at an early age. By age fourteen, Rosen was not only a member of his high school’s radio club, but an amateur in the industry. Rosen recalls himself being a precocious child, and his academic record more than corroborates this assertion. He graduated high school at the age of fifteen and would have completed college before eighteen had it not been for World War II against Germany’s Adolf Hitler, Italy’s Benito Mussolini and Japan’s Emperor Hirohito. The young, patriotic Rosen delayed his studies at Tulane University, and his job as a radio station transmitter engineer, to enter the Navy at age seventeen.



Rosen saw no action as a combat soldier, but military officials quickly put his educational talents to use. He became an educator in the very training school that was supposed to prepare him for physical warfare. After the war, like most veterans of the war against fascism, Rosen used the newly passed GI Bill to complete his undergraduate degree in general electrical engineering at Tulane—where he worked with Noble Prize winner Carl D. Anderson—and to support his young wife. While working with the Navy Rosen worked in the Lark program, a response the Japanese Kamikaze attacks. In addition, he worked in the Navy’s electronics program and its focus on radars, sonars and radios.



After completing his service in the Navy and finishing his degree at Tulane, Rosen moved the California to attend the California Institute of technology for graduate school, where he worked part-time for Raytheon. Rosen continued to labor on the front lines of technology, working on anti-aircraft guided missiles and radars. In 1956 Rosen completed his PhD and left Raytheon because they wanted to relocate him out east to Massachusetts. He had attended Caltech over Harvard due to the differences in weather. Now wanting to move back to New England, Rosen got a job a Hughes Aircraft who was expanding and because he had personal ties and connections from his days at Caltech.



When the Soviets launched Sputnik in 1957 Rosen found himself in the thick of the Cold War’s space race. In addition to working side-by-side with American scientist, he also worked closely with German minds who had defected from the Russians before the end of WWII. He became involved in the Geosynchronous Communication Satellite Program, a career that lasted from 1959, until his retirement 1993



The government cancelled the radar program he was working on because Russians were not working on developing bombers, as had been previously suspected. Rosen recalls that he enjoyed his time with the government but was always more interested in commercial markets. However, early in its history, the technological industry was one afraid to take risks. For example, in spring 1960 Rosen retired from Hughes because could not find a partner for his communication satellite venture. A former colleague and friend from Raytheon Tom Phillips agreed to fund project under the condition that Rosen move back out east. This time he complied. As he was putting in his resignation Hughes’ management invested $300,000 in the project, and so he decided to stay. Satellites were a hard sell in the U.S. so he went to Europe to demonstrate their commercial appeal, completing one successfully at the Eiffel Tower.



In retirement Rosen started private company named Volacom with Brother Ben, creator of Compaq and its first chairman and CEO. He is also doing some consulting with Boeing, and is in the process of trying to create an electrically powered airplane that will be used for communications, most notably internet connections. Such airplanes do not yet exist, but Rosen feels this is the most economical and practical way to go. Planes would fly, unmanned, at 60,000 feet, and they would be able to provide service even to areas with low population density.

About the Interview

HAROLD ROSEN: An Interview Conducted by John Vardalas, 13 February 2003


Interview #426 for the IEEE History Center and Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey

Copyright Statement

This manuscript is being made available for research purposes only. All literary rights in the manuscript, including the right to publish, are reserved to the IEEE History Center. No part of the manuscript may be quoted for publication without the written permission of the Director of IEEE History Center.


Request for permission to quote for publication should be addressed to the IEEE History Center Oral History Program, Rutgers - the State University, 39 Union Street, New Brunswick, NJ 08901-8538 USA. It should include identification of the specific passages to be quoted, anticipated use of the passages, and identification of the user.


It is recommended that this oral history be cited as follows:
Harold Rosen, an oral history conducted in 2003 by John Vardalas, IEEE History Center, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ, USA.

Interview

Interview: Harold Rosen
Interviewer: John Vardalas
Date: 13 February 2003
Place: Los Angeles, CA

Career synopsis

Vardalas:

Thank you very much for agreeing to be part of this oral history program. I’d like to first start with a brief synopsis of your career in point form, and then we’ll go back and look at the details. So if you could start with when you first started working, your first job, and then your career up to the present, what you’ve done, and then we’ll go back and review all these things.


Rosen:

My first paid job ever was as a transmitter engineer at a radio station in New Orleans while I was going to undergraduate school. It was station WNOE, the James A. Noe station. Then when I came to California for graduate school, after I finished my Master’s degree in 1948, I started working at Raytheon at Point Mugu in the summer time, and then I continued two days of the week during the school year. So that was my first real professional job, and I continued after I got my Ph.D. degree there. I continued with Raytheon until 1956, when I transferred to Hughes.
My work at Raytheon was a very important part of my career; I was working on anti-aircraft guided missiles and radars for them. I had a lot of hands-on experience developing electronic hardware as well as analytical experience in guidance and control, all of which bode me well for the future. I had some wonderful people I was working with, some very talented engineers.


Vardalas:

We’ll come back to that story. And then after?


Rosen:

Then the fall of ’56, I moved to Hughes Aircraft, at first working on systems analysis and then radar development for airplanes, airborne radars. Then when Sputnik was launched and a lot of interest turned to space, I became involved in the space program that I really created, which was the Geosynchronous Communication Satellite Program. That was in the summer of 1959. That part of my career lasted until I retired, basically, working on the evolution of communication satellites, essentially exclusively from 1959 till 1993.


Vardalas:

Can you just briefly recall the positions you held at Hughes?


Rosen:

When I was hired, I was called a Senior Staff Engineer. When I was working on radars, I was an Assistant Department Manager to Frank Carver, who was the Department Manager. When I started working on the communications satellite, I don’t know what I was called. I was still I guess Assistant Department Manager of the Radar Department. You know, I never paid any attention to titles as I went along. I was just the “communication satellite guru,” basically.


Vardalas:

What did you retire as, then?


Rosen:

I was a Vice President of Hughes Aircraft Company. When I became a Vice President, there were only about 20 in the whole company, so it was a pretty prestigious job. It was in the mid-‘70s that I became a Vice President.


Vardalas:

That was quite the rise up.


Rosen:

Well, yes. So my business was important and booming and was a big part of the company. Satellites were a continuous evolution, basically, until I retired.


Vardalas:

After you retired, what did you do?


Rosen:

When I retired, I became involved with my brother, who’s a famous venture capitalist, Ben Rosen, who among other things created the Compaq Computer Company and was its first chairman and its only chairman until he retired very recently, a few years ago. Anyway, we decided we wanted to work together again; we had worked together briefly in my first years at Raytheon, but then he went off to change careers, get involved in business.


Vardalas:

So he was an engineer also?


Rosen:

Yes. We decided to change the automotive world and create a hybrid electric power train for automobiles. It was a very ambitious program. It involved a turbogenerator for the fuel-consuming element, and a very high performance advanced flywheel for energy storage to provide acceleration and regenerative braking.


