Robert K. Roney

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Robert K. Roney


Robert Kenneth Roney was born 5 August 1922 on a farm in Newton, Iowa, USA, the youngest of four children. His parents moved the family to another farm in Looney, Missouri in 1929, where he spent the rest of his childhood and became intimately familiar with horse-powered agricultural technologies related to ploughing, sowing, and harvesting. He attended the University of Missouri, where he was a member of the Three Squares Cooperative House, an officer of Tau Beta Pi, and chair of the student branch of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers (AIEE). After receiving his B.S. in electrical engineering in 1944, Roney served in World War II on the battleship U.S.S. Washington, helping operate its radar systems during the battle of Okinawa.

After the war, Roney used the Servicemen's Readjustment Act (G.I. Bill) to study at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech). There he received his Master’s degree in electrical engineering in 1947, followed by his Ph.D. in Physics in 1950, having researched and written his dissertation on The Influence of Metal Grain Structure on the Attenuation of an Ultrasonic Acoustic Wave. After graduation, Roney joined the recently established Guided Missile division at Hughes Aircraft Company as part of the Aerospace Group that Simon Ramo and Dean Wooldridge had initiated two years earlier. Within a year Roney met and engaged Alice Lorraine Mann of the Radar Reports group in Hughes's Radar Division. They were married in the fall of 1951 and lived at 1105 Georgina Avenue in Santa Monica, California, for 53 years, raising a son and daughter.

During the 1950s, Roney contributed to the innovation of what became the U.S. Air Force's first air-to-air guided missiles. He advanced to head of the Systems Analysis and Aerodynamics department in 1955 before leading the Systems Analysis Laboratory. In that position he hired Harold Rosen to begin Hughes's research into communications satellites. Rosen in turn hired Thomas Hudspeth and Donald Williams to create a high-altitude, geosynchronous design when other companies and government agencies believed that medium-altitude, orbiting satellites were most practical. Roney advocated and defended their approach, which resulted in a contract from National Air and Space Administration (NASA) in 1961 and the first true geostationary communication satellite, Syncom 3, in 1964. The geosynchronous satellite series comprised of Syncom 1-3, Intelsat I (Early Bird) and II F1-4, and NASA's Applications Technology Satellite (ATS) 1-6 made Hughes the world's leader in communications satellites.

Roney also oversaw Hughes's award of the NASA contract for development of the seven Surveyor spacecraft, five of which landed on the Moon[1]. He was promoted to manager of the Space & Communication Division in 1968, by which time Hughes had become the world leader in communications satellite production, and to divisional vice president in 1973. He retired in 1988 after two years as corporate senior vice-president.

Away from work, Roney presided for 22 years over the Santa Monica Symphony Orchestra, and served on the boards of Caltech Associates and Caltech's Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowships (SURF), one of which he and his wife endowed. He was elected a Fellow of the IEEE in 1974 and elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 1990 for "engineering contributions critical to the success of air-to-air missiles, lunar landing spacecraft, and communication satellites." Roney also received the Missouri Honor Award for Distinguished Service in Engineering in 1979 from his alma mater's College of Engineering. A member of Sigma Xi, Roney died 4 August 2017 and is survived by two children, five grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren.

Further reading

  • Roney, Robert K. "Problems of Surface Exploration of the Moon and the Planets," in Deutsch, Armin J., and Wolfgang B. Klemperer, eds., Space Age Astronomy: Proceedings of an international Symposium, held August 7-9, 1961, at the California Institute of Technology in conjunction with the 11th General Assembly of the International Astronomical Union (New York: Academic Press: 1962), p.498-500.
  • "Dual mode Receiving and Transmitting Antenna," U.S. Patent 3,453,621, granted 1 July 1969.
  • Surveyor (1966 - 1968)