In his 1945 paper "Extraterrestrial Communications" Arthur C. Clarke described a revolutionary idea for a worldwide communications system, in which three satellites would be positioned over the equator and linked by radio to the ground. Such a system would allow anyone on earth to contact anyone else on earth. This idea rapidly went from science fiction to science fact. Three years later Bell Labs announced the invention of the transistor, twelve years later the Soviet Union demonstrated the capability to put a satellite in orbit, and the world has never been the same. Satellite communications represent a technique of sharing information that minimizes or eliminates boundaries and borders. The widespread use of communications satellites has also given rise to numerous policy issues, which increasingly require multi-national dialogues if appropriate solutions are to be achieved.

The Pacific Rim is, increasingly, an area of great interest for US military leaders, policy makers, politicians, and business interests. This chapter examines the satellite communication services available in China, Taiwan, Japan, and the Koreas, now and in the near future. It also explores the connection between the growth and proliferation of satellite communications, and the increasingly numerous and complex policy dilemmas precipitated by this new technology.


China's satellite program began in 1970 with the launch of DFH-1, a small satellite that broadcast the tune "Dong Fang Hong" (The East is Red). From 1972-84 China relied essentially on Intelsat (via China's Ministry of Post and Telecommunications - MPT) and Intersputnik satellites for its domestic and international communications. Television broadcast was the primary service, with some voice traffic for domestic communications. Voice and low-speed data communications were the main services for international communications. Today, there are three public satellite operators in China: ChinaSat, China Orient Telecommunications Satellite, and Sino Satellite Communications.

In 1983 China Telecommunications Broadcast Satellite (ChinaSat), a wholly-owned subsidiary of MPT, was formed to provide a satellite-based TV broadcast network to China's remote areas. In 1986, China successfully launched DFH-2, capable of covering the entire country. DFH-2 was used for transmitting TV programs to remote areas. In 1988, China launched three more DFH communications satellites, named DFH-2A-1, 2A-2, 2A-3 (later renamed ChinaSat-1, ChinaSat-2 and ChinaSat-3). The DFH-2As were the first Chinese satellites equipped with full communications functionality. All DFH-2As ceased to function by 1994.
Prior to 1993, ChinaSat was essentially an advisory group without operational responsibility. It did not own any space elements, as all space programs were strictly classified and all DFH satellites were operated by the military. The situation began to change in 1993, when China acquired ChinaSat-5, GTE's Spacenet 1 satellite. Since the military was not allowed to engage in commercial activity, MPT made the purchase. Thus, ChinaSat-5 became China's first civilian satellite, and ChinaSat became China's first commercial satellite operator.
In 1994 China signed an agreement with Daimler-Benz (now DaimlerChrysler) Aerospace to build ChinaSat-6 for domestic satellite services. In the meantime, ChinaSat-7's 1996 launch was unsuccessful. China launched ChinaSat-6 in 1997. However, because of altitude stabilization problems leading to excessive fuel consumption, the satellite's life expectancy is expected to be short. In 1997 China signed a $100 million contract to build ChinaSat-8, however the satellite has not been exported to China because of US export regulations implemented in 1999. In January 2001, the State Department once again declined to either reject or approve the export license for Loral's ChinaSat-8.1 Thus, as of May 2001, the final status of ChinaSat-8 was still undetermined.

China Orient was formed in April 1995. Its main investors include MPT and the State Planning Commission, a national budgetary agency. Officially, China Orient is loosely attached to MPT for its business activities and is subject to MPT supervision; in actuality, China Orient has attained a high degree of autonomy in satellite procurement, service provisioning, network management and investment. This is another indication of separation of administration from business operations, and the changing identity of government agencies to business enterprises.
In late 1995, China Orient contracted with Lockheed Martin for a high-power, high-capacity communications satellite called ChinaStar-1. The satellite is built on Lockheed Martin's A2100 platform with 24 C-band and 24 Ku-band transponders units. ChinaStar-1 has an effective coverage of China and Southeast Asian countries in both C- and Ku-band, and part of South Asia and the Middle East (C-band only). ChinaStar-1 was launched successfully May 3, 1998. China Orient has plans to purchase two more satellites, ChinaStar-2 and ChinaStar-3, but it has not disclosed any dates and technical information.

