First-Hand:Television Receivers, Missile Guidance Systems, and the USA's First Satellite


Submitted by Leonard R. Malling

(1933-38) As active chief of Baird Television, Captain West was at this time working on high definition television, sixty lines at twenty-four frames. I visited him and told him I would study the progress of television in the U.S. and report on my return to England. By inventing a new method of film sound recording, Captain West, working for Gaumont British, had broken the stranglehold of Western Electric on the English movie making business. Gaumont British decided that there was a future in television and poured funds into the Baird Company under the direction of Captain West.

Baird had a contract with the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) to broadcast television, at that time sixteen lines at twelve frames, mechanically scanned and reproduced. Strangely enough there were several thousand receivers that had been sold by Baird to watch these broadcasts, mostly operated by amateurs. Sir John Reith, czar of English broadcasting, made the announcement that television was but a toy, would always be a toy and that the BBC would not waste anymore time, money and facilities for this toy.

The BBC thereupon broke the Baird contract, tore out the Baird equipment, and threw it out on the street.

Captain West then moved the laboratory to the Crystal Palace-the towers there being the highest point in London-and commenced experimental high definition TV broadcasting. This was initiated with one hundred and eighty lines at twenty-four frames, using flying spot mechanical discs. The results from movie film were excellent, less so for studio broadcasts.

Returning from the U.S., which was just recovering from the depression, my task was to design practical receivers for the home. Lacking a camera, Captain West decided to acquire rights to Farnsworth TV systems. The Farnsworth camera would provide pictures to two hundred and forty lines. I became interested in the Farnsworth reproducing equipment, considered totally impractical for home use by our engineers.

We hired a phosphorous expert from central europe and I proceeded to design short all- magnetic scanning envelopes that were a first in the TV field, permitting direct TV tube face viewing. I also commenced experiments on high voltage from the scanning system. Baird was now selling TV receivers to the general public and broadcasting TV programs mostly film from Gaumont British.

I was well paid on two-year contracts and in complete charge of all TV receiver activities the highest management level of my career. In the U.S., RCA was still bogged down by the lack of a practical TV camera. The Iconoscope at this time had too many operational problems. My responsibilities at Baird together with my educational degree permitted me to be elected as a Member of the British lEE.

Sir John Reith of the BBC now announced that the BBC had chartered rights to all radio broadcasting in England and that included TV. Having political clout, he had this confirmed by Parliament. Public TV broadcasting from the Crystal Palace was now illegal. The Marconi company, which had a vested interest in the BBC monopoly, quickly concentrated on TV using RCA technology, EMI staff and the Iconoscope. Baird was out. A tremendous fire at the Crystal Palace then totally destroyed the Crystal Palace including the Baird laboratory and its studios. I decided to emigrate to America.

I took a job with the then fledgling Varian Associates in their small plant for making klystrons in San Carlos, California. Dorothy Varian would make lunch for the workers in the small cafeteria. I would play horseshoes with Russ Varian during lunch hours.

I built a few machines that improved the quality of klystron production. But what I really became interested in was NMR, nuclear magnetic resonance. Working with nearby Stanford researchers, such as Felix Bloch, father of NMR, I developed practical saleable NMR equipment. I published a couple of papers in Electronics covering this field. With the death of the two Varian brothers, Sig and Russ, I lost interest in Varian and took a job at Hoffman Radio in Los Angeles. I had been invited down by a friend I had met at Convair. I was able to make a real dent in the technology there, in the UHF frequency region, resulting in a successful military contract.

Desiring to get back into research, I went over to the JPL (Jet Propulsion Laboratories) in Pasadena and found to my surprise that I was quite well known there because of my IEEE paper on Radio Doppler. JPL was under contract to the Army. Von Braun was developing rockets at Huntsville (AL). JPL was responsible for guidance. Their guidance system worked at UHF with cumbersome cavities designed from old MIT WWII data. I redesigned them to be ruggedized and greatly reduced the size and power requirements. I published a paper on the techniques involved.

With the advent of Sputnik, JPL was called upon to build an instrumented satellite that would be launched atop a rocket developed at Huntsville. I was given the job of designing and building the electronic assembly in the rocket, comprising instrumentation, transmitter and battery assembly. Dr. Pickering allocated eighty-one days for completion. I had a team of technicians and the JPL machine shop at my disposal.

Here was my big chance to do something significant for the U.S. The satellite must work. I, of course, knew nothing about the outer space environment. I would have to learn and use my imagination. Late on the eighty-first day, I checked the weight and shipped the satellite to Florida. (I had run a continuous weight analysis to be sure that at the end the assembly would meet the precise figures.) The mission was successful. The U.S. now had its first satellite in orbit. Several similar satellites were launched. JPL became a laboratory for the newly created NASA agency.

Attention was then directed to a satellite that would penetrate deep space and fly past the moon. I was allocated the radio transmitter with a weight limit of one pound. Only a marginal increase in rocket power was available hence the overall size and weight would be limited. I decided to push for a UHF transmitter, 960 me using the latest technology and a team of technicians. Using transistors to 320mc, a varactor multiplier from the Bell Labs (never used in any application), and a tiny GE vacuum tube, I managed to squeeze out a quarter watt of rf power.

Horrendous problems of every type dogged my progress, but I was able to complete the transmitter within the six months allocated. It acheived its objective and was contacted for one million miles-another U.S. first. The Van Allen belt was discovered with this space probe. I was invited by the Japanese to give a paper in Tokyo, they having read an article I had published.

In 1965, I no longer wished to work on these missions. I flew to Boston, Massachusetts to get myself a job at the Lincoln Lab.

I had decided to specialize in the infrared spectrum. I worked on several IR systems that dealt with reentry observations from a plane in the Pacific missile firing range. I became interested in complex frequency analysis. I wrote and presented several papers on my work.

I was due for retirement from MIT. Receiving adverse criticism for my work from the staff, I went to the laboratory director and complained that throughout my career this was the usual result of my work whenever I carved out new technical territories. However, as I was now retiring, I wished to have a clean slate. He smiled. I was given a substantial raise in pay and received apologies from the staff. I learned that attempts later to by-pass my IR designs ended in failure.