It was a difficult development. It required an automotive partner because the thing that makes it difficult to put new technology in automobiles is, despite their difficulty and complexity, you have to be able to do it at automotive prices, which over the years have become fantastically small.


Vardalas:

Now how long did this effort last?


Rosen:

For four years. We closed our doors at the end of 1997. Basically the automotive partnership that we were seeking didn’t materialize. The particular company we were flirting with decided to make its bet for future advanced power systems on fuel cells.


But it was very important, also, for my development in the sense that I became acquainted with modern power electronics as switching devices and how to use them, IGBTs (insulated gate bipolar transistor) for electric motor control, also advanced electric motors, because I’m involved in them now.


Vardalas:

You’re involved in them now as your own personal thing, or as part of your consulting for Boeing that you’re doing now?


Rosen:

Well, it’s both. I have a private company called Volacom, whose mission is to develop a long-duration, high altitude airplane to be used as a communication node for urban communications primarily, but eventually general communications.


I’m now a consultant for Boeing. Boeing bought the part of Hughes that I’d been involved in, the Space and Communications Group and Company.


Vardalas:

And you consult in that area for them?


Rosen:

First I started consulting when Rosen Motors closed. I came back to Hughes as a consultant, and when Boeing took over I became a consultant for Boeing. And that, of course, and my current involvement with Volacom is the sum of my career. And I think the new career is going to eclipse the old one.


Vardalas:

Really?


Rosen:

Yes.


Vardalas:

Oh, how exciting. Let’s see if we can get your new career on record before it happens!

Family, education, and Naval service

Vardalas:

This interview is going to be viewed by future historians, and I’d like to make it, as much as possible, an organic whole. To do that, I’d like to just start with some basic information. When were you born and where?


Rosen:

I was born in New Orleans, Louisiana on March 20, 1926.


Vardalas:

Really? Did you lose your New Orleans accent?


Rosen:

I never had one. My parents didn’t speak with a New Orleans accent.


Vardalas:

Did you grow up in New Orleans?


Rosen:

Yes. I was born and raised until I left for the first time, to join the Navy, when I was seventeen, I think. My Navy experience was interesting. I was in the electronics training program they had for radars and sonars and radios. Captain Eddy, a Navy captain, developed a course to train rapidly technicians to be able to maintain the new electronics that were pouring into the Navy.


Vardalas:

Now was this just right after high school, you joined the Navy?


Rosen:

No, I graduated high school pretty young, and I was a senior at Tulane University at the time I joined the Navy.


Vardalas:

Oh, really? Tell me about before you went off to the Navy, before you went to the university, what was your youth like? What kind of things did you do or were you interested in? For example, did you exhibit early talent and love for engineering things?


Rosen:

I think so. I enjoyed it.


Vardalas:

What kind of things did you do as a boy?


Rosen:

I made a crystal radio set from a kit when I was pretty young, which was kind of easy to do but it was really very exciting to hear the radio signals coming out of this thing. My father was a dentist, and part of his education was I guess what you would call today “physics for dummies.” You know, if you went in the sciences, they gave you a physics course that was easier to grasp. He had a thin book on physics from that course in his little library, and I happened to pull it out one day and started reading it, and I could see I really liked that stuff.


Vardalas:

How old were you, can you recall? Was this in high school?


Rosen:

No, it was probably in grammar school. I was maybe ten or eleven, I suppose, and I could more or less follow it and it was very interesting to me. Because I said it was physics for dummies, it wasn’t Caltech.


Vardalas:

No, ten years old, right.


Rosen:

But the next adventure into anything was in high school. I joined the Radio Club and became a radio amateur when I was fourteen years old.


Vardalas:

So at the age of fourteen you were in high school. Were you accelerated through school?


Rosen:

Well, I skipped a few grades in grammar school and a little bit in high school also. I graduated from high school when I was fifteen. Then I went to Tulane, and Tulane had an accelerated course there also, because when the war started in ’41, they went faster. Anyway, by the time I was seventeen I was a senior at Tulane.


But then the draft deferments for students was cancelled because of the impending invasion of Europe. I joined the Navy to enroll in a very valuable program that the Navy had set up, a very intensive, practical, hands-on electronics training school whose intention was to take people who had a little bit of technical background and make them capable of maintaining the radars and the sonars and the communication gear that was pouring from the factories into the Navy.


Vardalas:

Now, in Tulane, what was your major?


Rosen:

Electrical engineering.


Vardalas:

Okay. So you decided by the time you went into university you wanted to be an electrical engineer, this was for you?


Rosen:

Yes.


Vardalas:

You didn’t graduate—before you could graduate and get your diploma, you went into the Navy?


Rosen:

That’s right. But after the war I came back. I never did see any action. I was in the training school for half the time, and then the other half of the time I was an instructor in the training school; first as a student, then as an instructor. They had at that time something called the GI Bill of Rights, which gave you fantastic educational benefits. It was a wonderful program, and the GI Bill was wonderful, and I was able to take advantage of it. At first I completed my degree at Tulane. I got out of the Navy in 1946 and I graduated from Tulane in 1947 with a Bachelor of Engineering in Electrical Engineering degree. That summer I came out to California to go to graduate school at Caltech.


Vardalas:

Just to cap off before I go to Caltech, were you a voracious reader? Because obviously to accelerate through your schooling, you were gifted as a child in school. You read a lot?


Rosen:

I didn’t really read a lot, but I did have a talent for math and engineering. I really could feel it.


Vardalas:

Okay. What made you head out from New Orleans to go out West to California? Was it Caltech?


Rosen:

Well, actually I was considering Harvard also. I was accepted at Harvard and at Caltech for graduate training. About the time I was making my choice, the old Life magazine, that big picture magazine, came out with a big story on beach parties in southern California, and I decided I’d prefer that than the cold New England winter! So I decided to go to Caltech.


Vardalas:

So as a young man before you went to Caltech, you weren’t just a person dedicated to studies; you did other things. Your interests were?


Rosen:

Well, I didn’t have time to do very many other things. I said at Tulane I did have this job at the radio station, WNOE.


Vardalas:

Oh yes. Tell me about the radio station. What did you do?


Rosen:

It was just a job that paid, but there was nothing to do except monitor the meters at the transmitter, and they never changed—they were very stable. So actually I did my Tulane homework while I was looking at those meters.


Vardalas:

They never put you on the air?


Rosen:

As a matter of fact they did, because when I had the graveyard shift (midnight to eight a.m.), the downtown studios would close at two a.m. and then transfer over to the transmitter studio, as they called it, and I’d have to play records throughout the night. Occasionally I’d get a phone call telling me the record was grinding, which meant I’d fallen asleep and I had to change the record. But I guess you would have called me a disc jockey for a few hours when only the people that had to work all night and the nurses at the hospital were listening!

