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STANFORD -- Bradford W. Parkinson - professor of aeronautics and astronautics and program manager of the Gravity Probe B project - has received this year's Pioneer Award from the Aerospace and Electronic Systems Society of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.
The award has been given annually since 1949 to engineers who have made lasting contributions to the field - specifically to individuals who have played a significant role in the development of aerospace and electronic systems that are still in service 20 years or more after their invention.
Parkinson was singled out for his pioneering work in the formulation and development of the Joint Service NAVSTAR system, a satellite system that now provides precise locational information to vehicles and vessels anywhere on the planet's surface.
"The global positioning capability, available to everyone, will join the ranks of those select military technologies that will have a beneficial and everlasting impact on the civilian world," said Myron Kayton, president of the society.
In 1973, Parkinson, then a colonel in the U.S. Air Force, led a small group of military and civilian experts who developed a plan that would replace angular measurements to natural stars with radio ranging measurements to a constellation of artificial satellites, originally called NAVSTARs. In addition to leading the effort to define the system, he helped to sell the concept, develop it and perform the first field tests for the Department of Defense.
"Although it has taken over 20 years to complete that final system design and fully realize its implications, it is now apparent that a new 'navigation' utility has been created. For less than $1,000 (price rapidly decreasing), anyone, anywhere in the world, can almost instantaneously determine location to about the width of a street in three dimensions," according to the award brochure.
The award was presented last month in Dayton, Ohio, at the annual National Aerospace and Electronic Systems Conference.
Since retiring from the Air Force, Parkinson has been vice president for advanced development at Rockwell Space Systems Group and vice president and general manager for Intermetric Corp.'s subsidiary PlantStar. In 1984 he joined the Stanford faculty as a professor of aeronautics and astronautics, and manages the Gravity Probe B project, the largest NASA program on campus. It is an innovative test of Einstein's theory using orbiting gyroscopes.
An important spin-off from Gravity Probe B, also led by Parkinson, is the new FAA Pathfinder program at Stanford. The research uses global positioning satellites to track aircraft position during landing and has demonstrated positioning accuracies of better than 10 centimeters in three dimensions.
Parkinson is a fellow of the Royal Institute of Navigation and the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics as well as a member of the National Academy of Engineering. He holds the Bronze Star, Air Medal (with oak leaf), Presidential Unit Citation, Legion of Merit and Defense Superior Service Medal. He has received several awards from the Royal Institute of Navigation, including its Gold Medal.
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