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January 1999



Alumnus Helps Streamline Personal Telecommunications


ICO photoThe ICO Satellite System. Hughes technicians work on the bus module and two of the six payload elements: the active receive antenna and the forward transponder modules.


Virginia Tech alumnus Randy Persinger (BSEE, '76, MSEE, '78) is de facto chief engineer for a satellite program that could streamline personal telecommunications-giving customers the ability to use one telephone, one number, any time, anywhere.

As ICO deputy program manager for Hughes Space and Communications Co., Persinger has been overseeing the development of a 12-satellite system for ICO Global Communications that will provide mobile, handheld cellular communications anywhere in the world.

Dual-Mode Global Mobile

Slated for start-up in the year 2000, the ICO communications system is designed to provide services to dual-mode (space/terrestrial) cellular telephones. The system will offer digital voice, data, and facsimile services, as well as a range of messaging services.

"With the ICO system, customers could use their phones via terrestrial operation where service is available, then switch to direct-to-satellite mode if they are hiking in the mountains, rock climbing, or travelling in areas without a cellular network," Persinger said. "Same phone, same phone number," he added.

The satellite system will consist of 12 operational satellites, each supporting 4,500 telephone channels, operating for 12 years in medium earth orbit at an altitude of 6430 miles. The orbital constellation is designed for significant coverage overlap, so that two-but sometimes three or four-satellites will be in view of a user any time.

First Medium-Earth Orbit System

The satellites will be the world's first commercial medium-earth-orbit system. For Hughes, the more than $2 billion system also provides several significant firsts: it is the largest commercial job in the company's history; it is an all-new design; it is the first time the company is building 12 identical spacecraft.

The satellites' new design uses digital signal processing (DSP) to create and route the beams, which has not been done before in a commercial system.

"Each satellite has two large, direct radiating arrays-each with 127 element chains. It's a lot of hardware," Persinger said.

"It's been a challenge designing and integrating all that hardware over extreme operation environments and testing it. We have a lot more individual boxes than most spacecraft."

The ICO satellites also differ from most other spacecraft in their degree of modularity-from the payload panel to the DSP slices, whose microchips are laid out in compact groups to minimize size and power draw. "It's like a giant Lego™ model," Persinger said. "Elements can be worked on separately and then assembled-the advantage is that work can advance on each of the elements simultaneously."


Persinger has been involved in the project from its very beginning. He was involved in the original studies of the concept six years ago, helped win the job for Hughes, led the design team, and now is overseeing production. "It's not often you get to start out with a blank piece of paper and follow a project through to completion," he commented. "The thrill now is that it's real. You can go into the factory, see, and test it."

Hughes awarded Persinger the Chairman's Marketing award in 1995 in recognition of his efforts to win the contract.

Persinger has spent his career in satellite communications. After earning his master's degree, he worked for a short time for Hughes Aircraft, as the company was then called. He then moved east and spent 14 years with COMSAT-including a stint in Cannes, France. At COMSAT, he worked in satellite launching, design, and customer consulting, traveling extensively throughout the world.

He rejoined Hughes in 1993, bringing a customer perspective to his work there.

Persinger grew up in Newport News, Virginia and earned his BSEE at Tech, while co-oping at Virginia Power and Electric Company. During a summer class with Charles Bostian, he became interested in electromagnetics and antenna theory. He then changed his concentration and studied antennas with Warren Stutzman.

"Bostian and Stutzman changed my career," he said. "With their support and encouragement, I stayed for my masters and was one of the original crew at Tech's Satellite Tracking Station.

"Looking back on my career, I'd say that Virginia Tech gave me the fundamentals, and a strong foundation that enabled me to advance quickly in industry."

The Bradley Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering
Virginia Tech

Last Updated, May 9, 1999
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