May 12, 2009 by CSCC
Commercial communications satellites play an integral role in the nation’s communications infrastructure, providing significant support and connectivity to U.S. government agencies, critical business sectors, and private citizens. Satellites supply a wide range of advanced voice, data, and video communications and entertainment services throughout the U.S. and around the globe. The uniquely flexible nature of satellite networks offers ubiquitous coverage over large geographic areas, greater access to remote areas or difficult terrain, and mobile communications services. Satellite networks can quickly provide surge capacity to aid in restoration of terrestrial communications infrastructure in the event of an emergency or crisis operation. Hundreds of commercial communications satellites globally provide a wide range of services to a diverse variety of commercial users and consumers. Satellites are the media’s backbone, both providing television services directly to the homes of more than 30 million Americans and enabling television and cable channel delivery throughout the U.S. and around the world. Communications companies rely on satellites for network restoration and surge capacity, as well as backhaul for rural and remote areas. Satellite networks connect critical industrial sectors, including the natural resource, transportation, and energy and banking verticals. They facilitate commerce by supporting transactions and tracking inventories at businesses and ATMs across the country. The satellite industry employs over 250,000 Americans.
Satellite communications are a part of the Nation’s critical infrastructure and provide key communications capabilities to the U.S. federal government. Services offered by the commercial satellite industry are critical to maintaining national security and emergency preparedness communications and mission assurance because satellites: (1) offer primary and back-up communications; (2) facilitate continuity of operations services; (3) offer customers point-to-multipoint communications; (4) serve as an alternative in the event of a terrestrial wireline or wireless network outage; (5) provide restoration services to terrestrial critical telecommunications and utilities (oil, gas, electricity, and water) infrastructure; (6) offer diversified and distributed commercial owner/operator facilities; and (7) reside in an environment that makes assets highly resistant to many natural and terrestrial effects.
U.S. government agencies engaged in emergency communications and disaster relief regularly rely on satellites to satisfy their communications requirements following disasters or other crises. When other modes of communication fail, satellite terminals can rapidly be deployed to areas stricken by disasters.
The satellite industry also plays a vital role in support of U.S. military and national security operations. Currently, commercial satellite systems provide over 85 percent of the Department of Defense’s global satellite communications requirements, linking forward operating bases, enabling on-the-move and on-the-pause mobile communications, and providing connectivity for unmanned surveillance activities. The Department of Defense has estimated that over 90 percent of the satellite communications capacity used for Operation Iraqi Freedom was provided by commercial satellites. As part of the Nation’s critical infrastructure, satellite networks provide unparalleled coverage of remote geographical areas and difficult terrain.
Securing Satellite Infrastructure
Satellite networks consist of several elements. The spacecraft themselves serve as communications nodes in orbit. These satellites are tracked and operated by ground facilities called Satellite Operations Centers. The third key element is comprised of numerous Satellite Earth Stations that come in various forms, depending on the data being transmitted or received. News trucks use satellite dishes to provide their television networks with news from the field. Millions of consumers in the United States and internationally have satellite dishes at their homes to receive television broadcasts, satellite-delivered radio services, or broadband internet access.
Commercial satellite systems are secure and reliable today, but the satellite industry is constantly striving to maximize performance. Satellite systems are being enhanced with increased capacity and quality of service to better support commercial and Government needs. Developments in next generation satellite technology will afford communications networks even greater protection against interference than is built into existing systems.
Satellite communications networks have greater survivability than many terrestrial communications networks. Satellites typically are not impacted by power outages or damage to underground cables or terrestrial broadcast towers; Satellite Earth Stations can be quickly re-pointed after major events or readily transported to stricken areas. They also can provide backhaul to terrestrial networks when outages occur or underground cables are damaged. Three weeks after Hurricane Katrina, only 60 percent of cell phone networks and 70 percent of television broadcast networks were working properly. But satellite networks were operating at near 100 percent effectiveness, just as they were in the days immediately following the hurricane.
Satellite Industry Involvement in the CSCC
The commercial satellite communications industry is represented on the CSCC by the Satellite Industry Association. SIA is a U.S.-based trade association providing worldwide representation of the leading satellite operators, service providers, manufacturers, launch services providers, and ground equipment suppliers. SIA is the unified voice of the U.S. satellite industry on policy, regulatory, and legislative issues affecting the satellite business.