Satellite communications systems can be divided into two categories: the space and ground segments. The space segment includes satellite and satellite subsystems that are placed in orbit around the earth. The satellite itself consists of several major components, including transponders or channels, a power system (battery modules and solar panels), an antenna system, a command and control system, and satellite housing. The ground segment includes equipment used to receive and/or transmit signals to satellites in orbit and everything from large earth stations used for tracking, telemetry, and control of the satellite to dishes as small as 18 to 24 inches that are used by consumers to receive direct broadcast satellite services.
The United States dominates the world market for large GEO satellites and is among the leaders in the market for the new smaller satellites that will be used in LEO and medium earth orbit (MEO) systems. U.S. industry perceives that U.S. government export controls continue to affect the ability of U.S. companies to enter into joint venture projects overseas. On March 15, 1999, licensing authority for commercial communications satellites was officially transferred from the U.S. Commerce Department's Bureau of Export Administration to the U.S. State Department's Office of Defense Trade Controls, as mandated by the National Defense Authorization Act. This shift in authority has resulted in a much more stringent export control regime and has had a significant effect on the ability of U.S. companies to compete for major international projects. As many countries attempt to develop their own satellite manufacturing capabilities, export controls and technology transfer issues are having a significant impact on the ability of U.S. companies to enter into joint ventures with government and private entities in countries such as Russia and China.
A clear trend toward truly global ventures has emerged in the market for smaller satellites for use in LEO and MEO systems. As providers try to find the best technology, the lowest prices, and guaranteed access to markets all over the world, U.S. and foreign companies have formed numerous partnerships. As an increasing number of international ventures are created, it is becoming more difficult to identify precisely the U.S. contribution to many of these ventures. However, the United States is still considered the world leader in the advanced technologies that are critical to the success of these projects.
Despite recent in-orbit satellite malfunctions and the impact of changes in U.S. export control regulations, the United States continues to lead the world in satellite manufacturing. Hughes Space and Communications (Hughes), Lockheed Martin Telecommunications (Lockheed Martin), and Space Systems/Loral (SS/L) are the top three manufacturers of traditional commercial communications satellites built for operation in geostationary orbit. While Hughes, Lockheed Martin, and SS/L remain the key U.S. players in the manufacture of large communications satellites, Boeing, Motorola, Orbital Sciences, Spectrum Astro, and TRW are gaining increased recognition for the manufacture of smaller satellites that will be used for a variety of emerging satellite services.
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