Graduate studies at Caltech

Vardalas:

Tell me about your experiences at Caltech. You came from Tulane. It must have been a big difference moving to a place like Caltech and studying. What do you recall?


Rosen:

First of all, Tulane had a very good electrical engineering school. I learned a lot there and had very nice colleagues. I enjoyed it very much. It was a great place.


Vardalas:

What did you come away from Tulane with?


Rosen:

I was an electrical engineer. In those days, electrical engineering was primarily power engineering. I was really qualified to work at the New Orleans Public Service power generating station, for example, and read those meters. Electronics was just beginning to be taught as part of an electrical engineering course. That was a very good start there. But I think I learned more of my electronics in the Navy than I did at Tulane. Then when I came to Caltech, there was a good theoretical basis in a lot of things.


Also the space program was in its infancy. It wasn’t space yet, but there were sounding rockets that were going up. Professor Pickering, under whom I did my graduate work, was one of the pioneers in sounding rocket instrumentation. I remember him giving a lecture after hours that was called “Telemetering from Rockets” that was very interesting, seeing what was going on as high as they could reach with the sounding rockets.


I had another very famous professor, Carl D. Anderson, who a few years earlier had discovered the positron and had won the Nobel Prize for that. I remember during his physics course when we got to a subject called “Dynamics of Rotating Bodies.” It’s a very esoteric mathematical description of how they behave. So I asked him if he could explain in simple ways why a spiral football or a rifle bullet that’s spinning behaves so much more stably than one that isn’t spinning, and he wasn’t quite sure. But then the two of us kind of worked it out together and came out with a very simple formula that described the stabilization factor associated with spin control, spin stabilization, and that remained with me forever.


So it was a very nice environment, economically I was poor. I was doing okay in school academically, but I remember when I went to eat in the evening at restaurants in Pasadena, I would always get the cheapest thing on the menu, which was fish. The cheap fish in those cheap restaurants was always old and it was terrible. I couldn’t stand it. It wasn’t until years later that I was able to taste fresh fish and realized how good it could be.


Vardalas:

Your economic status because the GI Bill it was paying for some of it?


Rosen:

Yes.


Vardalas:

And it wasn’t a lot.


Rosen:

It wasn’t a lot. I had a job at Raytheon. I got married while I was still a student; then I ate much better. As a matter of fact, I got married and I had my first son while I was still at Caltech during my graduate school.


Vardalas:

Oh my. So you were working, had a family, and going to school?


Rosen:

Yes.


Vardalas:

Okay. What would you say now in retrospect? How would you assess the impact that Caltech had on your long-term development as an engineer? Can you look back at something at Caltech and say, “Yeah, it’s that influence”?


Rosen:

It was wonderful. The main thing was the fundamental science background it gave me. I felt competent to approach any technical problem in any field, basically. Since a lot of the things I’ve been involved in have embraced many technologies—the communication satellite, for example, embraces many different technologies, and the automobile did also, and this new venture I’m in also does—it’s nice to have a good fundamental background, and I really got it there.


Vardalas:

To complement that, the hands-on experience came from the Navy.


Rosen:

That’s right. Also, when I was working at Raytheon at Point Mugu while I was a student and then after I graduated, that was a lot of hands-on experience too.


Vardalas:

Before we go on then to Raytheon and what you did in those years, what was your doctoral dissertation on?


Rosen:

It was kind of esoteric. It was on the potential analogy for a solution of dynamic equations. I forgot the exact title.


Vardalas:

What area would you say it applied to?


Rosen:

More electrical engineering. It was a way of looking at linear equations that was very insightful. It was a little bit of analog computing on crude analog computers, but the way they were organized, it gave me a lot of insight in terms of how feedback systems behaved.


Raytheon employment

Vardalas:

How interesting. So you started at Raytheon, what was your first position? What were you doing at Raytheon?


Rosen:

I was trying to make a better command receiver for the guided missile, improving its noise rejection capability.


Vardalas:

You mentioned that, during the Raytheon time, you did a lot with anti-aircraft guided missile systems, right?


Rosen:

Yes, that’s right. There was a missile program called the Lark. It had actually been started during World War II, the end of World War II. The necessity for starting that program was the Kamikaze attack against our fleets at Okinawa. The Navy needed something more effective than conventional anti-aircraft fire, so they started the Lark program. It was a surface-to-air missile, and we were able to develop it to a point where it intercepted drones: those unmanned, remotely piloted aircraft. (Surplus World War II fighter planes, actually). They’d come in off the beach at Point Mugu and we would shoot these Larks at them, and after we debugged the system, we got one to go right through a drone in a big ball of fire, and that was pretty exciting. I’m not sure, but it may have been the first successful interception of an aircraft by a guided missile.


Vardalas:

One of your awards is listed here as a Fellow Award for Contributions in Missile Guidance and Satellite Communications. Now the missile guidance, was that all at Raytheon? “For contributions in missile guidance and satellite communications.”


Rosen:

At Raytheon, yes.


Vardalas:

What were some of these contributions that you were proud of or were significant at Raytheon?


Rosen:

Oh, well, I did a number of them. There was one which I guess could be called Optimum Homing Guidance for the homing phase, a homing navigation algorithm. Basic homing principle issue involves looking at the target with a radar that can measure angles and angle rates, and you seek a path where the angular rate of the line of sight between you and the target gets driven to zero. When the line of sight is not changing, that means you’re on a collision course. That’s called “proportional navigation,” and the proportionality is that you make your rate of turn of your intercepting vehicle proportional to the rate of change in the line of sight; then it drives both of them to zero.


But there’s a subtlety to it that things vary quite a bit with the closing speed and it varies quite a bit with the air density. To make the solution independent of those, my optimum proportional navigation system turned out to multiply the signal by the relative speed, which we had because it was a continuous wave radar, and instead of making an angular rate proportional to it, I made the lateral acceleration proportional to the line of sight rate multiplied by the closing speed. That made the equations independent of a lot of parameters, and that made the system we applied it to, called the Sparrow Missile, very versatile with altitude.


Vardalas:

Did this idea come to you easily, or did you grapple with it for a while?


Rosen:

It came to me after thinking about the homing guidance phase. This was before there were digital computers available.


Vardalas:

So how did you do this algorithm?


Rosen:

Well, we didn’t call it an algorithm back then. It just seemed to me, thinking about the problem analytically, that implementing those two features would be a much better way to do homing guidance.


Vardalas:

How was it implemented electronically?


Rosen:

It’s all analog. We had a little vacuum tube amplifier that was adjusted so that by adjusting the grid voltage you could make the gain proportional to the grid voltage, and that gave us the proportionality to the closing speed. Then we used accelerometer feedback on the control, and that made the acceleration proportional to the control signal.


Vardalas:

And this is all mounted on…?


Rosen:

We used sub-miniature tubes. There weren’t transistors, so sub-miniature tubes about as big as a pen cap and were the best amplifiers available.


