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Washington Techway
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Washtech.com: Technologies of Tomorrow
Washington Techway talks with with Pedro "Pete" Rustan

Wednesday, April 4, 11 a.m. ET.

After a daring escape from Fidel Castro's Cuba in the 1960s, Pedro "Pete" Rustan went on to a distinguished career in the U.S. Air Force. Colonel Rustan directed top secret research efforts for the National Reconaissance Office, the Chantilly agency responsible for building and operating U.S. spy satellites. Today, Rustan works as a consultant in the private sector, where he is promoting the use of lasers for high-speed communications links.

On Wednesday, Rustan will join Washington Techway managing editor Joe Anselmo to discuss the cutting-edge technologies under development and which ones he believes have the best chances for success.

This discussion is related to Washington Techway's "Technologies of Tomorrow" cover package, published in the magazine's April 9 issue.

Transcript is as follows.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.

Joe Anselmo: Welcome Dr. Rustan. Thank you for joining us today to talk about the "technologies of tomorrow." Let's open up the discussion by telling people a little bit about who you are and what your background is.

Pete Rustan: Pleased to be here to provide some insight about the future of some these enabling technologies. I am a consultant in the aerospace and telecommunication field.

Washington, D.C.: How big a windfall do you think it is in a technical and intelligence sense for the Chinese to have that EP-3 in Hainan?

Pete Rustan: My personal view as a private citizen is that the EP-3 contains some of the latest electronic intelligence technologies on board and if the Chinese steal this hardware and the corresponding tapes, we would have to make some changes in this field. We can always bounce back incorporating even better technologies.

Vienna, VA: Will satellites end up playing a role in broadband wireless?

Pete Rustan: This is a wide open field and of course, satellite communication is an option. One has to do the cost vs. performance trade to determine the winning strategy. Based on my experience, satellites will be a player in the field. The problem with satellites is that there is a large initial cost but we can now build those satellites for 12 or 15 years. So, over the long term, satellite technology is very cost effective.

Washington, D.C.: The Nasdaq has taken a real hit. If you were buying stock today, what type of companies would you invest in?

Pete Rustan: I would invest on companies that have made money in the past and are expected to make money in the future. Stay away from companies that have reported large losses quarter after quarter but are expecting to report profits in the future because the future is uncertain and some of these companies will not make it. Overall, I personally believe that this is a wonderful opportunity to invest in established technology companies.

Alexandria, VA: What publicly traded companies do you expect will be the biggest innovators of new technology in the communications sector in next few years?

Pete Rustan: I will stay with the leaders in the field. Cisco, Nortel and Lucent will dominate the network business but I also like the highly innovative companies such as Juniper Network because they appear to have some of the best technologies. I think Worldcom is an excellent company that is looking into the future. Stay away from companies that are trying to protect their present infrastructure instead of preparing themselves toward the future by taking advantages of the dramatic changes on IT and IS.

Baltimore, MD: How can educational institutions, such as Johns Hopkins and the University of Maryland in Baltimore City, do more to commercialize their research? Is there a role for the federal government in this? For the FDA?

Pete Rustan: Any good company understands the value of a good idea. If somebody at a university has a good idea that can be used by a company, he/she should contact that Company Chief Technical Officer of Business Development VP and make a appointment to discuss how this technology can be used to enhance that company's business. Additionally, if the university publishes technology breakthroughs in their website, that information will attract big companies. From the business perspective it is better to buy than to build.

Washington, D.C.: Dr. Rustan,

You have been an enthusiastic proponent of incorporating advanced technologies into much smaller spacecraft both in the commercial and defense worlds. All (Iridium, Globalstar, ICO and Orbcomm) small commercial satellites ventures haved failed or are failing. The commercial satellites that appear to be successful (HS 702, LM2100 based) are much bigger than ever before and very successful. Do the failures of the small commercial sateliites portend a failure of the recent military/intelligence satellites push into smallsats?

Pete Rustan: The concept of using advanced technologies to increase spacecraft capabilities while reducing weight and power is a very strong argument that applies regardless of the size of the spacecraft. The problem that we have seen is primarily related to the culture and the processes being used. The hardest thing in life is to change one's culture. Some institutions try to implement revolutionary procedures but they are using the old culture, processes, and workforce and then problem occur.

Reston, VA: Do you think that the newly merged AOL Time Warner can prove to be a technology innovator? Or will the company's sheer size weigh it down and make it less aggressive?

Pete Rustan: The future is unclear because a new and highly innovative company like AOL can be slowed down considerably by a well established company like Time Warner. AOL should continue to use its previous business practices with the merger company. If TW predominates, the future will not be as bright.

Falls Church, VA: It seems that a large amount, if not most, innovative technology in the U.S. comes from Silicon Valley. Do you expect this area to be on the cutting edge of any technologies aside from biotech?

Pete Rustan: I think that there are several Silicon Valles being developed around the country. Even right here in the Washington Area, there is a strong move toward innovation. The 270 Corridor is becoming not only a biotech corridor but also a mini Silicon Valley.

Falls Church, VA: In an earlier response, you said WorldCom is a solid company looking to the future. I'm curious to hear your thoughts on why WorldCom has taken such a beating on Wall Street over the past year. If the company is so solid, why are investors punishing it?

Pete Rustan: There is no discriminator in this technology wave destruction. If you are a technology company, you are going down. It is terrible. Recommend that you use your own discriminaton to pick the future winners and losers and I believe that Worldcom will be a winner.

