In a long-awaited action which should have a major impact on quiescent sales of commercial communications spacecraft, the FCC on July 25 authorized construction of 23 new U.S. domestic birds and the launch of 25 more. In addition, the commission for the first time approved the application of two would-be operators of private international satellite systems to compete or business services with INTELSAT, SCG’s largest commercial customer and the 110-nation global satellite consortium that carries most world-wide telephone and television transmissions.
The FCC’s authorizations were the first grantings of fixed-service satellite system licenses by the commission in over two years. Fixed-service means that the satellites receive and transmit signals from and to ground stations that are usually not mobile. Traditionally, such systems relay telephone, television, computer data, telex, and facsimile services.
“We’ve been anticipating this action on the part of the FCC, and we’re pretty pleased, to say the least,” says Dick Brandes, manager of Commercial Systems Division. He explains, “This could be a real shot in the arm for the division.” which has been experiencing, along with RCA, Ford, and other commercial spacecraft builders, a predicted temporary dropoff in sales. SCG sold one HS 376 bird – a replacement – in 1984, but so far this year has received two system contracts from Hughes Communications Inc.: one for a U.S. television direct broadcast system, and the other covering a pair of HS 393 spacecraft and associated ground links to serve a Japanese domestic space system.
How the FCC’s new system grants will affect sales ultimately depends on whether the new licensees decide to issue requests for proposals and then eventually pick contractors to build spacecraft and supporting ground stations. But, says Mike Houterman, assistant manager of Division 43’s Advanced Projects Laboratory, “This opens up the marketplace once again. It’s a major event.”
Receiving new U.S. domestic satellite licenses are: Comsat General Corp. (Ku band), Federal Express Corp. (Ku band), Ford Aerospace Satellite Services Corp. (C and Ku band), Hughes Communications Inc. (Ku band), and Martin Marietta Communications Systems (Ku band). Each firm may build and operate two in-orbit satellites, with a ground spare.
Companies cleared by the commission to operate private international satellite systems are International Satellite Inc. and PanAmerican Satellite.
Hughes Communications Galaxy Inc. was among seven operators which got the FCC’s OK to add an additional satellite to their constellations. The other firms are Alascom Inc., American Satellite Co., GTE Satellite Corp. and GTE Spacenet Corp., RCA American Communications Inc., and Satellite Business Systems.
Western Union, a longtime SCG customer, received the go-ahead to add two spacecraft to its fleet.