Sino Satellite Communications is a non-MPT satellite consortium. Formed in 1994, Sino Satellite includes China Aerospace Corp (CASC), Commission of Defense Science & Technology, People's Bank of China and the Government of Shanghai.
SinoSat-1, with 24 C-band and 14 Ku-band transponders, was successfully launched in July 1998. The satellite is built on Aerospatiale's Spacebus 3000 platform with Daimler-Benz Aerospace as a subcontractor. The satellite provides television, telephone, and database transmissions covering all of China, the Indo-Chinese peninsula, Indonesia and the Philippines.
In December 1995, China and Singapore created a consortium called Asia Pacific Mobile Telecommunications Satellite (APMT). In May of 1998 APMT finalized a contract with Hughes Space and Communications for an HS-601 called APMT-1. The approach of APMT was to provide mobile satellite telephony service via a geostationary system. In April of 1999 APMT terminated its contract with Hughes because the satellite company was unable to secure the necessary export license from the U.S. government.
If the People's Republic of China has satellite communication systems dedicated to military or national security needs in addition to those outlined here, they are either classified, or public information about them is exceedingly scarce.

ASIASAT- In 1990 the Hong Kong based consortium Asia Satellite Telecommunications Company (AsiaSat) launched AsiaSat-1. This consortium includes China's International Trust and Investment Corporation, Hutchison Whampoa of Hong Kong, and Cable and Wireless of Britain. AsiaSat-2 was launched in November of 1995. A failed launch in December of 1997 resulted in the loss of AsiaSat-3. In December of 1998 Societé Européene des Satellites (SES) purchased a 34.13% stake in AsiaSat with the intention of enhancing AsiaSat's broadcasting and telecom business. On March 21, 1999 AsiaSat successfully launched AsiaSat-3S, a replacement satellite for AsiaSat-3. AsiaSat 3S, a Hughes HS601HP model, carries 28 C-band and 16 Ku-band linearised transponders and has a planned 15-year operational life. With a single C-band footprint, AsiaSat 3S covers over 50 countries in Asia, the Middle East, and Australia. The last satellite in this constellation will be AsiaSat-4, a replacement for AsiaSat-1, scheduled for launch in the first half of 2002.

APTSTAR -The Hong Kong-based Asia Pacific Telecommunications Satellite Company (APT) is a consortium of four regional companies, three of which are Chinese state-owned entities (including ChinaSat). Formed in 1992, APTStar launched its first satellite, APTStar-1, in 1994. The satellite provides coverage to China, Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore, Indonesia, and Vietnam with 24 C-band transponders. A launch failure in 1995 destroyed APTStar-2, a Hughes built satellite, but China successfully launched APTStar-2R in 1997. APTStar-2R, built by Space Systems/Loral, has 27 C-band and 16 Ku-band transponders, all of which are being leased by Loral Skynet.

PACIFIC CENTURY MATRIX- DaimlerChrysler Aerospace and Pacific Center Group of Hong Kong have created a joint venture called Pacific Century Matrix Ltd. PC Matrix is intended to provide space and terrestrial based broadband access in the Asia-Pacific region, and eventually to other parts of the world. Service will initially be provided via leased transponder space on AsiaSat-3S until a dedicated Ka/X-band satellite is available, presumably near the end of 2002. The funding and technical details of PC Matrix are still in development.

ROCSAT- In the early 1990s Taiwan adopted a long-range plan to acquire technical and functional capabilities related to developing and operating satellites and other space technologies. Subsequently, the National Space Program Office was established, and a multidisciplinary satellite program was initiated. Development of the first satellite in this program, Rocsat-1, was begun in 1992. TRW built the satellite bus for the spacecraft and the communications payload was built and integrated by Taiwan's Microelectronics Technology. Rocsat 1, launched in 1999, was built by TRW and carries a Ka-band communications relay experiment.

ETS- Japan's first satellite systems were the Engineering Test Satellite (ETS) series, which began in 1975 with ETS-1. Two years later NASDA launched its first GEO platform ETS-2, and in 1987 Japan launched ETS-5, the first spacecraft with a specific communications objective. ETS-6, which carried a wide assortment of communications systems and experiments utilizing Ka-band, S-band and O-band links, was lost in August 1994. ETS-7, launched in 1997, is still operational. NASDA's ETS-8, scheduled for launch in 2003, will conduct orbital experiments to test the use of mobile satellite communications with hand-held terminals- a system similar to Global Star.
DRTS- The Date Relay Test Satellite (DRTS), planned for launch in 2002, will conduct orbital experiments for advanced data relay technology. DRTS consists of two satellites, the DRTS-W (West) and the DRTS-E (East). Direct communication with low earth orbit satellites requires a number of ground stations. The two DRTS satellites make it possible for a ground station to communicate with spacecraft without the help of other ground stations.
GMMSS- Global Multimedia Mobile Satellite System is a system designed to test next generation LEO mobile communication services including mobile phone, Internet, high-fidelity music, imagery, traffic information and movies. Some research efforts are required before the system can be engineering and launched, so operation is tentatively scheduled for 2005.
GIGABIT SATCOM- This is a GEO satellite designed to test the transmission of data in the Ka-band at 1.2Gbps. The system could be ready for launch as early as 2005.

