ARIANESPACE HAS analysed three major factors for the reduction of GEO civil-communications satellites. The globalisation (or regionalisation) of space projects has caused a significant change in the telecommunications market. National projects are tending to disappear, replaced by projects "without borders". The monopolies held by organisations such as Intelsat are at an end. New international operators, such as PanAmSat, are taking over.

This has been the result of the need to pool the private investment which has been required to kick-start projects such as the Thaicom and Measat, while the change has also been related to cultural and linguistic factors, such as in the cases of the Nilesat, Sinosat and Turksat.

Another explanation for the reduction in national programmes is that new satellite projects are being designed to offer worldwide services such as radio paging and mobile telephony, while satellites will have a large role in opening up the "information super-highway".

Digitisation has been another reason for the market change, says Arianespace. That, and data compression, are becoming a reality not only for telephone systems, but also for satellites dedicated to the distribution of images. The same transponder which allowed the transmission of one analogue television channel will easily be able to handle four times this number using digital technology. The balance between the rapidly increasing supply and demand, which may reach its limit soon, needs to evaluated. TV viewers may "consume" dozens of programmes, but not necessarily hundreds.

Digital systems eliminate all barriers between audiovisual telecommunications and computer applications. Only satellites which have no more limits than fibre-optics can offer the great advantage of distributing an image simultaneously to millions of viewers. The satellite's main market will now encompass the entire information-technology sector.

The commercial market is also changing following mergers of large corporations. A classic example has been the link of Martin Marietta with GE Astro, which were then jointly linked with Lockheed, which has subsequently absorbed sectors of Loral.

The same kind of "mega" mergers are happening in the information-technology and audiovisual sectors. This phenomenon makes it difficult for newcomers. The market is now largely in the hands of AT&T, GE Americom and Hughes.

Source: Flight International