New Millennium Satellite System for the Digital Divide
Prepared by Joseph N. Pelton, Ph.D.
Exec. Director, Clarke Institute for Telecommunications and Information (CITI)
The New Millennium Satellite System for the Digital Divide would make available new satellite capacity and low cost user terminals to currently underserved rural populations within the equatorial zone of the planet. This is where the need is the greatest.
The Japan U.S. Science Technology and Space Applications Program (JUSTSAP), the Clarke Institute for Telecommunications and Information (CITI), the Global University System are now examining the feasibility of this innovative new proposal. Many more institutions will be consulted in the coming months. The basic concept is to deploy an innovative low-cost Millennium Satellite System designed to address the educational, informational and health needs of the digital divide.
This proposal is to create and deploy as quickly as possible a new, low-cost satellite system of eight (or possibly more) small satellites. These small satellites in equatorial circular orbit (ECO) or some other suitable orbit such as the Geostationary Earth Orbit (GEO) would be built using off-the-shelf components.
These satellites would be designed and built using whenever possible qualified graduate students and faculty from universities that have small satellite design and manufacture capabilities. This satellite system would be deployed to provide coverage to the equatorial region where most of the under-served people live. This system would be specifically dedicated to tele-education, tele-health and emergency warning and recovery services. Participants would be asked to sign a written pledge to not use the satellite for other purposes and not to seek to use this system in lieu of commercial telecommunications services.
These satellites would be designed for a five-year lifetime (although they might be able to sustain service for a longer period) and would be able to provide television, multimedia, audio-conference, e-mail and Internet services.
The greatest challenge, however, may well prove to be in making low cost, solar or battery power user terminals available in these regions and finding qualified people in the villages to support the educational and health related programs. For this reason, this project to build and launch these satellites must be viewed as only a test and demonstration activity to show not only what might be done, but to identify the key barriers to full scale implementation.
As soon as funding for this low-cost satellite system and supporting ground-based user terminals is established, a university team of professors and graduate students will be assembled (although in some cases this would be a virtual collaboration with work being conducted at several sites). The participants would most likely be drawn from graduate students participating in the JUSTSAP graduate student program, the University of Surrey, and possibly the International Space University. Then the manufacturing and design team would be established at the chosen host university site to begin the design, test and integration of these low-cost satellites. These satellites would be built using off-the-shelf components that would be tested against radiation or other space or launch hazards. Further, because of the radiation hazards and other failure mode possibilities these satellites would be designed with some redundancy and at least two spare satellites would also be provided. It is expected that it will be possible to acquire the user terminals commercially as off-the-shelf equipment, although the choice of the frequency band (such as the 2.5 GHz band for CATV education services to villages) may require a special order.
The satellite design would be based on the SERVIS satellite concept as developed by the Mitsubishi Electric Corporation with suitable modifications being made as needed. The most important of these modifications would be to make these earth-pointing satellites rather than sun-pointing satellites.
As noted above, there would be a parallel effort to work with manufacturers of VSATs in order to develop user terminals that would be less than US$1000 in cost for a village-based terminal. This now looks feasible using transceiver cards which can be put into standard desktop computers and should be commercially available in 2001. In addition, solar cell and battery units would also be sought for villages without electricity so that these could also be made available at low cost as well. Laptop computers or desktops using liquid crystal displays will keep electric power needs low.
The funding support for this project would be sought from the governments of Japan, Canada, the U.S. and Europe as well as other governments, international organizations and private foundations. The most expensive part of this program would be the launch costs for the satellites, but these might be accomplished as piggy-back launches in conjunction with heavier payloads. A detailed systems study will be needed to establish the cost of the satellites, the up-linking facilities, the VSAT user terminals and power supplies, and the cost of the launches. Overall this project would be seen as a vanguard effort in the overall campaign to create a large Global Services Trust Fund to support remote and rural tele-education, tele-health and emergency communications services.
The essential points of this proposal are as follows:
Preliminary coordination has been initiated with several organizations concerning this proposed innovative digital divide satellite for the new millennium. These organizations have indicated serious interest in exploring the feasibility of developing this tele-education and tele-health oriented satellite system and deploying it so as to serve the equatorial region of planet where the unmet needs in education and health are greatest.
This project is thus seen as a tangible and practical first step in the development of the GSTF and needs to be developed in more specific terms in terms of its cost, its technical design, the design of user terminals and other operational and regulatory issues. It is proposed that the University of Surrey (that has designed and built some 50 small satellite systems), the Global University System, the Institute for Applied Space Research at George Washington University, the Communications Research Laboratory of Japan, and the Clarke Institute for Telecommunications and Information as the Principal Investigator jointly undertake this feasibility study. In particular a four-person team with a significant amount of donated effort would complete this investigation in six months time.
Further Background Information
For more information about this project and about the activities of the Arthur C. Clarke Institute for Telecommunications and Information (CITI) please go to the following web site address: http://clarkeinstitute.com.
For more information about the Japan U.S. Science Technology and Space Applications Program (JUSTSAP) please contact the JUSTSAP program coordinator James Crisafulli: firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information about the Global University System (GUS) please contact: Dr. Takeshi Utsumi, Vice President of the GUS at: email@example.com.