Harold A. Rosen Draper Prize
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  • Draper
Charles Stark Draper Prize for Engineering
Go To Award

The advent of communication satellites opened the door to a new era of global communication. Today making a transatlantic phone call or witnessing the daily events from Europe and abroad seems commonplace. But before communication satellites, placing a call to friends or relatives in Europe was a time-consuming and expensive endeavor, and the possibility of live video transmissions from foreign countries was almost unimaginable. In fact, science fiction writer and aerospace engineer Arthur C. Clarke is generally credited with first proposing the idea of a communication satellite network in space in 1945 in an article titled "Extra-Terrestrial Relays."

"John Pierce and Harold Rosen are the fathers of the communication satellite," said Clarke. "They designed, developed, and produced it, making real that which I and others thought only to write and dream about."

Though Telstar 1 was a significant breakthrough, the difference in the orbit rate of the satellite and the rotation of the Earth meant the satellite could be used for only a limited amount of time, and required accurate tracking of its location to be able to send and receive signals.

Harold Rosen was able to correct this shortcoming and make communication satellites more commercially viable. Going against conventional wisdom, in 1963 Rosen designed and developed Syncom II, the first geosynchronous satellite. Orbiting some 22,300 miles above the Earth, Syncom II was accessible for continuous transmission of audiovisual signals. For the first time, widely separated areas could be served by communication signals relayed via a satellite pointed at a fixed ground station.

John Foster, chair of the 1995 NAE committee that selected the two men, said, "Every time we watch the news, we see the results of their achievements. Whenever we make a call or send a fax overseas, make a bank transaction or plan a trip based on a weather forecast, we should thank Pierce and Rosen."

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  • Draper
  • 1995
  • Development of communication satellite technology.