A few decades ago visionaries at Hughes Electronics Corporation believed that it should be possible to produce a digitally-based, direct broadcast satellite (DBS) that would provide services directly to home consumers. This idea was based upon a perceived growing market and the technology and know-how the corporation had from developing satellites for military and telecommunications customers. Various innovators within Hughes pursued the concept and in 1984 Hughes received permission from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to construct a direct broadcast satellite. Hughes invested $750 million to develop a system that included the production of three high-powered satellites, a broadcast center and the operational elements needed to offer the service to consumers. In 1991, DirecTV, Inc was formed to offer direct-to-home television service that was a viable alternative to cable and off-air reception. The DBS system designed for DirecTV would incorporate some novel technologies developed by Hughes and others. Probably the most enabling was new digital compression technology that allowed the system to deliver numerous programming channels with quality that surpassed what could be produced with older analog technology. The new satellites also would be higher powered which would allow them to send more focused digital streams.
This permitted the development and introduction of the small receiver dish. Previously satellite dishes were 4 – 8 feet in diameter, whereas the new dishes would be only 20 inches in diameter. This would significantly reduce the cost, mounting space and other installation requirements. To avoid quick technological obsolescence Hughes designed the satellites and the support system to be updateable so it could offer enhanced services. For example in 1998 DirecTV was able to easily add high definition television capability to its DBS service. Other types of consumer services planned for the near future are AOL interactive television and TiVo personal television. The use of DirecTV has increased every year since its introduction. Specific applications for the private sector and the military have been or are being developed. In its first full year of commercial operation DirecTV obtained 1 million subscribers, which is a record that still stands for adoption of a new technology. Today DirecTV offers over 210 channels of service and has over 6 million residential customers.
DirecTV is an outstanding example of a commercial space-based attribute that enriches the lives of millions of people on Earth.