Robert H. Kern

Mr. Robert H. Kern died June 4, 2015 in Danvers Massachusetts at the age of 85 at the Kaplan Family Hospice House in Danvers, Mass. He was internationally recognized as one of the foremost designers of cesium beam tubes and innovator in the time and frequency community.

Born in New York City, he was the son of the late Carl Henry and Helen L. (Victor) Kern. He was raised and educated in New York City and was a graduate of Cornell University. He earned both his BSEE (1955) and MS (1956) Degrees from Cornell University in Engineering.

He served two years on active duty with the U.S. Air Force and was assigned as a Base Communications Officer in the U.K.

From 1962 to 1969 he was associated with the Quantum Electronics Division of Varian Associates where he was directly responsible for the early development and production of cesium beam tubes. During his tenure at Varian/QED it was acquired by Hewlett Packard and reorganized into the Frequency and Time – East Division of Hewlett Packard. Continuing with Hewlett Packard – East Division, Mr. Kern was responsible for the design and engineering of cesium tubes which were utilized in thousands of standards throughout the world. In addition to his association with Varian and HP he held the position of Senior Scientific Executive with EG&G, Inc. and Senior Research and Development engineer for CBS Electronics.

In 1971 Mr. Kern founded Frequency and Time Systems (FTS) and served as President and General Manager. During these early years in the 1970’s he became involved with the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory and their navigation satellite program to develop precision atomic clocks for satellites. FTS supplied, in cooperation with the Efratom company of Munich, several Efratom FRK rubidium frequency standards for experimental use on board the Navigation Technology Satellite One (NTS-1) that was built by the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory and launched 14 July 1974. This technology satellite was the first satellite launched in the newly formed NAVSTAR Global Positioning System (GPS) program and the first to place atomic frequency standards in orbit. The Efratom RFK units were selected by Rockwell International for use in the Block 1 GPS satellites built under contract to the GPS Joint Program Office. At FTS Mr. Kern was responsible for the design and development of a new generation of space qualified cesium beam tube frequency standards suitable for use in space and in severe dynamic environmental situations. The first prototypical cesium beam frequency standards were developed and launched into space in 1977 aboard the NTS-2. This satellite was the second one launched as part of the NAVSTAR GPS program and was the first to transmit the full complement of GPS navigation signals. The prototypical units incorporated into NTS-2 became the basis for the exploratory development, advanced development and pre-production cesium beam frequency standards built by FTS culminating in the production cesium standards for the operational GPS satellites. These cesium clocks provided the highly stable and reliable signals that contributed greatly to the success of GPS Blocks 1, 2, and 2A satellites.

However, in 1978 Mr. Kern sold his interest in FTS and founded Kernco, Inc. of Danvers, Mass in 1979. He also served as President and General Manager of this company. He began the development of an alternate source of space qualified cesium beam frequency standards flown in GPS block 2A and a smaller, more capable cesium beam standard. His achievements in leading Kernco included the development of quartz oscillators flown on many of the latter block IIR satellites, development of thermal vacuum chamber systems for long term testing, small vac-ion pumps, timing instrumentation and his later work exploring alternative technologies for future satellite Standards.

Mr. Kern holds eight seminal patents in the field of cesium beam technology.

A resident of the Town of Danvers since 1960, Bob was a member of the Association of Old Crows, the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association and was a member of the Maple Street Congregational Church of Danvers. In his free time he enjoyed boating, swimming, tennis, and fishing in the summer on Highland Lake in Maine with his family and friends. He was an avid outdoorsman who enjoyed skiing.

Bob was preceded in death by his first wife, Janet Marie (Upson) Kern. He is survived by his wife of 32 years, Evelyn (Eshleman) Kern of Danvers; his son, Andrew Carleton Kern and his wife Brenda of Delaware, Ohio; his daughter, Joanne Kern McDermott of Irvine, California; and his grandson, Adam Henry McDermott.