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Bell Telephone Laboratories - Inertial Navigation
September 1960 Electronics World

September 1960 Electronics World

September 1960 Electronics World Cover - RF Cafe  Table of Contents

Wax nostalgic about and learn from the history of early electronics. See articles from Electronics World, published May 1959 - December 1971. All copyrights hereby acknowledged.

Until seeing this Bell Telephone Laboratories promotion in a 1960 issue of Electronics World magazine, I never considered that programming an autonomous missile for long distances and long flight times in the days before GPS required compensation for the Earth's rotation. Also, even though an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) would spend a relatively small amount of time in the atmosphere during boost and reentry / terminal phases, wind effects would also need to be factored in to the onboard inertial guidance system's navigation program. Bell Labs was evidently tasked to design a system which could launch from the U.S. and fly to a target 6,000 miles away, and hit a designated spot closely enough to do the intended damage. According to the online great circle distance calculator, the trajectory from Lincoln, Nebraska, to Moscow, Russia (USSR in 1960) is 5,258 miles, so it is reasonable to assume the chore had similar start / stop locations in mind. 

Bell Telephone Laboratories Ad

Bell Telephone Laboratories - Inertial Navigation, September 1960 Electronics World - RF CafeAssignment: Hit a Target 6000 Miles Away

Can you guide a 110-ton Air Force Titan missile far up into the sky, to bring its nuclear warhead down with pinpoint accuracy on a target one-fourth the way around the globe - a target you not only can't see but which continually moves with the spinning earth?

This was the problem in missile guidance the Air Force presented to Bell Telephone Laboratories and its manufacturing partner, Western Electric. The answer was the development of a command guidance system which steers the Titan with high accuracy.

Unlike self-contained systems which demand complex guidance equipment in the missile itself, Bell Laboratories' Command Guidance System keeps its master control equipment on the ground where it can be used over and over again. Thus a minimum of equipment is carried in the missile, and the ground station has full control of the missile during its guided flight. Techniques drawn from the communications art render the system immune to radio jamming.

Bell Laboratories scientists and engineers designed the transmission and switching systems for the world's most versatile telephone network, developed much of our nation's radar, and pioneered in missile systems. From their vast storehouse of knowledge and experience comes the guidance system for the Titan.

Bell Telephone Laboratories

World Center of Communications Research and Development



Posted August 26, 2021
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