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James Spilker, Co-Founder of SCPNT, has Died at Age 86

James Spilker, Jr., a central figure in the development of GPS, adjunct professor of Aero-Astro at Stanford, and SCPNT co-founder has died.
Jim Spilker photo

 James Spilker, Jr.,  a central figure in the technical development of the Global Positioning System (GPS), adjunct professor of aeronautics and astronautics at Stanford,  and co-founder (along with Per Enge) of SCPNT, died peacefully on Sept. 24, 2019. He was 86.

Spilker made many technical advances during his long career, but he may be best known for developing the GPS coarse/acquisition (CA) signal in the 1970s, which is today the gateway for all the estimated 4 billion users of GPS. Likewise, his “delay-lock loop” process, developed in the early 1960s, became essential to GPS accuracy.

Persis Drell, Stanford University provost and the James and Anna Marie Spilker Professor in the School of Engineering, said she is honored to have known Jim Spilker and to hold the chair that bears his name. “He was a technical giant who was incredibly generous to Stanford,” she said. “Jim was a wonderful person whose enthusiasm was infectious – this is a tremendous loss.”

“An era is passing,” said friend and colleague Brad Parkinson, a professor of aeronautics and astronautics at Stanford and the driving force behind GPS at the Pentagon in the 1970s. “Jim made so many contributions to GPS – the signal, the original monitor stations and the books that propagated his great knowledge to the next generations. He was always a very positive and creative contributor to the world of position, navigation and timing. We will miss him, but hold him as a wonderful example of engineering and of Stanford graduates.”


In February, 2019, James Spilker, along with Brad Parkinson, Hugo FrueHauf and Richard Schwartz received the 2019 Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering for their pioneering work in developing the world's  Global Positioning System (GPS). The QEPrize is the world’s most prestigious engineering accolade, a £1 million prize that celebrates the global impact of engineering innovation on humanity.

2019 Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering Award recipients

The Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering website now also contains an obituary for James Spilker, which you can read at the following Link:

View Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering Website — James Spilker Obituary >>


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