The United States led the world in the introduction of satellite communications technologies and services in the 1960s and 70s. Research and development (R&D) funding from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) played a key role in the early development of the U.S. satellite communications industry. In the past two decades, many other nations have invested heavily in satellite communications R&D. Now the United States has been joined by a community of other nations in enjoying the many benefits of satellite communication services, and in sharing the economic benefits that accrue from this high technology industry.

Now that NASA's Advanced Communications Technology Satellite (ACTS) has been successfully launched, and we are now starting a promising and exciting experiments program with ACTS, it is time for NASA to take a fresh look at where we should go from here. An important part of this assessment is to establish the benchmark for R&D activities and technology worldwide. That is why NASA, in collaboration with the National Science Foundation (NSF), commissioned this comprehensive study of satellite communications systems and technology in Europe, Japan, and Russia. There is a considerable body of knowledge within NASA concerning R&D activities in Europe, Japan and Russia. However, we felt that our assessment could benefit greatly from a systematic and up-to-date review of current activities in all of these countries by a blue ribbon panel.

The panel selected for this study certainly meets the billing of "blue ribbon." Listed on the inside cover of this report, each member has decades of experience in the satellite communications field. Several of them were personally responsible for many of the pioneering developments in satellite communications that made the United States predominant in this field for so many years.

What we found in both Europe and Japan is a thriving satellite communications industry with very substantial R&D activities funded by both industry and government. There is a strong government R&D thrust in Europe, though there are also substantial industry contributions. There is greater emphasis in Japan on privately-funded efforts (encouraged over the years through various indirect incentives), with a core government R&D program that is highly leveraged. In Russia, our panel found many promising ideas and activities that represent great collaborative opportunities for both U.S. industry and government. Overall, the picture that emerges from this study is of a major technological and economic challenge to the United States.

With this panel's findings and recommendations in hand, NASA is responding to this challenge by developing a new strategic plan for space communications and technology. This panel's study confirms the need for an emphasis in NASA's plan on the development of advanced technologies that will contribute to future U.S. competitiveness in satellite communications worldwide. It also highlights the many promising possibilities that exist for working with our friends and allies abroad in furthering the development of satellite communications technologies and capabilities around the world.

I wish to thank all of the members of the NASA/NSF Panel on Satellite Communications Systems and Technology for their untiring efforts, especially considering the exhausting travel schedule that they kept, and their outstanding work in preparing this report. We are especially grateful to the panel's co-chairs, Burton Edelson of the Institute for Applied Space Research at George Washington University and Joseph Pelton of the Center for Advanced Research in Telecommunications at the University of Colorado. Their adroit and insightful leadership has been crucial to the successful outcome of this study. This project had unique requirements because it was the first ITRI study that set out from the start to do a truly global technology assessment. Therefore, special thanks go to Paul Herer of NSF for his invaluable assistance and his strong support. Paul's patience and flexibility in accommodating the many requests of NASA and the panel assured the study's great success and impact. Last, but not least, I would like to offer particular thanks to the ITRI staff at Loyola College. Their attention to the day-to-day details of the study contributed greatly to the quality of the effort. In particular, I would like to thank Geoff Holdridge, who continuously worked on this study and report very diligently to bring it to a very successful conclusion, and additionally to Mike DeHaemer and Duane Shelton for their support and careful management of this complex project.

Ramon DePaula
National Aeronautics and Space Administration
Washington, D.C.
September 1993

Published: July 1993; WTEC Hyper-Librarian