Getting Along at 22,282 Miles

As usual, it was a literal and figurative blast. The Space Foundation's annual meet in Colorado Springs is known for some pomp, some ceremony, multiple sessions of varying interest and enthusiasm, lots of military folk, a smattering of protesters and some really, really good parties.

All were delivered last week along with a thundering (literally) weather system for the last day.

It was, in short, an interesting week. And what did we learn (aside from the fact that aerospace companies run to lavish entertainment)? Quite a lot, actually. But the biggest impression was made by Rob Bedernak, president and CEO of SES New Skies, which provides global coverage and connectivity. In an interview for the international portion of the show, we discussed satellite capacities, uses and the delicate balances (and potential conflicts) emerging between commercial and government activities in space.

While SES has had its share of satellite failures lately, it remains a global giant with more than 30 birds in geosynchronous orbit. Most of these jointly serve both commercial and government clients. And while there has been some chatter of an oversupply of satellite availability, Bedernak worries about exactly the opposite.

"We have seen very strong growth," he told us. "For example, with services such as high-definition television, satellite is the best delivery method." And demand for HD by satellite is just beginning to ramp up in nations such as India where, Bedernak notes, "They have room for multiple services such as DIRECTV." Add to this the increasing use of geosynchronous satellites for broadband delivery, their role in providing mobile services, their mapping and surveillance functions and Bedernak sees a time when governments could face emergencies only to find that those inns poised 22,282 miles above the earth's are already full.

"We need governments to talk more to us about their plans" and their potential uses of satellite capacity, Bedernak says. That way, he notes, his company - and others like it - will be better prepared to meet last minute needs and crises.

This, of course, raises the rather alarming spectre of a government-commercial space face off to which a (rather cynical) friend of ours notes, "Well, of course, the government will simply declare an emergency and shanghai whatever capacity they need." Perhaps. But in these increasingly global markets (let's not forget that SES, for example, is based in Luxembourg) that might prove exceptionally difficult. Which suggests that "let's all get along" might be a good theme for all who make their living in space.