NIPPON TELEGRAPH AND TELEPHONE MOBILE COMMUNICATIONS- Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Mobile Communications (NTT DoCoMo) is one of Japan's leading wireless telecommunications service providers with more than 25 million subscribers. NTT DoCoMo provides Satellite mobile communications service covering all of Japan including the country's isolated islands by four beams from the geostationary N-STAR satellite.
NTT DoCoMo has awarded a contract to a Lockheed Martin-led team to build a geosynchronous satellite, N-STARc to serve the mobile communications market in Japan. The contract was signed January 6 2000 in Tokyo. N-STARc will operate in the S-band frequency band with a C-band feeder link. It will be located at either 132° or 136° E and is planned for launch early in 2002. N-STARc will be optimized for a 10-year life on-orbit, and will augment services provided by the company's existing satellites.

SPACE COMMUNICATIONS CORPORATION OF JAPAN- The Space Communications Corporation of Japan (SCC) was formed in 1985 and launched its first satellite in 1989. SCC's Superbird A was launched by Ariane in June 1989, and a second satellite, Superbird B, was lost in 1990. Before a replacement could be launched, Superbird A malfunctioned, necessitating its transfer to a graveyard orbit in 1991. Superbird C, based on the Hughes HS-601 platform, was successfully launched in 1997 with a total of 24 C-band and Ku-band transponders.
The newest SCC satellite, Superbird-4, was launched in February of 2000. Built by Hughes Space and Communications, Superbird 4 has 23 transponders in Ku-band and a navigable Ku-band spot beam to increase service where needed. The satellite will also carry high-speed data services with six Ka-band transponders. Its life expectancy is about 13 years, although it has enough propellant to allow correction maneuvers for 15 years.
JAPANESE SATELLITE SYSTEMS- In 1985 the Japanese Satellite Systems Company (JSAT) was created to provide a full range of telecommunications services. In March 1989, and January 1990, JCSAT 1 and JCSAT 2 were launched by Ariane and Titan 3 boosters, respectively. Both satellites are identical, and are based on the Hughes HS-393 platform. JCSAT 3 was launched in 1995 with 12 C-band and 28 Ku-band transponders. JCSAT-4 was launched early in 1997, followed later that year by JCSAT-5, which carried 32 active Ku-band transponders.
In February of 1999 JSCAT-6 successfully reached orbit after lift-off on an Atlas launch vehicle. The satellite is being used to relay television and news reports throughout Japan, the Asia-Pacific Rim and Hawaii. The spacecraft also carries high-speed data transmissions. It is expected to last 12-years.

KOREASAT- South Korea's first two spacecraft were carried as piggyback passengers on Ariane flights to LEO in the early 1990s. In August of 1995 a malfunctioning Delta-2 rocket left KoreaSat-1 in too low an orbit. Recovering from the problem in space cost the Koreasat 1 satellite more than half of its 10-year supply of fuel. The following year KoreaSat-2 was placed in orbit. Both satellites are Lockheed-Martin Series 3000 satellites providing direct-to-home broadcasting service, multi-speed data transfer, and Very Small Aperture Terminal services to South Korean businesses and the government.
In 1999 KoreaSat-3 was successfully placed on orbit at 116° E. The Koreasat-3 satellite is configured to provide both fixed and direct broadcast services, with 24 Ku-Band (Fixed Satellite Service), six Ku-Band (Direct Broadcast Service), and three Ka-Band transponders. It also features a steerable antenna providing a regional coverage capability. Korea Telecom of Seoul is responsible for operating the KoreaSat constellation.

