JPL DESCANSO - Deep Space Communications and Navigation Center of Excellence



Catherine L. Thornton

Catherine L. Thornton received a B.A. degree, magna cum laude, from Vanderbilt University in 1960, with a major in mathematics. She received an M.S. in mathematics from Northwestern University in 1961 and a Ph.D in engineering from UCLA in 1976. She began her career in deep-space tracking and navigation in 1961 at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), California Institute of Technology. During the early years of the space program, she contributed to the development of the Single Precision Orbit Determination Program (SPODP) and performed navigation analyses in support of numerous flight projects. These experiences led her to specialize, during her doctoral studies, in estimation and filtering theory, with particular emphasis on reliable formulations of process noise filters, such as the widely-used Kalman filter. Her work in this area influenced the design of several data analysis programs at JPL, most notably the Global Positioning System data processing system known as GIPSY.

Catherine assumed her first management role at JPL in 1978, as a supervisor in the Navigation Systems Section. She subsequently served as manager of the Deep Space Network Advanced Systems Program, deputy manager, and later manager, of the Tracking Systems and Applications Section. She was deputy manager of the Telecommunications Science and Engineering Division and leader of the Center of Excellence in Deep-Space Communications and Navigation Systems (DESCANSO) prior to her retirement in November 1999.

Catherine has received numerous honors and awards related to her technical and leadership contributions in space exploration. She is a fellow of the American Astronautical Society and a recipient of the NASA Exceptional Service Medal.

Co-Author of Volume 1 of the Deep-Space Communications and Navigation Series:

Radiometric Tracking Techniques for Deep-Space Navigation