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Henry Howard, 70; Father of Home Satellite TV Dish

November 15, 2002|Mary Rourke | Times Staff Writer

Henry Taylor Howard, a radio engineer who was considered the father of the satellite television industry, died Wednesday when the plane he was piloting crashed after takeoff from Calaveras County Airport. He was 70.

A former NASA scientist and Stanford University professor, Howard created the first known home satellite television system in 1976, a prototype that he put on display at his ranch in San Andreas, where it has remained. He also wrote a manual to help home hobbyists build their own systems.

Howard's stepson, Brian Files, was also killed in the plane crash. A third man on board, Dean Hollingsworth, is hospitalized in Modesto.

A native of Illinois whose father was an engineer, Howard ventured into the uncharted world of home satellite systems as a professional scientist who maintained a full complement of electronic hobbies.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday November 16, 2002 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 11 inches; 415 words Type of Material: Correction
Howard obituary -- The obituary of Henry Taylor Howard in the California section Friday contained an inaccurate description of his research using radio signals. Dawn Levy, a science writer with Stanford University's media office, said the correct way to describe his work is to say it involved bouncing radio signals from Earth to the moon as a way to map the moon, and bouncing radio signals to spacecraft exploring planets as a way to study planet atmospheres.

"He applied his love of science to satellites," said Margaret Parone, spokeswoman for the Satellite Broadcasting and Communications Assn., a national trade organization based in Virginia that Howard helped found. "Howard was a tinkerer and ham radio operator."

Howard explained in a 1985 interview with Atlantic magazine how he had made his prototype. Many of the parts cost less than $20, he said. But for one of them, he splurged. "I used a microwave source that I bought at a surplus store and had to order a crystal for it. That cost 100 bucks, which was the major cost of the system."

Four years after he built his prototype, Howard co-founded Chaparral Communications, a manufacturing company that produces parts for the system he continued to improve.

At the time, about 5,000 U.S. households owned satellite television dishes. Today there are nearly 20 million. It its first six years, Chaparral Communications grew to a $50-million company.

By then, Howard's career as a scientist was well advanced. After graduating from Stanford University in 1955, he joined the faculty as a professor of electrical engineering.

Beginning in the 1960s, he worked on a series of NASA space projects through the university. He was the principal investigator on several Apollo lunar flight experiments and was later a team leader on the Mariner 10 radio science investigations of Venus and Mercury. He helped launch radio satellites to Jupiter as part of NASA's Galileo project. For his achievements, he was awarded a NASA medal for exceptional scientific achievement in 1973.

"Howard's experiments were of two kinds," said Dawn Levy, a science writer with the Stanford University media office. "He bounced radio signals from Earth to the moon as a way to map the planet. And he bounced radio signals to spacecraft circling the moon as a way to test the atmosphere around the planet."

It was his how-to booklet, "The Howard Terminal Manual," published in 1979, that launched the industry he helped create. With the book, people were able to build satellite systems in their garages or home welding shops, said Chuck Hewitt, a close friend and colleague. Hewitt said Howard is now compared with Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the telephone.

In the early days of satellite television, Hewitt said, there were no systems to block access to cable company programming, so Howard could access HBO -- the only U.S. service regularly carried by satellite -- for free.

"He wrote to HBO and let them know," Hewitt said. "He asked what he owed them, but he never got a reply."

By the early 1980s, free access was one of several heated issues surrounding the cable television industry, and Howard became a spokesman for private satellite system owners.

"Access to programming, fair pricing, the right to private ownership of a satellite system, these were all issues Howard had to deal with," said Hewitt, a Maryland lawyer and former president of the Satellite Broadcasting and Communication Assn.

Howard continued to work at Chaparral Communications, most recently as director of research, until the late 1990s. He continued to tinker in his free time. Recently, he built a turbo-powered helicopter from a kit he bought in Italy. As another hobby, Hewitt said, "he was bouncing signals off the moon to talk with people in China."

Taylor is survived by his wife, Ann, four children and a brother.

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