In August 1998 North Korea launched a medium range, three-stage Taepo Dong-1 ballistic missile. On September 4th, the Korean Central News Agency claimed that the Taepo Dong missile had successfully launched North Korea's first satellite, the Kwangmyongsong-1. The US has not been able to detect any radio transmissions at the 27 MHz, the frequency at which North Korea claims the satellite is transmitting its message of patriotic songs and Morse signals. Experts believe a late-stage failure in the Taepo-Dong prevented any satellite from being injected into orbit.

Thailand inaugurated its first national GEO communications network during 1993-1994 with the launches of Thaicom-1 and Thaicom-2 on Ariane boosters. The spacecraft, based on Hughes HS-376L series, are operated by the Shinawatra Satellite Company of Bangkok under a lease arrangement with the Thai government. Both Thaicom satellites are stationed at 78.5° E with ten C-band and two Ku-band transponders. These 630-kg spacecraft have a design life of at least 13 years.
Thaicom-3, launched in 1997, will provide communications services and direct to home television programming during its expected lifetime of 14 years. The satellite will function in four different coverage modes from its orbital position of 78.5° E. Using its 25 C-band transponders, the satellite can serve its global coverage zone for Asia, Australia, Europe, and Africa; and in the regional coverage zone for nations including India and Thailand. The 14 Ku-band transponders onboard will be used mostly for domestic coverage in Thailand.

Since 1976 Indonesia has operated a national GEO telecommunications network based on US-made Hughes spacecraft. Called Palapa, the first series was Palapa-A followed by Palapa-B launched in 1983. In early 1993, Indonesia established PT Satelit Palapa Indonesia (Satelindo) of Jakarta, a commercial firm with the PT Bimagraha Telekomindo the majority shareholder. This firm was established to manage the Palapa C program and to secure additional investment funding. PSN is also assisting in the Palapa C program with communications services expertise. The Palapa-C satellites (C1, C2) carry 30 C-band and 4 Ku-band transponders and are at 113° E and 150.5° E.
Indonesia's second satellite system was launched in 1997. Orbital Sciences Corporation built Indostar-1 satellite for PT MediaCitra Indostar, which provided the first direct-to-home (DTH) satellite television broadcast services to Indonesia.
In 1999, Indonesia launched another communications satellite, Telecom-1, for PT Telkomunikasi (Telkom). The satellite, which was built by Lockheed Martin Commercial Space Systems, is placed at 108° E, and is configured with 24 C-Band and 12 extended C-Band transponders. An on-orbit mechanical problem with the satellite's solar array, and may limit its operational life. PSN is a partner in the ACeS system (see below.)

A long-time user of INTELSAT and Indonesian communications satellites, Malaysia decided in 1991 to establish a domestic GEO communications system using US-built spacecraft. Two Hughes HS-376 Malaysia East Asia Satellites (MEASATs) were launched in 1996. The MEASAT communications payload consists of 12 C-band and four, high power (110 W) Ku-band active transponders. The design lifetime is 12 years.

The Agila-2 satellite of Mabuhay Philippines Satellite Corp. was launched in August of 1997. The spacecraft is in GEO 144° E, permitting its 30 onboard C-band transponders to cover a wide area ranging from the Philippines to India, China, and Japan. Ku-band services through 24 onboard transponders service the Philippines, Taiwan, northern Vietnam, and eastern China. Spot beam coverage is possible to the Hawaiian islands.

Asia Cellular Satellite International (ACeS) is a consortium of four US and Asian companies: Lockheed Martin (32.5%) Pasifik Satelit Nusantara (PSN) of Indonesia (34.7%), Philippine Long Distance Telephone (20.8%) and Jasmine International of Thailand (11.9%). The Garuda 1 Global Mobile Personal Communications Systems satellite, AceS' first satellite, was successfully launched on February 28, 2000. A second satellite, Garuda 2, is being built at the Lockheed Martin Commercial Satellite Center in Sunnyvale, California. It will serve as a backup to Garuda 1 and will allow the ACeS system to expand coverage to western and central Asia, the Middle East, Europe and northern Africa. Garuda 1 is the world's first regional satellite-based mobile telecommunications system specifically designed for the Asian market. Garuda 1 is one of the most powerful telecommunications satellites ever launched into space. A typical mobile phone handset can communicate with this satellite from the ground, and Garuda 1 can support up to 11,000 simultaneous telephone channels and up to 2 million subscribers.


