Space and Communications
"The Future of Space-Based Communications"
International Technology Forum
January 31, 2001
Good morning and welcome. I'm happy to be part of this forum today and delighted to share the platform with my colleagues.
Certainly, we've come a long way in space-based communications in the past 25 years, but what I'd like to do today is to look ahead to where I think we're going in the future. I'll keep my remarks brief so we can get to some dialog and spirited debate. I'm eager to hear from all of you.
As you saw in the video, Boeing is really about "inventing the future."
So what will that future bring?
I can envision a time in which all of us have the ability to:
- Be connected to people, resources, and information
- With high-speed data, imagery and video
- From fixed-point locations and mobile platforms
- Anytime, Anywhere
In this world of the future, the underlying complexity of required systems and infrastructure will be transparent to users. It will be facilitated by an invisible web of integrated space-, wireless- and terrestrial-based communications systems, and controlled by multifunctional devices that can fit in your pocket, on the button of your shirt, or even, woven into the fabric of your clothing.
It's the kind of seamless and ubiquitous connectivity that will let individuals and businesses pull - or even passively receive - whatever information they need, in whatever format they choose, from the ether.
Tailored, value-added data delivery that makes businesses and individuals more productive, more powerful, more connected to the world.
To me, that represents what the future could be.
I envision that future coming true in any number of areas:
- For air traffic management and battlefield management
- For the man on the street and the sailor on the bridge
- For the mountain climber at 20,000 feet, and for mom and dad at home (keeping track of their children, wherever they may be)
- For the air traveler enroute to Heathrow and the fighter pilot enroute to a target...
- For all of us in this room
Getting there will not be easy... and we face a number of challenges. For one thing, the space business is not for the faint of heart. We work on the cutting-edge of technology in areas of extreme environments, and our work has to be perfect because once launched it is impossible to bring our systems back for repair.
But not all of the challenges of working in the space involve technical risk. In fact, the biggest challenge we face in achieving this vision may not be technical at all... but, rather, financial.
Increasingly, the question will not be: "can this be done (technically)?"... but "does the business case close?" Future issues are less likely to be about our ablility to get data from point A to point B quickly and securely, but doing so affordably and with the potential for profit. If we learned anything from the early low-Earth orbit satellite communications ventures that ran into trouble, that's it.
Predicting what the market will want and expect from space-based communications represents another challenge.
Some of the questions we need to address here include: Are the air-travel industry and governments looking for less ground-based air traffic control and more space-based air traffic management? Is the military market, which wants a fully integrated communications solution, willing to let go of separate legacy platforms in order to achieve true interoperability? And does the current export license environment support the kind of future our space-based communications systems can provide?
While the business challenges may represent a more vexing obstacle than technology, there still are some important enablers required to achieve the kind of connectivity I think tomorrow's market will demand.
Such things as:
- high-performance digital processing payloads and active aperture antennas to add increased capacity and flexibility;
- sophisticated encryption techniques to answer the demand for greater information security;
- advanced compression algorithms and sophisticated lightweight active antennas with thousands of beams to dramatically increase frequency re-use;
- New spacecraft with power over 25 kW in the near term and well over 100 kW in the long term to accelerate the reduction in communication costs...
- Network system design and integration techniques for data mining... data fusion... beam management... information assurance... and decision aids
- And our ability to move towards open architecture and common standards around the world.
Those are the kinds of enabling technologies and processes that will help us achieve the seamless integration of space-, air-, and ground-based systems
I certainly don't have all the answers to what tomorrow will bring, but I'm looking forward to hearing some of yours.
I've spoken the last few minutes about the many challenges we face. Personally, I'm very optimistic that those of us in this room today can help build the future I described a few moments ago. I base that optimism on what our industry has already achieved, and what we can do in the years ahead through partnership and cooperation.
Thank you very much.