This special issue of Space Communications contains nine papers derived from a study, ‘Global satellite communications technology and systems’, sponsored by NASA and the NSF. The purpose of this study was to compare the position of the US in commercial satellite communications technology, research, development and markets with that of the rest of the world. It included visits to over 65 satellite manufacturers, service providers and R&D Institutes located in North and South America, Europe, Asia and Africa. These papers include overviews and country by country material on R&D activities, technology status, markets and trends from this study. The conclusions of this panel indicate that the US continues to have a strong presence in this large and rapidly growing global industry but that European and Asian entities are making significant investments in their manufacturing and R&D activities and are becoming major participants in this satellite communications industry. The migration of US aerospace corporations from being primarily manufacturers of spacecraft to being primarily satellite service providers could serve to undercut necessary longer term R&D to develop new technologies.