The nations of the Pacific Rim all rely on some level of foreign expertise in building their satellites, yet they are all making strides to reduce this dependence, and they all enjoy a fairly equal level of competency in managing and using their satellites. Japan is the most technically capable of the Pacific-Rim nations, while North Korea is the least technically advanced. Furthermore, the Pacific Rim nations have, until recent years, relied exclusively on western launch technology to place their satellites in orbit.
Prior to 1997, Southeast Asia was the fastest growing telecommunications market in the world, and demand for satellite services was high and growing. With the economic crisis of summer 1997 growth and investment in the Asian satellite market came to a standstill. However, by the end of 1999, the Asian markets were beginning to revitalize. Even though satellite capacity exceeds demand in Asia today, this imbalance is anticipated to end soon as economies continue their recovery. Not only is it fair to assume that within the next 5-10 years nations of the Pacific Rim could be equipped with the services of Western firms like GlobalStar, Teledesic, Skybridge, and the like, it is easy to see how industrial partnerships similar to PC Matrix may be formed to provide an Asian-based regional alternative to these systems.

A review of this technology is most relevant in the context of increased tensions or armed conflict between nations in the region. In this context, the first consideration is that US allies in the Pacific have no dedicated military satellite communications capability and thus, must rely on civil or commercial systems. As a result, in a time of conflict they would be forced to rely even more heavily on commercial systems, and integrate these into their regular military operations. How well prepared they are to do this is not entirely clear.
Like commercial systems elsewhere in the world, satellite communication services in Asia are extremely vulnerable in the sense that they are not protected against either severe environmental conditions, or deliberate interference and jamming. Furthermore, not all ground stations for these satellite systems are well guarded against attack. With the advent of global MSS services, no nation will be left without satellite communication in time of conflict. Even if all indigenous ground stations and other means of securing FSS services are eliminated, countries could theoretically use satellite phones and satellite internet services to maintain functioning communications. However, such a calculation also assumes that these nations would have sufficient resources to purchase additional hardware and service from providers. Furthermore, it is difficult to predict the behavior of commercial firms who find themselves involved in a conflict.

During a regional conflict initiated by China or North Korea, satellite communications (and other advanced technologies) could rapidly become a target and be rendered unavailable. It would be possible for either nation to neutralize or eliminate altogether the services their adversaries have. This would probably imply launching missiles to destroy ground stations. For North Korea, interfering with their adversaries' satellite communications facilities would lessen North Korea's technological disadvantage, and move North Korea closer to even ground with them. The North Korean military's minimal reliance on satellite communications means that any damage to regional satellite communications would have little or no direct adverse effect on North Korea. Before acting to destroy or interfere with their adversaries' indigenous capabilities, China and North Korea would need to consider whether these nations had other means of buying or leasing such capabilities. For China, the issue is even more complex. If China were to eliminate or neutralize any indigenous satellite system a regional foe may have, some of the commercial services that foe might turn to include AsiaSat and ChinaStar, both Chinese-owned companies. While these companies are technically private, the government and military has invested in them, and maintains substantial potential influence. Would the PLA, in a time of conflict, exert control over the use of all commercial satellite communication services based in China or Hong Kong? Doing so might help Chinese political/military aims, but would destroy the slim separation that now exists between business operations and government agencies in China. The use of commercial satellite communications instead of military systems, or the denial of commercial satellite communications, in a conflict present complex issues that few nations are prepared to deal with in the abstract.

It is clear that the increasing availability of commercial satellite communication services in the Pacific introduce numerous policy concerns for the United States. One of the general trends of today's space applications sectors is that technology development is increasingly driven by business interests. Thus, instead of shaping new technology, those in the governmental or policy arenas (particularly those concerned with national security) now frequently are left playing catch-up as they try to grapple with and regulate rapidly advancing technologies. The international nature of the commercial satellite communications sector means that the United States is forced to deal with the growing influence, and somewhat unpredictable nature of, organizations like the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and the World Trade Organization (WTO). The United States has sometimes had difficulty dealing with such multilateral forums in the recent past, and prefers to work on a bilateral basis whenever possible. However, increasing US dependence on, and interests in, satellite communications in a global marketplace make its effective participation in the ITU and other governing bodies a necessity. US preparedness to deal with emerging issues related to satellite communications, including with dual use technology, national security, international commerce, and regional tensions such as those in the Pacific Rim, will depend on how the President, Congress, and policy makers adjust to today's rapidly changing conditions.

