Abstract: Aerosat, A Case Study of Failure: Technology, Politics, and Markets

David J. Whalen


COMSAT was founded in 1963 after the Communications Satellite Act of 1962 determined that a public-private entity would hold the US "monopoly" on satellite communications. By the time the interim Intelsat agreements were opened for signature in 1964, it was clear that COMSAT would not control the future of satellite communications. The definitive Intelsat agreements, opened for signature in 1971, gave COMSAT a deadline: as of February 1979, COMSAT would no longer be the Manager of Intelsat. Over the next three decades COMSAT tried unsuccessfully to find a place for itself in the world of satellite communications as something more than a monopoly sales agent for Intelsat in the United States. None of these ventures—including SBS and STC—were successful. One of the first ventures that COMSAT addressed was the establishment of an aeronautical satellite to provide communications and navigation support to transoceanic air travel. The trials and tribulations of Aerosat are almost comical as different agencies and companies attempt to move the program forward. Within a few months of the award of a hardware contract to General Electric in 1974, the entire program was canceled because the ultimate users—the airlines—felt they had not been consulted.