Archive for January 2013
By: Katherine Bricceno
Amid all the news about the fiscal cliff last week, you may have missed that President Obama signed the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act1. In addition to setting the Department of Defense’s budget and a pay raise for military personnel, the legislation allows American companies to sell communication satellites as technology while maintaining export restrictions on nations like China and North Korea2. Since 1999, communication satellites had been treated as munitions and their export was restricted due to concerns of national security.
The legislation enacting these restrictions was passed during the Justice Department’s investigation of two American aerospace companies, Hughes and Loral, for illegal transfer of rocket technology to China3. The companies were accused of sharing information regarding a failed Chinese rocket launch. Three classified studies found national security was harmed by the release of this information, which the authors believed could improve the accuracy and reliability of future ballistic missiles produced by China. In a 2002 civil settlement, Loral paid fines to the State Department, ending the Justice Department’s investigation.
Satellite communications have long been at the intersection of military, government and commercial research interests beginning with the 1957 launch of Sputnik by the Soviet Union. In 1960 AT&T requested permission from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to launch a satellite communications system4. At the time, the FCC did not have a mechanism to process such a request, but quickly established policy governing such technology. By 1964, NASA had granted contracts for communication satellites to 3 companies and a half dozen satellites were in orbit. The technology allowed Americans to watch live coverage of portions of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics5. Read the rest of this entry »