The benefits of satellite communications are by their nature multinational, with a spacecraft in geostationary orbit able to provide signals to over one third of the earth. It was the prospect of using satellites for the distribution of international communications and information that caused President John F. Kennedy to sign the Satellite Communications Act of 1962. This act established COMSAT and called for the establishment of INTELSAT, an international organization open to all nations that are members of the ITU.

International Organizations

INTELSAT initiated an international research and development program that assisted a number of companies with the development of new components and systems that would find their way into the next generation of spacecraft or ground terminal. This international R&D program was instrumental in initiating a large number of cooperative ventures not only in the development of products but also in the testing and demonstration of these products with new applications such as telemedicine or tele-education.

INTELSAT is supportive of new development activities and signatories can request satellite time for tests and demonstrations. Normally, satellite time can be obtained on older spacecraft that are used for backup or on transponders that are set aside for cable restoration. Many of the cable restoration transponders have high data rate modems that operate at140 Mbps or 155 Mbps that matches the current cable OC-3 standard. These transponders are useful for testing and introduction of high data rate applications. The use of these transponders is always conditional, and if a cable should need to be restored, the transponder is switched automatically.

Inmarsat was instituted to provide more reliable mobile maritime services and has served that market well. With its small, portable ground terminals, Inmarsat has also provided global communications to land users, especially users in remote areas where traditional terrestrial communications are not available. Inmarsat has provided the disaster mitigation community with communications coverage that has proven to have saved many lives. International tests and demonstrations with the current small (suitcase) sized terminals are still taking place.

Intersputnik was also supportive of international cooperative ventures and many of its 22 member nations have used the system for development activities. Lockheed Martin has recently invested in the ownership and operation of Intersputnik and has formed a more commercial looking organization with new offices in London.

New LEO consortia such as Iridium and Globalstar will have excess capacity in the formative stages of their constellations, and with their ability to operate with very small (handheld) ground terminals, opportunities should be available for international cooperation in the testing and demonstration of new applications and services.

Regional Organizations

International cooperation in satellite communications is also seen in the number of regional satellite communications organizations. The Arabsat organization is made up of some 20 nations and has two active satellites. Palapa covers the ASEAN nations with Pacific and Indian Ocean coverage. EUTELSAT provides its European member countries with commercial satellite services. Turksat has designed its coverage to include many neighboring nations around the Black Sea that share certain cultural backgrounds. Also, area coverage has been designed into the Turksat spacecraft to provide programming to the large Turkish working population in Northern Europe. These and other regional satellite organizations provide many nations with the opportunity to cooperate and to participate in the development of new communications and information applications.

Experimental Satellites

A number of experimental satellites have fostered and promoted international cooperation. The U.S. series of Applied Technology Satellites was credited with opening many new satellite communications applications and markets. This series was followed by the Canadian-U.S. Communications Technology Satellite in the mid-1970s. Europe has provided a number of experiment satellites including the first Ka-band satellite, the ESA Olympus spacecraft. Italy has two Ka-band satellites integrated with its telephone infrastructure, ITALSAT F1 and F2. Japan has developed the most ambitious series of experimental satellites. The experimental satellite program began in the 1960s and there are plans for new spacecraft through the first half of the next decade.

United States-Advanced Communications Technology Satellite (ACTS)

The ACTS satellite was launched in November 1993, after some ten years of development. It is currently scheduled to operate through the summer of 1998 with full onboard station keeping and through the summer of 2000 with increasing north/south spacecraft variation caused by the lack of fuel. The ACTS program has met all of its technology and experiment goals. The Ka-band satellite has provided extensive T-1 VSAT experiment applications for fixed and terrestrial applications as well as mobile applications for trucks, ships and airplanes. The spacecraft can provide nearly a gigahertz of spectrum per transponder and thus can easily support multi-gigabit high data rate applications. International cooperative experiments have taken place with Canada, many Latin American nations and Japan using ACTS and INTELSAT satellites together. It is noteworthy that no U.S. experimental communications spacecraft are planned after ACTS.

