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When Push Comes to Shove, One Team

Posted By Robert Bell, Thursday, March 01, 2012
Updated: Thursday, March 01, 2012
I may be biased – in fact, it is a mathematical certainty that I am biased – but I believe that the satellite industry is an extraordinary place.  

SSPI’s membership consists of more than 3,200 people in 30 nations, who work in every part of the industry and most of its customer segments, from broadcast and government to maritime and telecom.  They buy from each other and sell to each other, serve each other and compete with each other.  But when push comes to shove, they are all part of one team.  

I know this because of the evidence of my own eyes.  On March 13, we will present four Industry Innovators Awards to a total of six organizations.  We will also honor a military leader with our Stellar Award for service to government using satellites.  Those who will receive an award that night will all have something in common.  In pursuing innovation, sometimes under tremendous pressure, they have chosen not to act alone but to find strength in our global community.  

Take the most straightforward example, which is the dual award for commercial innovation in the Ka-band that goes to Eutelsat and ViaSat.  Two separate companies and two separate spacecraft – KA-SAT for Eutelsat and ViaSat-1 – but a shared vision of  the satellite business as a meaningful player in broadband for the first time since Netscape launches its browser in 1994.   

We will also honor the Space Data Association as the first collaborative effort to share data among competing satellite operators to make space operations safer and more reliable.  Another award goes to Comtech EF Data for its MetaCarrier technology for digital carrier ID, which the company has proposed as an open standard to DVB.  

But for sheer drama, nothing can surpass the response to Galaxy-15’s loss of control.  Innovating at lightspeed, Intelsat collaborated with every satellite operator that had a spacecraft over North America, starting and ending with SES, and evolved ways to reliably offload traffic and move satellites out of the way of the drifting bird without taking a single customer offline.  

Unlike the Industry Innovators,  Lt. Gen. Ellen Pawlikowski can’t talk about most of the things she does as Commander, Space and Missile Systems Center for the US Air Force.  So as the Awards Committee gradually narrowed its choice for the Stellar Award to her, I spent time speaking with people who know her. 

They described her as someone who makes it her business to get to know the companies that are entering new markets and challenging the status quo.   She pushes her staff to think of different ways to meet the military’s needs in GEO and LEO, from hosted payloads to building more flexibility into acquisition to just asking the comercial industry for help in thinking outside the box.  She believes that competition is good and that the space industrial base is bigger than just a few familiar companies.  That may be the best antidote imaginable to the problem identified by former Defense Secretary Robert Gates in cancelling the TSAT program in 2009: that the US Government cannot afford to keep building what he called "Battlestar Galacticas” that absorb billions of dollars and take a decade to get into orbit.  

Whether we are military or civilan, competitors or strategic partners, the ties that bind us are stronger than the concerns that divide us.  At our Gala Dinner on March 13, you will see the evidence with your own eyes. 

Tags:  award  industry  innovator  satellite  stellar 

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