[ Back to EurekAlert! ] Public release date: 22-Nov-2005
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Naval Research Laboratory

President announces Roger Easton recipient of National Medal of Technology

Nation's highest honor for technology

(Washington, DC 11/21/05) President George W. Bush has announced that Roger L. Easton is the recipient of the National Medal of Technology for his extensive pioneering achievements in spacecraft tracking, navigation and timing technology that led to the development of the NAVSTAR-Global Positioning System (GPS). The White House made the announcement on Monday, November 14. The Nation's highest honor for technology, the National Medal of Technology is awarded to individuals who embody the spirit of American innovation and who have advanced the Nation's global competitiveness.

Easton, the former head of NRL's Space Applications Branch, Space Systems Division, retired from NRL and Federal Service in 1980, and later served as a consultant to NRL to conduct assessment of industry proposals for upgrading the Naval Space Surveillance System and to explore his concept for improving GPS geo-locational accuracy from 1994 to 2000. He began his career at NRL in 1943 as a research physicist, working on radar beacons and blind landing systems in the Radio Division, and served as an active duty Naval Officer conducting research aboard the Lab from 1944 to 1945.

He was awarded the National Medal of Technology for "his invention of the Minitrack satellite tracking system used to track Vanguard satellites and determine orbits; his development of the Naval Space Surveillance System still in use today cataloging all known man-made space objects orbiting Earth; his invention of a "Navigation System Using Satellites and Passive Ranging Techniques" and his subsequent development of Time Navigation and Navigation Technology Satellites that formed the technological basis for modern GPS."

Easton conceived, patented, and led the development of critical enabling technologies for the United States Global Positioning System (GPS). GPS today is a constellation of Earth-orbiting satellites providing precise navigation and timing data to military and civilian users. Easton, as a scientist and engineer at NRL, developed his concept for a time-based navigational system with passive ranging, circular orbits, and space-borne high precision clocks synchronized to a master clock. The U.S Patent Office received his invention, "Navigation System Using Satellites and Passive Ranging Techniques," on October 8, 1970. His earlier work exploiting space-based systems for geodesy, navigation, and timing laid the foundations for his visionary leap to the concept he dubbed TIMATION, for time navigation. He tested his concepts at NRL through development and launch of four experimental satellites: TIMATION I and II (in 1967 and 1969) and Navigation Technology Satellites (NTS) 1 and 2 (in 1974 and 1977). NTS-2, the first satellite to fly in the GPS 12 hour orbit and transmit GPS signals, flew the first cesium atomic frequency standard in space. Using time measurements from NTS-2, he experimentally verified Einstein's theory of relativity. A relativistic offset correction that he applied is still in use by every satellite in the GPS constellation.

Earlier in his career at NRL, Easton collaborated with Milton Rosen in 1955 to write NRL's Project Vanguard proposal for a scientific satellite program for the International Geophysical Year. President Eisenhower announced selection of Vanguard as the United States national scientific contribution to the International Geophysical Year. Easton invented the Minitrack System to determine the Vanguard satellite's orbit.

When the Soviet Union launched Sputnik into orbit, the United States could not track non-radiating satellites or determine if other launches occurred. Roger Easton solved this problem by extending Minitrack to actively follow unknown satellites orbiting Earth. Under his leadership, the Naval Space Surveillance System became the world's first system to detect and track all types of Earth-orbiting objects, thus contributing to America's national security and sense of well-being during the Cold War. For this invention, Roger Easton received a U.S. patent in 1964.

Easton conceived the idea of using satellite-carried precise clocks for passive ranging in 1964. He conducted research, carried out space-based experiments, and published his findings that accurate, reliable and instantaneous satellite navigation could be achieved with passive ranging, circular orbits, and a constellation of space-borne high-precision clocks synchronized to a master clock, which are in fact the primary features of modern GPS. While initially designed for use by the military, GPS has been adapted for civilian use from commercial airliners to personal in-car systems. So many creative uses for GPS have been discovered by such a wide variety of users that, according to an economic study by Allied Business Intelligence, estimated worldwide sales of GPS equipment and services will grow to more than $34 billion by 2006.

During his career at NRL he was awarded 11 patents. Major awards include: The Distinguished Civilian Service Award (1960); 1978, The Institute of Navigation's Colonel Thomas L. Thurlow Navigation Award "for outstanding contribution to the science of navigation for the year 1978" (1978); The Naval Space Surveillance Center established the Roger L. Easton Science and Engineering Award to mark the 30th anniversary of the Naval Space Surveillance System (1991); National Aeronautic Association's 1992 Robert J. Collier Trophy presented to the GPS Team composed of NRL, USAF, Aerospace Corp., Rockwell International and IBM Federal Systems "for the most significant development for safe and efficient navigation and surveillance of air and spacecraft since the introduction of radio navigation 50 years ago" (1993); The Naval Research Laboratory established the Roger L. Easton Award for Engineering Excellence "in recognition of the multiple contributions in engineering excellence achieved at NRL by and under the leadership of Roger Easton" (1995); Induction by GPS Joint Program Office into GPS Hall of Fame "for his overwhelming contributions to engineering applications in navigation satellite technology [that] have made GPS a reality" (1996); and, The American Philosophical Society, Magellanic Premium for Navigation "for development of the Global Positioning System" (1997).

Two years after leaving Federal service in 1980 and retiring to Canaan, New Hampshire, he was elected to two consecutive terms in the State Assembly, ran for Governor in 1986, and served three terms on the Board of the New Hampshire Electric Cooperative.

The National Medal of Technology is the highest honor awarded by the President of the United States to America's leading innovators. Established by an act of Congress in 1980, the Medal of Technology was first awarded in 1985. The Medal is given annually to individuals, teams, and/or companies/divisions for their outstanding contributions to the Nation's economic, environmental and social well-being through the development and commercialization of technology products, processes and concepts; technological innovation; and development of the Nation's technological manpower. The purpose of the National Medal of Technology is to recognize those who have made lasting contributions to America's competitiveness, standard of living, and quality of life through technological innovation, and to recognize those who have made substantial contributions to strengthening the Nation's technological workforce. By highlighting the national importance of technological innovation, the Medal also seeks to inspire future generations of Americans to prepare for and pursue technical careers to keep America at the forefront of global technology and economic leadership.

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