Space-Based Economy Level Two

Communications Industry

The Communication Satellite industry is the first effort to put up a human-built infrastructure in orbit. It has revolutionized life on Earth. We take it for granted that telephone calls can be made to remote points on Earth where there are no telephone lines, that radio and TV signals can be picked up in areas where there are no lines or TV towers. We can watch sporting events live from across the world. We assume that storms will not hit us without several hours' or even days, of warning. Ships, planes, and even cars use satellite navigation, as routine practice. Satellites help us find natural resources; predict crop yields, track the progress of crop diseases to eradicate them, and even find our own pre-historic structures and artifacts by ground-penetrating radar.

There are 3 basic types of satellite trajectories. The first is "low earth orbit" where satellites move around the earth, but since their angular velocity is much different than that of earth, they move relative to points on earth. The Global Positioning System satellites are an example of this.

The second type is a Polar Satellite. These satellites go around the earth in the plane of the Earth's poles, so that they are able to "see" every part of Earth, at different types. These help map out resources, and keep track of events everywhere on Earth.

The third type is a GeoSynchronous Earth-orbiting satellite. This orbits above the Equator, at a height where the angular velocity (degrees of arc swept out per second) is the same as the rotation speed of Earth, so that each satellite appears to hang stationary above a point on the equator. The majority of large present-day communications satellites are of this type, and they can be very large - over 4000 kilograms in mass, designed to operate for upto 30 years, and each costing well over a billion dollars.

For an introduction to Space flight issues including the idea of orbits and geo-synchronous satellites, see the Space Flight section of the "Design-Centered Introduction" course at the front page of the ADL site.

For a summary of a graduate-level course on technologies for Space Propulsion, including sections on launching to GeoSynchronous Orbit where many communications satellites live, see Rocket Propulsion.


Some recent reports on the Communications Satellite industry

Satellite Industry Association presents "Satellites as Critical Infrastructure" (6.6MB presentation)


"Marketing Opportunities in Space: The Near Term Roadmap". U.S. Department of Commerce. Results of a national workshop sponsored by the DOC Office of Space Commercialization and others to discuss ideas for facilitating emerging space markets

Analysis of Space Concepts Enabled by New Transportation (ASCENT) Study by Futron Corporation, January 2003, commissioned by NASA. Includes estimates and projections of demand and supply for launches.

Executive Summary

Volume I: Main Report

Volume II: Appendices

Robert S.Walker et al., "Commission on the Future of the Aerospace Industry". Click here for the pdf version of the Final Report, November 2002.

Robert S. Walker et al., "U.S. Aerospace and Aviation Industry: A State-by-State Analysis". Report by the Commission on the Future of the Aerospace Industry, October 2002.

Summary in 2003: "The Space Launch Industry: Recent Trends And Near-Term Outlook" July 2003 (courtesy of Futron Corporation)

Summary in 2001: "IB93062: Space Launch Vehicles: Government Activities, Commercial Competition, and Satellite Exports" by Marcia S. Smith, CRS Issue Brief for Congress, Resources, Science and Industry Division, Congressional Research Service, May 23, 2001.

Barriers to Commercial Space Launch Industry: Testimony by Bruce Mahone, Director, Space Policy, AIA before te U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Science, Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics, June 10, 1999.

For a summary of the space launch industry, see "The Commercial Space Launch Industry". Gale Schluter, VP, Boeing, Testimony before the Subcommittee on Science, Technology, and Space of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, Senator William Frist, Chairman, May 20, 1999.