Vardalas:

Because I know that at that time there was a big drive, because of rising problems with electronics complexity, to miniaturize these tubes and make them more reliable.


Rosen:

For a missile they were plenty reliable, because they only have to last a minute or less. But in terms of vibration, yes, they had to be rugged.


Vardalas:

Rugged is the word, right. Any other things come to mind in terms of your missile work?


Rosen:

I’ll give you a little anecdote. When I first arrived at the scene early on at Raytheon at Point Mugu, there was a wonderful chief engineer there who was completely self-taught. He was brilliant, but relatively uneducated. He was able to do wonders with electronic circuits and everything. But he found himself in a position where he had to do some computing of the dynamic response of the missile as it approached the target. We had two phases: one was a beam riding phase and the second phase was a homing phase for early missile. In the beam riding phase, the response of the missiles was a function of what controls he was giving it, and the only way he knew how to do it was to do it step by step, different instances of time. He would say, “I’m going to give it a certain amount of acceleration this time. Next time it’ll have gone this far, and the next instance of time it’ll have gone that far. If I put in some gyro feedback, I can stabilize the motion.” It was very tedious. He had hundreds of lines of calculations he was doing by hand.


That’s about when I arrived on the scene. I looked at the problem and I mentioned to him that there was a relatively simple analytical solution to the problem he was solving that way. Instead of resenting that, he took me under his wing and really was my sponsor within the organization for a long time.


Vardalas:

He could’ve resented the idea of a young whippersnapper coming in.


Rosen:

Right, but instead he took me under his wing.


Vardalas:

So all your career at Raytheon was in the antiaircraft guided missiles?


Rosen:

At the end of World War II, a number of German rocket scientists ran away from the Russians toward the American lines and they were brought over to the United States to help in the developing missile industry in the United States. One of the ones that was hired as a consultant to Raytheon was a fellow named Herbert Wagner. He was a very famous aeronautical engineer worldwide. He invented what was called the tensile field beam, also called the Wagner beam—a way of making a lightweight support beam for airplane wings which initially made the all-metal airplanes possible. He was also an expert in fluid dynamics. So I had an opportunity to work side by side with him when he consulted, and it was a nice learning experience.


Vardalas:

How did you feel working with someone who was involved in V2?


Rosen:

No, he wasn’t involved in the V2, but something maybe worse as far as we’re concerned. He had devised an anti-ship missile for Germany that greeted our troops at Anzio, so it was worse.


Well, the war was over. He personally was a very fine person. He couldn’t help it. He was working for that terrible regime. In my view he was basically a scientist who happened to get caught up in that.


Hughes employment; high-power wide-band airborne radars

Vardalas:

You left Raytheon in ’56. Why did you leave Raytheon? Was it, can I use the phrase, a “push-pull,” it was the pull of Hughes that took you away?


Rosen:

No. Raytheon was deciding to diminish the role of the Point Mugu facility, where I was working. Point Mugu was about forty miles up the coast from here. They wanted me to move back East. They gave me a wonderful financial offer to do that, a lot of incentive to do that. I actually went so far as to put a down payment on a home in Massachusetts. But then for various family reasons and personal reasons I decided I didn’t really want to do it. So a lot of my friends from Caltech that had gone directly to Hughes because Simon Ramo, who was building up the Hughes electronics capability at that time, he was connected at Caltech. He recruited heavily at Caltech, so a lot of my contemporaries from Caltech had ended up at Hughes, and they were in good positions. So I called them up and I was invited to join their team here.


Vardalas:

If I read it correctly, it says you participated in the development of high-power wide-band airborne radars, including transmitters, tracking antennas. Is that what your first job was at Hughes?


Rosen:

Well, my first job was in the systems analysis laboratory. It was a small and completely analytical, but involved looking at the performance of radars analytically. But then the radar department saw what I was doing and they hired me in to their department. In there, equipment was actually designed and built and tested.


Vardalas:

In analysis, what were some of the issues you looked at that you feel were interesting in this work?


Rosen:

Well, it was all interesting. I was looking at ground clutter as it affected the performance of radars. But in the hardware phase, the high-power transmitters, the modern transmitters, including the traveling wave tube, which was a new kind of microwave transmitter, I got really experienced in that.


Vardalas:

As part of this work?


Rosen:

As part of the radar. And I got to know the people who were developing those traveling wave tubes, which was even more important, particularly a young man named Dr. John Mendel.


Vardalas:

So this was when you first made his acquaintance, in this early radar work?


Rosen:

Yes. We were kind of friends. The early high-power tubes were very hard to make. It was hard to keep them from burning up very quickly. It was very hard to control the beam so it wouldn’t melt the anode. It was a continuous evolution there, but the early ones were pretty bad. I remember at one meeting, they said they would have to start a life test program for the tubes, and I said, “Here. I’ll lend you my stopwatch.” [laughs] It was kind of a joke. Anyway, he was a comedian too, so we enjoyed each other.


But I also met two other people. One was Tom Hudspeth, a very brilliant electrical engineer. He could do anything. He knew all the aspects of electronics better than anybody I’ve ever met: antennas, transmitters, receivers, anything. He just had a good educational background and wonderful talent, a wonderful knack and wonderful experience. And then another young man named Don Williams, who was also very brilliant. He graduated from Harvard. In fact, his father was a professor at Harvard. He was a brilliant mathematician.


Vardalas:

He was a mathematician by training?


Rosen:

Yes. I met him early on while I was in systems analysis at Hughes. He quit Hughes to form a small company to make a milk bottle inspector, an electronic inspector to see if there were any flies left in the milk bottles before they put the milk in. Anyway, I thought that was a waste of his talents.


So my wife and I worked really hard and we recruited him back to Hughes to work with me. The thing that lured him back was the beginning of the space program. The first space program I got involved in was soon after the Russians launched Sputnik. There was an announcement that the government would like to have some means of detecting Russian satellites on their first pass across the United States. We needed a special new radar for that. We did some experimental work so we could propose, and since I didn’t know enough about orbits or astronomy at that time, he was the only one I knew who was proficient in orbital mechanics. So I asked him to come back in for that aspect of it. He found it exciting enough to quit the venture he had started.


Vardalas:

All right. This was done when?


Rosen:

This was done in 1958.


Vardalas:

Was this concept developed and finalized, this radar thing?


Rosen:

No, it never went anywhere. We had proposed it, but it wasn’t accepted.


Vardalas:

Okay. I’d like to go on now to the work with him and Mendel and Williams together. But before I end it, can you just summarize then, in terms of the pre-Comsat stuff at Hughes when you did this radar. Were there any important engineering achievements in this group?


Rosen:

There was just steady evolution of the radar technology, so I became familiar with the modern receivers and transmitters and electronic processing circuits. Nothing spectacular, except maybe the traveling wave tube. The receivers kept getting better too. The noise figures kept getting better; that was important. Tom Hudspeth was really adept at squeezing the best performance possible out of receivers.


