GPS Pioneer Charles Trimble Is First Lecturer in New Space Commerce Series Established by Orbital Founder David W. Thompson Written 31 July 2018

CONTACT: John Blacksten

July 31, 2018 – Reston, Va. – Giving aerospace leaders insight into how to anticipate emerging markets and guide transformative technology to widespread acceptance is at the heart of the new David W. Thompson Lecture in Space Commerce Award. 

GPS pioneer Charles Trimble will be the first speaker in this annual lecture series, which kicks off at the AIAA SPACE Forum, September 17–19, in Orlando, Fla. 

The award is sponsored and endowed with an initial investment of $250,000 from Orbital ATK Inc., now Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems, to commemorate the long and distinguished career of commercial space pioneer Thompson, retired Orbital ATK president and CEO, who co-founded one of Orbital ATK’s predecessors, Orbital Sciences Corporation, in 1982. 

“Naming Charlie Trimble as the inaugural speaker was an easy choice,” Thompson said. While Global Positioning Satellite technology is ubiquitous with billions of devices linking daily to the GPS network, GPS didn’t appear to be the now transformative technology it is today when Trimble started Trimble Navigation Ltd. 40 years ago, he noted. 

Thompson’s goals for the new lecture series are twofold: first, to recognize prominent industry leaders who have generated sustained economic benefits in the space commerce market, and,  second, to record first-hand the experiences and lessons learned from leaders who guided pivotal technology to widespread customer acceptance. 

“We want to document their accomplishments while memories are still fresh, and the pioneers are still active,” said Thompson, an AIAA Honorary Fellow and an AIAA member for more than 40 years. He also served as AIAA president from 2009 to 2010 and won the Goddard Astronautics and Lawrence Sperry awards, among his many honors. 

Trimble, a former Hewlett-Packard Co. engineer, took a chance on GPS after HP stepped away from the technology. He had the foresight and determination to guide his namesake company from struggling start-up to the market leader in GPS technology we use today, Thompson said. 

“This lecture series will hopefully inspire new entrepreneurs and recognize a current generation of pioneers,” Thompson said. 

Thompson himself was inspired by the first generation of human-based space systems and robotic spacecraft developed and deployed in the 1960s and 1970s. Early in his career at NASA, Thompson realized this technology could be put to broader use. For example, he envisioned widespread application for communications systems based on satellites. And that traditional model of space-based satellites collecting and transmitting information to customers on Earth still has substantial growth potential as new applications are developed, Thompson said. Other areas of commercial potential include Earth imaging, weather monitoring and human space flight, he added. 

The lecture will be livestreamed and also recorded and transcribed for the future. Beginning with the 2019 award, the award schedule will follow the nomination and selection schedule of AIAA’s major awards. For more information, please visit the AIAA’s Honors and Awards website and the 2018 SPACE Forum schedule.

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