Japan-Engineering Test Satellites (ETS), Gigabit Satellite, OICETS

Japan has designed and developed an ambitious series of experimental satellites. ETS V launched in the late 1980s was very successful in developing advanced applications that had commercial benefits. While the ETS VI satellite, launched in 1994, did not make the proper orbit, it was still useful in completing many of its planned experiments. Japan cooperates with many of its neighbors in its experiment program, and as the ETS VI satellite was in a circular orbit, it allowed both the United States and Japan to conduct optical experiments with the spacecraft. Japan has a number of additional planned and proposed experimental communications satellites including ETS VIII, a "gigabit" satellite and OICETS, an inter-orbit optical spacecraft that will work with the European SILEX optical terminal on the ARTEMIS spacecraft. These satellite programs should allow for additional international cooperation well into the next decade.


Europe has cooperated primarily through its ESA programs, but also has a number of national and multinational experimental satellite communications projects outside of ESA. ITALSAT F1 and F2 are currently providing tests and demonstrations in Europe. ARTEMIS, an advanced relay satellite, will carry the optical experiment SILEX that will advance optical communications from LEO to GEO and from GEO to earth. The STENTOR program is a French national program, but will undoubtedly involve other European countries in its test program.

G7 Information Society

The expansion of digital technologies and the growth of information services in the 1990s saw the introductions of high performance computing and communications initiatives in a number of developed nations. In the United States, a "National Information Infrastructure" was initiated to direct, promote and integrate the synergy of new information technologies and services.

Noting that these new information services were not reaching the developing nations, Vice President Gore, during a speech to an ITU regional meeting in 1994 in Buenos Aires, Argentina, announced that the United States would share its information technologies with the world, and advocated that a "Global Information Infrastructure" be formed. This announcement was carried into action at a G7 meeting in 1995 in Brussels, where an Information Society Program was approved by the G7 ministers and eleven new information project areas were instituted. These eleven projects are as follows:

  1. Global Inventory
  2. Global Interoperability for Broadband Networks
  3. Cross-Cultural Education and Training
  4. Electronic Libraries
  5. Electronic Museums and Galleries
  6. Environment and Natural Resources Management
  7. Global Emergency Management
  8. Global Healthcare Applications
  9. Government Online
  10. Global Marketplace for SMEs
  11. Maritime Information Systems

Global Interoperability for Broadband Networks

The Global Interoperability for Broadband Networks (GIBN) Project came out of the realization that the rapid growth of high data rate computing and communications networks was leading to the development of a new set of standards that were not compatible with other national and international standards. Also, these largely terrestrial new standards were not compatible with existing satellite standards. The purpose of the project is to facilitate the establishment of international links among existing high-speed data networks. These networks will serve as test beds for a wide variety of applications including research and education. The GIBN project will provide an opportunity to experiment on interconnectivity and interoperability and cooperate in establishing standards. This project will also provide a basic broadband infrastructure for the other ten project areas in the G7 Information Society Program.

G7 GIBN representatives from Japan and the United States were quick to promote the use of satellite communications to the project and organized a kickoff conference in 1995, in Hawaii, called the Satellite Communications in the Global Information Infrastructure (SCGII) conference.

Satellite Quadrilateral Working Group

At the conclusion of the SCGII Hawaii conference, Japan hosted a meeting of government, industry and academic representatives from Canada, Europe, Japan and the United States. The outcome of that meeting was an agreement to form a special satellite working group of the GIBN. This became the Quadrilateral Working Group (Quad) that has been recognized by the G7 GIBN committee to coordinate and provide satellite communication experiments and activities for the committee. While the Quad members initially represent the G7 nations, project activities and experiments are open to all nations. The Quad initially identified more than ten satellite communications experiments that it would strive to develop and demonstrate.