Geosynchronous communication satellite

Vardalas:

In 1959, you, Hudspeth, Williams, and Mendel, came up with this idea to have a geosynchronous communication satellite. What was the genesis of this idea?


Rosen:

The real genesis was when the major radar program that we were working on for the Air Force was cancelled as a result of new intelligence—on the Russian bomber program. Our radar, which was to be mounted in a fighter plane, was supposed to counter this new Russian bomber that was supposed to come over the North Pole. But then U.S. intelligence discovered that the Russians weren’t working on that bomber. So our radar program was cancelled.


My boss, Frank Carver, asked me to think of something new that would keep our people employed. I canvassed my friends, and Tom Hudspeth and John Mendel both independently suggested communications. The Russians had launched the Sputnik just a year earlier, and space was really exciting then. So I asked them: “what can we do in space?” They said the sad state of communications was evident. Telephony was terrible. International telephony was extremely expensive, and you’d have to schedule a call, the capacity was so limited. There was no such thing as trans-oceanic television; there was no means of doing it.


One of John Mendel’s colleagues from Bell Labs, John Pierce, had written a seminal article on space communications called “Trans-Oceanic Communications Via Satellite,” along with one of his colleagues, Rudy Kompfner. It was a comprehensive article, and it got me thinking even more about the geostationary orbit because I disagreed with their reasons for dismissing it.


In the meantime, Don Williams was independently thinking about what we could do in space, he thought the thing that we needed was a navigation system, that would be interesting. So he worked out a little bit of the orbital dynamics associated with the geosynchronous navigation system. But it wasn’t a spinning configuration. It was a three axis stabilized configuration. It looked to me pretty hard to do, and at that time I didn’t think there was nearly as much of an application for it as there would be for a communication system, or as much of a demand.


Vardalas:

When you thought of the application issue, you had to then sell this to all levels of management in the company. How did they see the market for this? Who would be it, the civilian sector, the military sector? How did they see this evolving?


Rosen:

Well, there wasn’t a civilian part. It was all military use. What Don particularly looked at was, once you were in a geosynchronous orbit, how much impulse it would take to move the satellite from one position to another along the orbit, and it turned out to be infinitesimal, more or less—so little velocity increment, if you were patient, to go from one place to another. That was part of the orbit dynamics work he was doing I found extremely interesting and exciting.


But we never did anything with the navigation satellite. For one thing, it wasn’t particularly appealing to me. I thought that communications was where we ought to go. In this reference I mentioned earlier, “Trans-Oceanic Communications Via Satellite,” they discussed all possibilities: low altitude satellites, active, passive. It was a comprehensive look at it but the authors were pretty dismissive of the geostationary, and for several reasons, but mostly because they thought it was too complex to achieve at that time: it would be too heavy to launch and not reliable enough to have any commercial value—even if you could launch it, it wouldn’t last long enough to be commercially attractive. Those were the main reasons they gave. Now, additional reasons were the time delay associated with it as far as voice communications was concerned, which is a legitimate reason, but I thought we could overcome that.


Vardalas:

And what about the signal loss at such a distance?


Rosen:

Well, that’s a different issue. Signal loss depends upon the antenna systems you use as well as the distance, and there are a lot of compensating effects if you’re geostationary. If you’re geostationary, you can have bigger antennas for the same cost because they don’t have to move.


Vardalas:

What I’m trying to find out is if you can recreate in your mind for me now the kinds of things that were in the analysis you did to justify the technical feasibility. Because wasn’t the key issue to distinguish you from Bell the geosynchronous aspect?


Rosen:

Yes.


Vardalas:

Can you recreate the steps you went through and your thinking to prove to yourself and others that this was the way to go?


Rosen:

First of all, I thought that economically it made so much more sense. You could do with one satellite what would require a fleet of low altitude satellites to do because it was continuous communications, and all communication systems have to be continuous. The user equipment would also be much simpler because the antennas wouldn’t have to track satellite motion. So I thought those were compelling reasons to go for the geostationary.


As far as television and data transmission was concerned, the delay would have no deleterious effect as far as I could see. As for voice transmission, we did some tests to show that it had an acceptable delay. The echo was the problem, if you had a delayed echo that you could hear. If you could hear your own voice delayed by half a second, it was very annoying. But there were gadgets in telephony that had been developed called echo suppressors that dealt with that. Now, it turns out that echo suppressors themselves came in various degrees of goodness, and the best were pretty good. But there was another technology that evolved later called echo cancellation that did not involve switching; there was a continuous cancellation. That turned out to be extremely good. Those were the ways to address the delay issue.


In terms of the weight, the launch cost, the launch capability, and the reliability, I thought we could really make considerable savings if we went to a spin stabilized configuration, thinking back to the spiral paths and the rifle bullet.


Vardalas:

Oh I see. That’s the origins, that stuck in your mind.


Rosen:

Yes, it stuck in my mind. But there was another aspect to it. Don had a non-spinning configuration for his navigation system, but he was using actual bullets—he was a gun addict, and he used bullets, used the recoil, to get the impulses he needed for the orbit control. So I started with that concept. But in order to get control in any direction in the orbital plane, I was going to time the bullet with the spin phase so that we could control the period or the eccentricity in either sign with one device. It was just reducing the number of impulse-generating devices by taking advantage of using spin-phased impulses, one of my contributions.


Attitude control; project Advent

Rosen:

Now at first I didn’t think that there was any need to have attitude control, once we established the initial attitude, because I wasn’t aware of the perturbations. As a matter of fact, the design we had was probably okay without attitude control. We weren’t looking for very much lifetime. I was thinking a year would be terrific if we could get it, and the beams would be broad enough that that would be okay, the amount of perturbation it would have and the attitude drift in a year.


Vardalas:

That’s that first patent.


Rosen:

Yes. Then we improved it considerably after that. One of my colleagues, Bob Roney, asked, “Why are you using bullets? That’s so crude. Why not use compressed gas for the control?” There are valves that operate fast enough that you can use that, and then you can have an unlimited number of bullets, basically. I said, “You’re right, you’re right.”


Then when we realized that we really should go for a longer life and we would not have necessarily as symmetric a system as that, we’d have solar pressure unbalances that would require active attitude control. My thought for attitude control was to have four axial thrusters, each of which would fire over a quarter of a spin cycle. I was concerned about the build up of nutation if we did with fewer.


My initial concept as I described it to Don was to use four axial thrusters for attitude control, and he didn’t say anything. He didn’t like the whole concept. But he thought about it quietly for a while, and he came back with a concept that required only one axial thruster. Because he sensed intuitively that the nutation I was concerned with wouldn’t grow big enough to cause any concern during the use of his control system. So that was a major simplification, the single jet attitude control system.


But it also used spin phased impulses, the same as we did for orbit control, so in that sense it was similar. So we ended up basically with a system that in minimum, with no redundancy, required just two thrusters to do all the orbit and attitude control.