Herndon, VA: Do you ever talk with venture capitalists? What new technologies being developed locally are they putting their money behind?

Pete Rustan: I have had many discussions with venture capitalists during the last five years. But right now, most venture capitalists are not making any investment, they are just trying to control their losses. Remember that venture capitalists like to invest in home runs instead of singles or doubles, but the environment is so negative right now that even the venture capitalists are being extremely careful about any investment.

Springfield, VA: Based on your understanding of U.S. spy satellite capabilities, what can satellite photos show that would lead U.S. officials to conclude that the Chinese are scrutinizing sentive gear aboard the Navy's electronics surveillance plane?

Pete Rustan: Once you get the hardware out of the airplane and put it inside a building, we cannot see anything. Perhaps we can take a picture with Chinese people in the neighborhood of the airplane but that does not answer the tampering question.

Arlington, VA: Are lasers used often in the intelligence arena for communications over short distances? (Or is there some other big, unknown technology out there that we don't know about?)

Pete Rustan: Terrestrial communication using lasers is a new application. This new industry is emerging because of the temendous research paid by the U.S. government in the 80s and 90s for space laser communication. One of the advantages of terrestrial laser communication is that it is very secure. To intercept the information one has to disrupt the beam and the laser will cease operations.

Bethesda, MD: Does anyone care about the moon anymore? What's the latest on the possible frozen water under the surface?

Pete Rustan: Of course, we all care about the moon. There is a lot that we can learn by studying the minerals in the moon and the possible colonization of the moon. There has been no additional work to exploit the potential frozen water in the lunar poles. However, I believe that the NASA Discovery Program is ready to fund a worthwhile mission to the moon.

Vienna, VA: How far can we go with Hard Drive Storage capacity? Can we expect to see Terabytes of data on a regular size HD soon?

Pete Rustan: There is a lot of room to go before we reach the technology limits. Indeed, we should expect to see Terabytes of data in a few years. I believe the technology limitations will not be here until about 2006. Then, we should start shifting to other technologies. We are living thru real revolutionary changes in this industry.

Washington, D.C.: Dr. Rustan,

As a follow up to my earlier question...you said the problem wasn't the size or technology base of the satellites, but rather culture. You were a strong advocate of both insertion of technology and reducing spacecraft size and cited the emerging commercial systems using small satellites as a driving reason for the military to adopt a similar philosophy. The commercial systems you cited have failed...what does that mean for the military systems following the same model?

Pete Rustan: You should note that the failures are not caused by the technologies. Go back and check it out. Even the most innovative technologies have worked quite well. The problem is in the procedure, the culture, and the workforce. Faster, better and cheaper does not imply that one should not use the very best business practices.

Washington, D.C.: Do you think that microsats will be more than just "toys" for the R&D community and actually find operational use, either as space-surveillance vehicles, or in orbit jammers?

Pete Rustan: The size of a satellite to achieve similar capabilities is reduced by a factor of 2 every 7 or 8 years. However, what we have been doing is to have twice as much capability for the same of spacecraft every 7 or 8 years. The main reason we are doing that is because of launch vehicles. Since we do not have a small launch vehicle, we are forced to fill the weight of the medium or large launch vehicle to achieve the lowest weight to orbit.

Reston, VA: A few years ago you were working on a tether project called TiPS. Are the tethers still being tracked in space and what did we learn from that project?

Pete Rustan: We learned about gravity gradient stabilization. That is two spacecrafts connected together with a tether would tend to achieve gravity gradient after librations have been reduced. Tethers can be used to put together two or more spacecrafts to achieve complex functions that now require multiple satellites.

Washington, D.C.: What would be the incentives for a business to use laser communications rather than a broadband connection?

Pete Rustan: To achieve much higher bandwidth. Since the laser footprint is only a few meters about one kilometer away from the source, one can achieve about 10,000 more bandwidth than with RF. In an office you can download and submit huge files almost instantaneously if you had 1 Gbps available to you.

Baltimore, MD: The head of NASA, in a recent speech at a venture capital fair in Washington, said that NASA is hiring biologists. What is the future of biology -- including the testing of medicines -- in space? It seems that much of this research is best done on Earth?

Pete Rustan: There has been a gradual shift toward more biologists working for NASA during the last ten years. One of the reasons is that we would like to send human exploration to Mars in the next 20 years.

Arlington, VA: To what extent does a downturn in the technology sector (Nasdaq dropping over 60%, layoffs, etc.) affect the rate of innovation of new technologies?

Pete Rustan: This a wonderful time for new opportunities. Always look at times of changes as a time for innovation. The Venture Capitalists might be a little more stringent before they release funds but an excellent is easy to fund.

Alexandria, VA: Is the government investing heavily in robotics research?

Pete Rustan: I would not say that the govt is investing heavily in robotics. It has been one of those critical technologies over the last 20 years but it has never had sufficient funding.

Arlington, VA: Commercial 1-meter imagery has been available for about 16 months now? How are these companies doing and what is the market for these products? Do you think these companies will be successful in the long-term?

Pete Rustan: As long as the U.S. government buys its products, the commercial imagery industry will be very successful.

Joe Anselmo: Thank you, Dr. Rustan, for taking the time to answer such a wide range of questions. Thanks also to everybody who submitted the questions. This discussion will be archived on the washtech.com site.

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