[1] "US Keeps Hold on Loral ChinaSat-8 China Launch."
[2] A transponder is an instrument used on communications satellites that receives a signal from a station on Earth at one frequency, amplifies it, and shifts it to a new frequency.


The following tables are intended to provide a quick summary of Satcom services available to those nations in the Pacific rim with more than three satellites providing service. For future systems, proposals like Teledesic, AstroLink, and ECCO are not included. That is not meant to imply that services from these systems would not be provided to region, but rather that because these systems are under development they are not guaranteed to be available. Those Nations not listed here, specifically Taiwan, will have access to the services provided by GlobalStar, ICO, OrbComm, and ACeS.


Every communications satellite in its simplest form involves the transmission of information from an originating ground station to the satellite (the uplink), followed by a retransmission of the information from the satellite back to the ground (the downlink). The downlink may either be to a select number of ground stations or it may broadcast to everyone in a large area. Hence, each communications satellite must have a receiver and a receiver antenna, a transmitter and a transmitter antenna, some method for connecting the uplink to the downlink for retransmission, and a source of electrical power for the electronics. Communication satellites are designed to receive and relay on another frequency any signal sent to them. Signals can be relayed earth-to-satellite, satellite-to-satellite, or satellite-to-earth along any of the various frequency bands by satellites in any earth orbit.

Global competition for limited frequency spectrum is growing, and nations who wish to leverage commercial satellite capabilities encounter many planning complexities and limitations. The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) is responsible for promoting cooperation between nations to ensure the effective use of the radio frequency spectrum, which has been divided into separate frequency bands (Table 1).


Nations have agreed that nations may manage the spectrum within their own borders as a national resource. Nations choose to use "their" spectrum in different ways, and provisions must be made to ensure compatibility among different nations, as broadcasts and other uses of spectrum often radiate beyond a country's borders. Beyond national borders the spectrum allocation and the use of satellite communications are subject to ITU regulation.
Before the mid-1990s communications satellites mostly utilized the C, L, and Ku-bands. New technologies allow communications satellites to use both the Ka and Ku-bands more readily to meet the demands of customers who require faster access to information.
When operating satellite communications (or other uses of frequency) outside its borders, a government must obtain Host Nation Approval (HNA) from countries that are affected. The HNA is established via a bilateral agreement between two governments, or between the host nation and the service provider in the case of commercial systems. As well, there must be negotiations over available transponder2 space on any of a nation's satellites, because the host nation dictates channel usage. Host nation control and ITU regulation of frequency allocations impacts flexibility and introduces access risks to any military service seeking spectrum allocation. The host nation could deny access to leased transponders, especially during times of political, diplomatic, or military tension.

The effectiveness of a satellite or satellite network is dependent on a host of factors, including the location of a satellite in one of three general orbital regimes:

The higher in orbit a satellite is, the larger the area on Earth it can cover. High orbits, however, lead to a longer transmission time between Earth and the satellite and a slight delay in voice transmission. Satellites in a lower orbit have a faster transmission time but their footprint (coverage area) is smaller.
A second characteristic of a satellite is its orbital inclination - the angle of the satellite's orbit to the equator. Satellites that orbit at or near 0 degrees relative to Earth's equator can provide good coverage to equatorial regions, but polar regions receive no coverage. On the other hand, satellites at higher angles relative to earth's equator can reach the polar regions but continuous communications can only be achieved by increasing the number of satellites in orbit.
A third parameter of an orbital constellation is the number of satellites in orbit. Simply put, the more interconnected satellites there are within a given constellation, the greater the coverage area and the longer communication can be maintained with the satellites. These systems tend to be quite costly because they require more satellites to be effective.
There are two general categories for satellite communication services:
  • Fixed Satellite Services (FSS). Fixed satellite services refer to communications that are broadcast to users who are fixed in a particular location. Typically, FSS provides large quantities of video, imagery, and voice data. Such high capacity transactions are usually referred to as "wideband" or "broadband" transmissions. FSS constellations have a relatively small number of satellites in geostationary orbit (GEO). These systems often cannot reach high latitudes and rely heavily on stationary ground systems to transmit their signals to fixed and mobile customers.
  • Mobile Satellite Services (MSS). Mobile satellite services, with satellites in either low or medium earth orbit (L/MEO), serve mobile users at all latitudes without the use of ground stations for signal relay. "Little LEO" systems are MSS constellations that provide paging and messaging capabilities utilizing V/UHF frequencies below 1 GHz. "Big LEO" systems provide two-way voice and data transmissions in the low UHF (1-2GHz) band. Such data transactions and are usually referred to as "narrowband" transmissions. Some MSS constellations provide broadband services, and are known as "Broadband LEO" systems.

