A Maryland-based satellite communications company, a partnership of Fairchild Industries, Western Union and Continental Telephone Corp., opened a new Montgomery County facility last week promising technological breakthroughs in satellite technology.
The partnership, Space Communications Co., known as Spacecom, dedicated its new Gaithersburg headquarters Friday, and the company's president, William P. Kamachaitis, pledged that the firm would become a "powerhouse" in the Washington area.
The company was set up as Western Union Space Communications Inc. six years ago as a Western Union susidiary. It was estabished to manage a billion-dollar National Aeronautics and Space Administration program called the Tracking and Data Relay Satellite System (TDRSS).
The name of the company was changed when Fairchild and Continental each acquired 25 percent of the company, then based in Upper Saddle River, N.J. About 100 people are now employed at the new Gaithersburg headquarters, with another 50 staff members expected to be added within the next year. The new building is for office space only.
The NASA program is being funded at about $1.2 billion and is designed to improve the quality of the communications end of the federal space program and to improve NASA's ability to track orbiting satellites.
The contract with NASA calls for Spacecom to provide 10 years of telecommunications services starting in 1983. "People are guessing the job is likely to close out at $2 billion," Kamachaitis said.
If successful, the program would eliminate the need for an extensive network of ground stations to track satellites and at the same time eliminate periods when orbiting satellites lose communications contact with earth stations. "Most of that void could be taken care of," Kamachaitis said.
The TDRSS system consists of two satellites plus a spare already in orbit. A fourth satellite will be launched on the space shuttle and the entire system is supposed to be in operation by the middle of 1984. These satellites relay data to a terminal at White Sands, N.M., where Spacecom employs more than 100 people.
Kamachaitis said in an interview that the company is launching a study of how to replace the system in 1993, noting that the satellites have not completely been put to their best use. "We're going to be in a position to do things perhaps differently," he said, suggesting, for example, that the company might introduce a program in which satellites communicate with each other.
"We think that even within the existing system there is a utility that has yet to be understood," Kamachaitis said, referring to possible defense applications of the satellite system. He would not elaborate.
In addition, Kamachaitis said the success of the system would permit the federal government to cut its expenses and close ground stations in nations around the world. "All this could be done from White Sands, and they would not have to worry about guys throwing you out of the country," he added.