The future of commercial development of satellite communications depends on far more than just the creation and implementation of new technology. There are a host of policy, regulatory and management issues that have major impact on the future success of satellite communications. In general, the national governments, the regional research agencies and the European Commission take a more hands-on approach to the future direction of high technology R&D than is the case in the United States. Furthermore, different priorities and strategies are employed.
A contrast of European and U.S. approaches is useful to explore. In a number of ways there are close parallels. NASA and ESA play somewhat comparable roles; ESA is the predominant force in defining the European communications satellite research agenda just as NASA is in the United States. A variety of exploratory research and studies are undertaken by both agencies to develop new technologies. Although NASA has its own research centers, especially JPL and Lewis Research Center, it is highly significant that ESA uses its ESTEC facility more and the academic community less. Perhaps even more significantly, ESA tends to allocate some 8 to 10 percent of its budget to communications-related research and development in contrast to NASA's expenditure of under 1 percent. Both NASA and ESA have, in addition to a broad gauged exploratory and research program, a series of large scale major demonstration projects. In the U.S. these have been the ATS series, the joint U.S.-Canada CTS, and the ACTS project. Meanwhile, in Europe there has been OTS, the European Communications Satellite (ECS), the Maritime European Communications Satellite (MARECS) and, most recently, OLYMPUS and ARTEMIS. In the past decade, there has been criticism of both NASA and ESA for large-scale technology demonstration projects such as ACTS and OLYMPUS, with the result that there is no significant follow-on to ACTS and ARTEMIS has been scaled down to a scheduled payload project. In contrast, Japan, through MPT's ETS experimental series, COMETS and other projects, seems poised to move into a technological lead in the satellite communications field -- still the world's largest space commerce market.
European policy on high technology is also driven by other forces. Some countries, such as France and Germany, have national space research programs; there are also nationally-based "European" research program, such as EUREKA, and yet other research programs funded by the EC. These EC programs in space, computers and telecommunications include RACE, DRIVE, DELTA, ESPRIT, and OHA. In general, there is a high level of support for R&D activity related to telecommunications, computers, and informatics in Europe. Within the EC some 40 percent of all research activity is devoted to these fields. In fact, this is the priority area, with more funds devoted to it than energy, the environment, manufacturing, farming, or any other field. The reason for this emphasis, as explained by officials of the EC, is that this is considered the strategic area for Europe in order for it to be competitive in the world market in the 21st Century. Because of the strategic importance attributed to these areas, the EC intends to coordinate research objectives with ESA more effectively in future years.
In terms of key policies affecting space communications, EC officials emphasized their intent to make telecommunications, including space communications, a more competitive and deregulated field throughout Europe by the end of the 1990s. Initial targets are to deregulate and make competitive VSAT services and all satellite broadcasting services. This will be followed by efforts related to mobile and fixed satellite services as well. EC officials, for instance, note that EUTELSAT-related VSAT business services have doubled in volume since 1991 when this sector was opened to competition. The EC also noted its interest and approval under the modified Treaty of Rome provision for more joint ventures and cross-licensing arrangements.
Despite some concerns among European aerospace manufacturers about domination by large U.S. aerospace concerns, there are two significant trends which are worthy of particular note. First of all, recent consolidations and mergers within Europe (e.g., Matra-Marconi) have tended to create European entities that are comparable in facilities, test equipment, scientific and engineering staff and annual turnover to U.S. firms. Secondly, the nature of the space communications business has become more and more global. The existence of Inmarsat, INTELSAT, and the need for global consortia for worldwide MMS has given rise to new partnerships such as GLOBALSTAR with participation by SS/Loral, Matra-Marconi and British Aerospace.
At this time the EC-backed programs (particularly RACE, ESPRIT, DRIVE and DELTA) and the European Economic Community-backed EUREKA projects have been of limited assistance to the field of satellite communications. This could, and likely will, change as more and better cooperation with ESA occurs. The creation of an ESA bureau in Brussels tasked with achieving increased cooperation with the EC is but one indication that this collaboration will strengthen in coming years. The EC emphasis on competition, deregulation and a strong aerospace industry that can compete in global markets suggests that tariff barriers should not be a problem. If a problem concerning trade barriers were to develop, it would most likely relate to standards and the regional constraints that could potentially develop from the European Technical Standards Institute (ETSI). To date, issues such as television standards, HDTV standards, and B-ISDN standards (e.g., SDH versus SONET) have tended to separate Europe from the global market.