The Future of Satellite Communications Systems
Joseph N. Pelton
The George Washington University
Communications Research Lab of Japan
Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
—Sir Arthur Clarke's Third Law (McAleer, 1992, p. 169)
In the field of satellite communications, just as in many other fields, one can speak of the problem of which came first, the chicken or the egg? In the satellite context, the issue is whether important new applications drive the satellite industry forward or whether key new technologies unlock new, and heretofore undiscovered, opportunities that drive new services. The answer over the past 40 years seems to have been both. There is some wisdom in the seemingly nonsense advice of the famous New York Yankee baseball player, Yogi Berra, who once said: “If you come to a fork in the road, take it. ” In this context, planners for future communications satellite systems need to pay close attention to applications and advanced technology.
We know that many important new satellite applications and innovative service demands have emerged from the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the United States, as well as from military missions, natural disasters, and educational and health service requirements. Terrorist attacks and military operations, for instance, have given impetus to telecommuting, electronic decentralization, advanced methods of monitoring and analyzing flight information for aircraft, and expanded use of remote sensing and GPS space navigation information to protect critical infrastructure, both in the United States and abroad. The great Kobe earthquake in Kobe led to the creation of a national VSAT network in Japan to ensure communications even after natural disasters occur.