PROPER ROLE OF GOVERNMENT IN FUTURE SPACE COMMUNICATIONS DEVELOPMENT

One of the most difficult questions to answer is that of what should be the role of national governments in the development of new satellite technology and systems. There have been several schools of thought for some years on this subject. One school holds that satellite communications have become commercially viable and that industry should now be expected to finance the future technology needed to succeed in the 21st century. The second school holds that space communications is the only truly successful space enterprise (likely to grow from today's $20 billion/yr. to perhaps $75 billion/yr. over the next eight years). This suggests that one should invest where the pay-offs will come and to help spur the next big breakthroughs in satellite technology and systems. (In the vernacular this is the Willie Sutton principle: "I rob banks because that is where the money is.") Finally, there is a third school that says commercial money can develop the commercial technology, but for key emergency and public program services such as health, education, etc., special systems technology to fill special niches may make sense. Today, Korea and Japan are generally following the second school of thought of investing in the most rapidly growing market. India, China, Canada and Brazil are shaping space technology to meet public social needs as in the third school of thought but hoping for future commercial pay-offs as well. Finally, the United States and Europe's publicly funded space communications sector are tending more toward the idea of letting industry develop new technology.

It is the view of the panel that there is, in fact, good sense to all three schools of thought. In short, a balanced viewpoint or perspective is needed. As noted earlier, what might be very useful would be the counterpart of the Japanese Vision 21 document (MPT 1997) which is a broad roadmap to the future. This plan, which was independently developed by industry and policy officials, establishes information and telecommunications goals for the future of Japan and tries to see where gaps, overlaps and opportunities for the future may lie in terms of applications, services and technology. A NASA white paper on satellite technology, which clearly indicates a new consensus with regard to satellite communications, would be extremely helpful. This document would simply indicate after extensive national collaborative input: (a) technologies, systems and services which it is believed that industry can develop on its own; (b) technology, systems, and services where it is believed that governmental or collaborative government/industry/university or international collaborative projects are appropriate and needed (this should logically be reviewed and vetted by industry and university representatives); and (c) technology systems and services which may be needed to fill special niches with respect to public social needs and/or emergency services. No such clear roadmap currently exists.


Published: December 1998; WTEC Hyper-Librarian