ThinKom, SES and Thales prove capabilities of hybrid MEO/GEO networks for inflight connectivity

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The antenna specialist ThinKom Solutions has successfully completed testing of its new Ka-band antenna whilst inflight. The tests were conducted using SES’s geostationary (GEO) and medium earth orbit (MEO) satellites, and included seamless handover between the two satellite types.

ThinKom in partnership with Thales and SES proved the capabilities of hybrid MEO/GEO networks. Photo: ThinKom

Working with Thales and using its FlytLIVE connectivity network, the ThinKom Ka2517 antenna provided the first live demonstration of its communicative ability with the O3b MEO satellites. During the test, the antenna successfully communicated with MEO and GEO satellites, with seamless switching between networks and download speeds in excess of 265Mbps.

Flight testing

The test flights took place over South Florida and the Caribbean Sea on the 17th and 18th September. The Ka2517 antenna was mounted onto a Gulfstream G-III testbed for the tests, which are thought to be the first in-flight demonstration of an antenna communicating across and hybrid MEO and GEO network.

The results spoke for themselves. The antenna met or exceeded expectations in all of the test parameters. It achieved error-free downlink data at rates exceeding 265Mbps, and was able to switch beams in less than a second. ThinKom Chief Technology Officer Bill Milroy commented on the results, saying in a press release,

“This is the first in-flight demonstration of an aeronautical antenna communicating across a MEO-GEO hybrid satellite network. The Ka2517 with the JUPITER ModMan met or exceeded all test parameters for spectral efficiency, data throughput, beam agility, switching speeds, ASI mitigation, low-angle performance and inter-constellation roaming.”

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The ThinAir Ka2517 antenna. Photo: ThinKom

Ka2517 is ThinKom’s aviation targeted antenna, based on the company’s patented phased array technology. With a super low profile, the antenna radome is designed to add near to zero drag in flight. Compatible with LEO, MEO and GEO satellites, the antenna supports coverage all across the world including at polar and equatorial latitudes. It’s already in use on US government aircraft, but ThinKom is targeting rollout to the commercial and business aviation sector in future.

Raising the bar for SES

The high throughput O3b MEO constellation from SES is the world’s only proven non-geostationary broadband constellation in use today.

SES satellite
The SES network will launch early next year. Photo: SES

Elias Zaccack, Executive Vice President, Global Sales, at SES Networks, commented in a press release,

“These successful demo tests are raising the bar for in-flight connectivity and the connected passenger experience. The seamless integration of our MEO and GEO satellite networks will provide our customers with unprecedented redundancy, higher connectivity speeds and a whole new level of operational models. We’re very excited to have achieved this milestone together with our long-term partner Thales, as this is yet another example of how our mutual collaboration continues to bring innovative connectivity solutions with unmatched performance.”

The success of the hybrid network testing is positive news for the future of global inflight connectivity. It could provide Ka-band connectivity on routes where GEO satellites are not currently providing coverage, and in tandem with SES’s scalable terabit level constellation promises airlines operational efficiencies not previously achievable.

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