Trans-Pacific High Definition Video Experiment

The first Quad experiment, consisting of high definition video being transmitted back and forth between Japan and the United States, was completed in February 1997. This high data rate experiment was to demonstrate high definition cinema quality video produced at a remote site and then sent to a post production facility, where the video would be edited and sent back to the director for approval. This post production editing phase currently takes many days and can cost millions of dollars while one movie set and crew has to wait for approval before moving on to a new set. Sony Corporation provided its production centers in Japan and the United States for the high data rate transmissions. Transmissions moved from the Sony Culver City facility via Pacific Bell fiber to an ACTS ground terminal at the JPL, via the ACTS satellite to an ACTS ground terminal in Hawaii, across the island of Oahu on a GTE fiber to an INTELSAT ground terminal where it went via an INTELSAT satellite to a Japanese ground terminal at the Communications Research Lab and via a NTT fiber to downtown Tokyo. The experimental transmissions thus demonstrated high data rate interoperability between three fiber and two satellite links. The experiment was scheduled to operate at 155 Mbps, the OC-3 data rate, but that capacity was not available on the cross island Oahu fiber, so the experiment was reduced to 45 Mbps. In February 1997, the experiment was demonstrated with high definition video being exchanged between the two production facilities, and the experiment was declared a success. The experiment was later awarded the Minister's Prize for outstanding research by the Japanese Minister of Posts and Telecommunications.

Other Quad Experiments

Subsequent Quad meetings in 1996 and 1997 have led to the following list of experiments, shown in Table 6.1. Experiment preparations are currently underway with the Trans-Pacific Remote Astronomy (#3), the Five-Node Interactive Multimedia Teleconferencing (#4), Exchange of Earth Observation Data (#8), Digital Library Experiment (#11), Field Trails of Telemedicine via Satellite (#12), HDTV Application Interoperability (#13), Interoperational Test on Video-on-Demand Systems (#14), Internet Protocol Trials (#15), Trans-Atlantic ATM Plus Interoperability Experiment (#16), Trans-Atlantic Operation Smile Telemedicine Experiment (#17), while other experiments are in earlier stages of planning. Again, the G7 GIBN Quad project activities are open to government, industry and academic participants from all nations. Present contact information includes the following:




United States

Mr. Robert Huck
Canadian Research Lab
POB 11490, Station H
3701 Culing Ave
Ottawa Ont. K2H852
POB 229
The Netherlands
Dr. Takashi Iida
4-2-1 Nukui-Kita
Tokyo 184
Dr. Ramon DePaula
NASA Headquarters
Code S
300 E St. SW
Washington, DC 20546

TABLE 6.1*
GII Satcom Experiments

1. (A) High Definition Video Post-Production Demonstration; Tokyo, Los Angeles; Naoto Kadowaki, Larry Bergman

2. (C) Radiation Planning Telemedicine Using High Performance Simulations and 3D Display; Washington DC, Hong Kong, and Hawaii; David Yun

3. (B) Trans-Pacific Astronomy; Japan, US; Naoto Kadowaki

4. (B) Five-node Interactive Multimedia Teleconferencing; Canada, U.S Mainland, Hawaii, Japan, Europe; Bob Huck

5. (C) Path of People: A Cultural Virtual Network; Canada, U.S., Japan, and Norway; Jim Hamilton

6. (D) Electronic Commerce; U.S., Mexico, Canada, Europe; B. Edelson

7. (C) Electronic Libraries/Museums; U.S., Italy, Canada; Frank Gargione, G. Marconicchio and G. Albano

8. (B) Exchange of Earth Observation Data; Europe, Japan; Ed Ashford

9. (C) Tele-education; Europe; Ed Ashford, Joe Pelton

10. (D) Telemedicine / Visualization Experiment; U.S., Japan; Neil Helm, Kul Bhasin

11. (B) Digital Library Experiment; U.S., Japan; Pat Gary

12. (B) Field Trials of Telemedicine via Satellite; Italy, Bosnia, Albania; Ed Ashford

13. (B) HDTV Application Interoperability; Japan, Canada, Europe; Ed Ashford

14. (B) Interoperational Test on Video-on-Demand Systems; Japan, Europe; M. Matsumoto

15. (B) Internet Protocol Trials; Japan, Europe; M. Matsumoto

16. (B) Trans-Atlantic ATM plus Interoperability Experiment; K. Bhasin, N. Helm

17. (B) Trans-Atlantic "Operation Smile" Telemedicine Experiment; N. Helm, K. Bhasin

18. (D) Trans-Pacific Process Migration Experiment

19. (D) Distributed Archive for Disaster Recovery

Experiment Status Key:
(A) Completed (C) Proposed
(B) Underway (D) Concept
* As approved by the Japan-U.S. Working Group on Satellite Communications at its November 1997 Kona, Hawaii meeting, and recommended to the Quadrilateral Working Group on Satellite Communications.

Published: December 1998; WTEC Hyper-Librarian