Vardalas:

At the same time, there was the project Advent being developed by DOD and NASA.


Rosen:

Advent was a wonderful program as far as I’m concerned, because if you must have a competitor, you want it to be as impractical and as outrageous as possible.


Vardalas:

Oh please! That’s what I was going to ask you. What was your assessment of the Advent program at the time?


Rosen:

I thought it was a terrible concept all the way around. For one thing, it was three axis controlled at a time when the equipment for doing that effectively and reliably didn’t exist. The spinning wheels to get momentum control with enough lifetime were really hard to come by then. Those are the things I was trying to avoid by spinning the whole satellite.


One of the biggest things we did was base our transmitter on a new traveling wave tube that was designed by John Mendel. It was very light. It used a periodic permanent magnet for focusing, which reduced the weight of the magnet by a huge factor. He also used metal ceramic construction instead of glass. That allowed him to bake out the tube at much higher temperatures while it was still in the vacuum pump, than you could with a glass envelope, the glass would melt. That made the internal vacuum much better, which made the tube properties better. It was a difficult development, but it worked out very well.


So it was a very lightweight, efficient transmitter. While the government program had a real consortium involved: the Army Signal Corps, the Air Force, and I think Bendix was involved in electronics, I think General Electric was involved, and I think TRW was involved. It was all designed by committee.


Vardalas:

So design got inflated by a committee?


Rosen:

Yes, there was nothing elegant about it. For their transmitter, they used triodes. Triodes had been invented by deForest about fifty years earlier. They weren’t using a modern technology, which would be considered risky, and no one in the bureaucracy likes to take risks. They did it the safe way, which kind of sunk the whole ship because the triodes were so inefficient. It required a big power system, and the whole thing was big, heavy, cumbersome, and every year in development it had gotten heavier. The disparity between its weight and the launch capability of the rockets grew worse. The cost overrun grew worse. So it made our system look terrific in comparison.


Vardalas:

Now it’s interesting you say that, because in the book, Helen Gevagen’s book, she has a phrase and she doesn’t say anything more about it, but she asserts that for NASA and DOD, the Syncom, when it finally came about, was seen as an interim measure and a cheap thing until the military got the satellite it had wanted. Did you see it as that?


Rosen:

No, I didn’t see it as interim, but I didn’t care how they saw it. They eventually did cancel the Advent program.


Geospace communication proposal development and management

Vardalas:

Yes they did, right. Did you see yourselves as going after this military market too?


Rosen:

Oh, I didn’t care about the military market at all, not personally. I liked the commercial market much better. For one thing, to work for the military market you have to have a safe in your office, lock up everything every day—it’s really a pain. Also, if you work on classified systems, you have to remember what’s classified and what isn’t, and it is kind of hard to keep it all straight, and so you tend to be cautious in what you can say about anything. So as soon as I started working on this commercial communication satellite system, I got rid of my office safe; I didn’t deal with classified material for a long time.


Vardalas:

Okay, I see. You said that your contribution was spin stabilization idea, Mendel’s was the traveling wave tube, and how did Hudspeth contribute to this?


Rosen:

Light weight electronics. Besides the tube, all the rest, the command receiver, the telemetry transmitter, the communications receiver, all required ingenious developments to do it as light as he did with the equipment that was available then.


Vardalas:

But then that’s a development of the actual thing. What about in forming the proposal itself?


Rosen:

Don and I did that, basically. Don and I wrote the proposals. It was the two of us, but it was mostly his work that described the dynamics of orbit achievement and orbit control.


Vardalas:

Now I gather, from what I understand, it wasn’t an easy sell.


Rosen:

Right, it wasn’t.


Vardalas:

Can you just recount the frustrations of trying to sell this to senior management?


Rosen:

Well, one incident I remember is one of the things I was trying to explain about the commercial advantage. Trans-oceanic television didn’t exist at the time. So I said, “Well, we’ll provide television. Maybe we can sell an hour a day worth of television.” And the head of the Communications Division at Hughes at the time, a very nice fellow, he was evaluating our proposal and he said I was extremely optimistic. He doubted that we’d ever be able to sell more than an hour a week of television! So he was off by such a huge factor if you look at the number of television transmissions today.


Anyway, it was mostly a fear of taking risks, I suppose. It was really hard to get the company to support the project.


Vardalas:

Now, was the company and the division you were in where this was being discussed first, was it a culture of cost plus?


Rosen:

Mostly, yes.


Vardalas:

So now you were not asking for this?


Rosen:

It was that, but Hughes more than other companies, I must say, because it was owned by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and it didn’t have to report profits to the public, was able to pile more money back into development than other companies. That had something to do with the money being available. So even though it was mostly the military cost plus business, they did probably throw more into research and development than comparable companies did. As a matter of fact, the same year that we started the communication satellite development, one of my colleagues in the research lab named Ted Maiman produced the first working laser of all time.


Vardalas:

Hughes was looking for a partner when it then decided to go along with it. But originally, Hughes wanted a partner to fund this also?


Rosen:

Oh yes. We were working with General Telephone Company for a while, but their bean counting president finally decided he didn’t want to have anything to do with it. The GTE Technical Division out on the West Coast really liked what we were doing, but they weren’t able to sell it to their management.


Vardalas:

With the inability to find a partner, were there cold feet still within Hughes saying, “Let’s not go any further if we can’t get…”?


Rosen:

Well, they went pretty far. It took a little encouragement, by the way. I had to resign from Hughes.


Vardalas:

Oh, I didn’t know that.


Rosen:

One time I was so frustrated by the lack of investment that I went to see my former colleague at Raytheon, Tom Phillips, who had risen very quickly through the ranks at Raytheon. He knew me and he really liked what I had done at Raytheon. So I called him up and said I had an idea I wanted to discuss with him. He invited me and Tom and Don Williams. On our own, we had all tried to get private funding. The three of us went out. I had asked John Mendel to join us, but he was reluctant to go.


Vardalas:

So now you all were ready to put in about $10,000 each or something?


Rosen:

Yes, that’s right. John was a little more cautious than we were. But we were unsuccessful in our attempt to make it a private venture because the bankers thought we were crazy, and any investors we were able to talk to thought we were nutty. So that’s when I called up my friend Tom Phillips at Raytheon. He had risen rapidly through the ranks; he was on a very fast track. He was either a president at the time or executive vice president maybe. He invited us out there and we explained what we were doing. He really liked it, and he said he wants to support it, but we have to move back East.


Vardalas:

Oh, again!