The communication satellite industry has historically been dominated by a model in which consortia of national governments operate satellite networks and provide services to regional, national, or local areas. Today, the industry is evolving rapidly toward private sector dominance - numerous new agreements are creating privately financed FSS and MSS systems neither owned nor operated by any government. These new ventures present increased competition for the old model telecommunications companies, and are forcing the latter either to privatize or to revamp their services. For example, Inmarsat privatized its operations in early 1999 and developed a big LEO spin-off, ICO. Eutelsat has recently launched a broadband satellite service to provide Internet access. New spin-offs of the old consortia must compete with the new private services in local markets. Only time will tell what number and what type of satellite communication systems will be successful and supported by the market.

Today, satellite communication systems are often driven by commercial needs more than military needs. However, military satellite communication (MILSATCOM) is a vital component of military operations in the modern world. MILSATCOM systems are developed using the following list of performance parameters:

  • Coverage - Ability to provide satellite communications service when and where needed.
  • Capacity - Provide requisite amounts of broadband and narrowband capabilities.
  • Protection - Provide levels of protection over all MILSATCOM capacities. This usually means providing anti-jam capabilities and guarding against intercept and detection. Prevention of all unauthorized access to, or disclosure of, information, and, ability to detect and neutralize such unauthorized activity.
  • Interoperability - Systems, units, and forces should be able to provide, accept, and use information services from one another quickly and effectively.
  • Access and Control - Services must be immediately available and accessible for use when and where needed. Control refers to the ability and mechanisms needed to operate and manage available resources.
  • Quality of Service - Systems must provide voice quality that is intelligible and useable in the intended operational environment, and information must be transferred with minimal delays.
  • Flexibility - The ability to support a range of quickly changing military operations and missions. Communications must be mobile and able to use a diverse amount of the frequency spectrum effectively.

This list is both comprehensive, and similar to a list of capabilities a commercial company might advertise in its latest product. That is, in a perfect world, a commercial satellite communications provider would want to market a product that satisfies all of these performance characteristics. However, commercial providers are primarily interested in meeting those performance parameters needed to achieve a profitable product. Thus, they are willing to sacrifice certain performance parameters (e.g. protection from electromagnetic pulse) in order to reduce development, launch, initiation, or operational costs, as long as doing so does not sufficiently depreciate other parameters (e.g. acceptable quality of service or coverage). The military point of view is that meeting all performance parameters is necessary to facilitate operations and save lives. It is not performance parameters that separate the commercial and military communities, but rather, user needs, and the perceived trade-off between risks and rewards that results from sacrificing any single performance parameter.
If it were realistically possible for a military force (in any nation) to be self-sufficient in satellite communications, and provide itself with all systems required for successful operations, than the dilemma spelled out above would be of little relevance. However, with increasingly military reliance on satellite communications, military forces are forced to turn to commercial sources for satellite communication capabilities. It is this circumstance that gives rise to the term "dual use" or "dual purpose" for technologies with both civilian and military applications and customers. Cooperation between the private sector and the government over the acquisition and use of dual-purpose technologies is an issue of great importance in the United States. Specifically, the US Department of Defense (DoD) has examined ways to cooperate with commercial satellite communication firms to ensure that future generations of commercial satellite communications are more suited to DoD needs.


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"OrbComm Launches Commercial Service in Japan" 5 April 1999 Florida Today Space Online:

"Report to Congress on Impediments to the Innovative Acquisition of Commercial Satellite Communications", prepared by Office of the Under Secretary of Defense, June 1998

OrbComm Website -

Silverstein Sam "Asia's Satellite Market Heats Up", Space News v11, n3, Jan 24 2000

"Superbird Satellite Takes Flight" 17 February 2000,

"Taiwan added to GlobalStar's Worldwide Mobile Satellite Services" 19 September 1998, Florida Today Space Online:

Taverna, Micheal A. "Broadband Services, AsiaSat Stakes Position as Global Player," Aviation Week and Space Technology v150, n1, Jan 4 1999

US Department of Defense, "Department of Defense (DOD) Candidate Requirements for Commercial Satellite Communications (Satcom) Services," prepared by the Defense Information Systems Agency, 27 January 1999

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