In 1992 NASA and NSF commissioned a panel of U.S. satellite engineers and scientists to study international satellite R&D projects in order to evaluate the long-term presence of the United States in this industry. The 1992-3 study that resulted concluded that the United States had lost its leading position in several critical communications satellite technologies. In the five years since that study, the satellite communications industry has become an even larger industry than most had predicted, increasing from $11 billion in 1992 to $20 billion in 1996. Far from being supplanted by fiber or other communications networks as some suggested would happen, satellite technologies and architectures are expanding as more countries establish communications satellite capabilities. Thus, while it appears certain that satellites will continue to play a crucial part in the transmission of information, the question remains whether the United States will be able to keep pace with advances in especially Europe and Japan.

With the technological advancements of the industry and its worldwide growth, NASA and NSF commissioned a panel to extend the scope of the earlier study and to include Korea in addition to North America, Europe and Japan. Reports on the burgeoning satellite technology industry in Brazil, India and Israel are also discussed in this study. I accompanied the panel on many of its site visits and was impressed by the growth of the satellite industry that has taken place in the last five years. The international scope of the industry is such an important aspect now that all concerned agreed we should title this report, Global Satellite Communications Technology and Systems. The report also expands upon the 1992-93 study and includes policy and regulatory issues that are becoming increasingly important to this global industry.

As with the first panel, the members selected for this study are experts in their fields, each having decades of experience in satellite communications. Many of the panelists have participated in both studies and several of the team 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.

The study team found that many European and Asian governments are increasing the funding of commercial communications satellite R&D and are posing a serious challenge to U.S. preeminence in several important areas. The United States continues to be at the forefront in the development of new technologies and the manufacture of new communications satellites. Current levels of research and development funding do not guarantee that this will remain the case. Similarly, the United States is no longer the major provider of satellite launch services and there is a critical need for lower cost and more reliable launch vehicles. In short, if the U.S. communications satellite industry is to remain vibrant, greater funding by both industry and government will be necessary.

NASA certainly recognizes the role it must play in ensuring that the U.S. communications satellite industry remains strong. This study is one means to help encourage and support the research and development of technologies that are crucial to the U.S. aerospace industry. This report suggests, for instance, that there are many opportunities for international cooperation and collaboration among government and industry. Such collaboration is not only beneficial but will be essential to the continued strength and growth of the industry in the United States. In recognition of the global importance of satellite communications, NASA took part, in March 1998, in one of the first U.S. trans-Pacific experiments, an event that linked the continental United States, Hawaii, and Japan. Similar experiments are planned in the near future. It is increasingly clear that satellite technology will be a crucial component of communications architectures that will also include wireless and fiber optic networks. Now that the satellite industry is truly global it is imperative that networks provide "seamless" integration of services to the numerous users throughout the world who will depend upon such services for everything from news gathering and education to medical diagnosis.

I wish to thank all of the members of the NASA/NSF Panel on Satellite Communications Technology and Systems for their untiring efforts, especially considering their exhausting travel schedules. Their work on this report is, as you will find, truly impressive. We are especially grateful to the panel's co-chairs, Joseph N. Pelton of the Center for Applied Space Research at George Washington University and Alfred U. Mac Rae of Mac Rae Technologies and the former Director of AT&T Skynet Satellite Communications Laboratory. Paul Herer of NSF deserves special thanks for his invaluable assistance and his strong support. Very special thanks goes to our report editor, Geoff Giffin, for his many constructive suggestions in the report organization and his invaluable contribution in editing and correcting the report. Finally, 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, Cecil Uyehara, Aminah Grefer, Duane Shelton, and Chris McClintick for their support and careful management of this complex project.

Ramon DePaula
National Aeronautics and Space Administration
Washington, DC
December 1998

Published: December 1998; WTEC Hyper-Librarian