Rosen:

Well, I guess it was again. So I came back here and I just thought about what do I want most, the southern California lifestyle or this project? I wanted the project more, so I went to Frank Carver and said, “I’m going to take Tom Phillips’ offer and go back there.” He said, “No, you can’t quit, Harold.” He took me to Allan Puckett, and Allan Puckett said, “We’ve really been considering this and we really want to do it, and Pat Hyland (who was the general manager) really wants to do it.” I went to him and he said, “We’ll invest $300,000 in this project.” This was in the spring of 1960. When he did that, I told Tom Phillips I was staying at Hughes. Then Don Williams, who had his $10,000 put out for the investment the three of us were going to make, he went and threw a $10,000 check on Mr. Hyland’s desk and said, “I want to still invest in this program myself.” Mr. Hyland was very impressed by that gesture.


Vardalas:

Did he take the money?


Rosen:

No, he didn’t. There was no way he could take it because we didn’t have a joint venture agreement or anything. But he was impressed.


Vardalas:

Was a factor to keep it internally funded something about not giving the government the licensing power over this?


Rosen:

The patent situation was very complex, especially when we got the NASA program. In fact, it resulted in a lawsuit that went on for thirty years or so. It was finally resolved in Hughes’ favor.


Vardalas:

But as an initial thing, was there some consideration that we get the advantage, by doing it all ourselves, we don’t have to worry about…?


Rosen:

Well, first of all, if you don’t do it yourself, the government wasn’t going to do it. You had to have something.


Vardalas:

Was NASA’s attitude in all this very frustrating?


Rosen:

Oh yes. NASA was frustrating, the Department of Defense was frustrating. I went and talked to the Army, talked to the Air Force. The Army had its own program, Advent, which as I said earlier I thought was outrageous.


Vardalas:

But what would you say about NASA’s attitude? Do you have any reasons why it disapproved?


Rosen:

For one thing, there had been agreement between Department of Defense and NASA that NASA would be responsible for low altitude satellites and Department of Defense for geostationary satellites. They had their Advent program. So NASA thought that they were precluded. But when John Rubel got involved, he was at the Department of Defense in their Research and Engineering Activity, and he was a friend whom I used to work for at Hughes. He came out to visit Hughes once as a very high Defense Department official. He was treated with a lot of respect, red carpet treatment and everything.


By that time, I had been relegated to looking into applications of lasers, which I didn’t particularly like. I wanted to work on the satellite. For the occasion of his visit, I’d been told to talk to him about our laser program; but instead, I described to him our communication satellite program and showed him the prototype that we’d built, and we gave him a demonstration. He really resonated to that.


Vardalas:

Was that what led to getting Syncom contract?


Rosen:

That’s what eventually resulted in Syncom. He worked behind the scenes in Washington and he told NASA that the agreement between DOD and NASA should not get in the way of this program, and that he would change the ground rules there. Basically, if NASA didn’t want to do it, the Department of Defense would find a way of doing it. They ended up with a cooperative program where the DOD would use the ground system that had been developed for the Advent program, and NASA would pay for the spacecraft program.


Vardalas:

I see. So in a sense, after Syncom, the rest is history in a sense. I saw that long lineage, it’s impressive what flowed from Syncom in terms of benefiting technology. But Hughes also. It built a whole area of expertise that’s second to none.


Before we leave this area, I wanted to ask, because a colleague in the elevator made some suggestion, “Don’t forget to mention the Eiffel Tower.” What was that about?


Rosen:

Between the time we built and started demonstrating our company-funded prototype and the time we got this government program started, the Syncom, I thought we’d never get anyone in America to support it. So the company sent Tom and me over to Europe in connection with the Paris air show. It’s a big international technology show of airplanes and aerospace. We gave a demonstration at the Le Bourget Paris air show site, but we also had another one on the Eiffel Tower. On that occasion, as I was going up in the elevator with the model of the satellite, a Frenchman in the elevator to the first stage of the Eiffel Tower, “premier étage,” where the demonstration was going to occur. I was told that that was as high as our satellite would ever get. That was the incident that made mention of.


Vardalas:

As a demonstration, you would use it as a point at which signals would be relayed to it and bounce back?


Rosen:

At Bourget we actually transmitted a signal over it. We made a signal and actually displayed pictures of passers by on the television screen and took a Polaroid picture of them and gave it out as souvenirs. A lot of people first became interested in satellites there.


By the way, just two days ago it was announced that I’m in the National Inventor’s Hall of Fame.


Vardalas:

For the Syncom project?


Rosen:

Yes. The picture they chose to use as part of the announcement was me on the Eiffel Tower with the satellite.


Vardalas:

How fascinating. Perhaps some other time in the future we can pursue in depth this area more, because it does deserve more depth.


But now, I’m fascinated with how you changed careers after you retired from Hughes in ’93 and you got interested in this venture into hybrid automobiles. Say something about that, because that’s quite interesting.


Rosen:

My brother, Ben Rosen, and I had worked together briefly at Raytheon and gone on our separate ways, and both had done interesting things on our own separate areas. Ben was the venture capitalist and chairman of Compaq from its beginning. He provided the financing for a company we formed called Rosen Motors, and we were developing a power train consisting of a turbogenerator, a gas turbine generator that had essentially zero pollution. It was complemented with a high-performance advanced design flywheel. Both of those developments were very difficult, and we needed an automotive partner to bring the cost down to automotive price levels, and much more money than we could provide. We had tentative agreements that ran for a while, but eventually our main partner decided to make their big bet with fuel cells instead of a hybrid power train. So we decided to close our doors; it wouldn’t make sense to continue without a firm automotive partner.


Vardalas:

How were you drawn into this?


Rosen:

What got me interested in it is General Motors had bought Hughes a few years earlier. They still are owned by General Motors, what’s left of it. They had been talked into providing an entry into an Australian race, a solar-powered vehicle race that had a whole bunch of entries ranging from colleges to automotive companies from Japan, and also Ford was in it. So once General Motors got trapped into having an entry, they decided that nothing would do but they would win, so they really put a lot of effort into it. They not only won the race from north central Australia to south central Australia, but they won it by about three days. Overkill.


But I knew the guy who started the General Motors program; he was one of my colleagues at Hughes. That got General Motors involved in electric cars that would be battery-powered. The work they were doing was about ten miles from here, their initial version of a battery-powered car, and I was invited to visit and take a ride in it. I noticed that as I arrived it was on a charger, and they drove me around the block a few times, and when we got back they put it right back on the charger. I said, “Well, this doesn’t look like a practical system to me.” The batteries don’t store enough energy. I thought a hybrid approach, where you had some kind of generator along to complement the battery would be a way to do it. That’s what got me started.


Vardalas:

Was this a big change in expertise for you? Was this a new learning curve for you?


Rosen:

I had a general education at Caltech that I felt prepared me for anything in engineering.


Vardalas:

So that didn’t go over because of lack of partners in the automotive industry?


Rosen:

Actually, even in retrospect, I think hybrid is the way for cars to go.


Vardalas:

Short term or long term? In the mid term or the long term?


Rosen:

I think the long term. I don’t think fuel cells are ever going to make it, even though they’re being hyped up quite a bit right now. I don’t think they’ll ever get their cost or performance down to where they’ll be useful for automobiles. But I think as long as there’s petroleum gasoline available, the hybrid electric would be the way to go.


Vardalas:

But you implied there was something wrong with the conception you had, because you don’t think it would have worked in the long term?


Rosen:

I’m not sure we could have gotten the cost down.


Vardalas:

Oh, the cost issue. From there you went on and you’ve formed your own company now, and that’s involved also in electric motors. What is that about?


Rosen:

The electric motor is for driving the cars and there’s an electric motor in the fly wheel. So I had to learn a lot about the motors and their electronic controllers. The electronic controllers are an evolving technology that uses a device called an IGBT (insulated gate bipolar transistor). It takes six of them to convert D/C to three-phase A/C or vice versa. It’s bi-directional. Those were used in the two drive motors we had and in the fly wheel motor generator, and also we used them in the generator attached to the turbine. So there was a lot of motor generation involved in the system. I was able to keep track of the evolution of IGBT controllers. Just the few years we were involved in it until now they’ve progressed quite a bit.


My new venture is Volacom. We’re trying to produce an electrically powered airplane that will be used for communications. It’ll be geostationary in the sense that although airplanes have to move to stay aloft—you have to have wind flowing past the wings— they’ll move in a circle small enough that they’ll stay within the beams of the hundreds of thousands or millions of user antennas that are aimed at it, so it can be used as a communication node just as the geostationary satellite, except be so much closer to the Earth by a factor of 2,000 or so. You can provide much smaller cells and indirectly much higher communication density by a factor of thousands than you can with a satellite. In my view, it’s the lowest-cost way of providing bi-directional, high-bandwidth an Internet connections.


Vardalas:

Do you think it’s more economic?


Rosen:

More economic than any other way, I’m certain of it. The airplane doesn’t exist yet. We’re working on trying to make it happen.


Vardalas:

What are the key technical challenges of making it happen, you feel?


Rosen:

Getting the money. Getting a little bit of money, not much. Much less than say the hybrid electric car would have taken.


Vardalas:

Is it a straightforward engineering problem, do you think?


Rosen:

With the available technology now, it is. First of all, it uses hydrogen as fuel because that’s three times the energy density of aviation fuel. It uses two electrically driven propellers. It uses a way of converting the hydrogen energy, air compressed with a turbo compressor, into electricity that powers the motors.


Vardalas:

What altitude would these planes go at?


Rosen:

Sixty-thousand feet.


Vardalas:

Would they go over urban areas? Is that the place they would be used?


Rosen:

Initially, but I think as time goes on they’ll eventually be economical enough to provide service for even a lower population density and, with enough of them, eventually cover the whole country, and the whole world.


Vardalas:

Now, you mentioned to me when we started this, “This is my third career,” as you said, “This could eclipse all of the previous ones.” Why do you say that? You’re so confident in the application and potential of this?


Rosen:

Yes. The communication industry is gigantic, and right now they’re suffering from overbuilding of fiber capacity. Most of the fibers that have been built in the last half a dozen years are unlit, they’re unused, because the problem with the last mile and the first mile they can’t get to the users economically. This is a way of completing that path to the users.


Vardalas:

So would you be connected to an optical backbone?


Rosen:

Yes. That’s what it does: it connects the millions of users in a city, or hundreds of thousands, to the Internet backbone at a very low cost, compared to other methods, and with greater bandwidth potential and greater bandwidth flexibility. It’s a very simple system in comparison to any other.


Vardalas:

What frequency band would you be working at?


Rosen:

Generally Ka band for the users, about one centimeter or one and a half centimeter wavelengths. For the link to the gateway station which connects you to the Internet, much higher frequencies, maybe a third of a centimeter or something like that, which we could do because we can power through rain to the gateway terminal.


Vardalas:

Oh, so it’s transparent then in the rain. You have to get the funding, which I guess is a big hurdle.


Rosen:

That’s a big hurdle. That’s the only hurdle. Well, there’s also some regulatory hurdles. The FAA is starting slowly in its ponderous bureaucratic way to deal with the issue of unmanned vehicles.


Vardalas:

This is the unmanned, of course.


Rosen:

Right now, Los Angeles is covered with commercial airplanes that have fifty times as much fuel in them as we’re going to have in this airplane, and they do it well enough.


Vardalas:

Because I guess they’d be worried about the liability issue, an unmanned plane.


Rosen:

They worry about covering themselves, that’s all. The probability of causing any damage is negligible. Anyway, we have a design that on paper has less than one chance in a billion of having the control system fail. If the power system fails, we can glide back to our base easily. But all you have to do is maintain attitude control of the airplane, and then you’ve got it made.


Vardalas:

So assuming you get the funding at some point, what time table do you foresee? How long would it take you to implement this and get a working prototype up in the air, do you think?


Rosen:

The working prototype we could do within a year and a half from now, I would say, if we had the money. As far as the regulatory issues, that’s also a function of money, because you have to hire lobbyists and lawyers for both the FAA and the FCC. But I think the public good is so much served by this that I think it’ll come pretty fast.


Vardalas:

Without you giving away any information, are there any interesting investors nibbling at this or are you still beating the bushes?


Rosen:

Right now communications companies are licking their wounds over losing several trillion dollars in the last few years due to making poor judgment investments. The low altitude satellites, I warned about them for the last forty years that they were impractical, but they didn’t follow my line of reasoning and went and dumped many billions of dollars, maybe $15 billion, into worthless low altitude satellite systems in the last ten years or so.


But the overbuilding the fiber, that also has cost. They stock evaluation in communications companies has gone down by more than two trillion dollars, two thousand billion dollars worldwide. So they’re licking their wounds, so that makes this a tough time to get investments from a communications company. But it’s going to come.


Vardalas:

Is that something a company like Boeing, who’s doing communication satellites, would want to do?


Rosen:

As a matter of fact, Boeing is interested, and we have some kind of a loose alliance right now. We’re working together to try to help make this happen.


Vardalas:

Because they do build planes.


Rosen:

Oh, they can’t build this kind of plane. This is a low-cost plane. It doesn’t have passengers and it’s not made out of metal. It’s a composite. It’s designed by Burt Rutan of Scaled Composites, he’s a very famous aviation icon, the one who built the Voyager that circled the world unrefueled. He’s the airplane designer. But that’s not the hard part. The hard part is the power system for it that converts hydrogen to electricity.


Vardalas:

That’s not a fuel cell; that’s different? It’s a hydrogen fuel cell?


Rosen:

Maybe. We’re open to fuel cells if they ever become practical and the cost comes down. But in the meantime we’re going to use an internal combustion aircraft engine converted to hydrogen and using a generator that also would be used to start it.


Vardalas:

We’re just about at the end. I want to thank you very much for doing this. I wish we could have spent more time because it’s such a fascinating career you’ve had.


Rosen:

Maybe some time we can continue.


Vardalas:

Thank you very much.