Ball Aerospace successfully completed the first test communication link between its fully electronically-steered flat panel antenna (ESA) and Telesat’s LEO Phase 1 satellite at Telesat’s Allan Park ground station in Ontario, Canada. Ball and Telesat are collaborating on the development of satellite communications (SATCOM) terminals based on Ball’s advanced antenna technology. Ball is the second vendor to announce successful link testing with the Telesat LEO Phase 1 satellite. Global Eagle previously conducted successful tests with its QEST-developed, gimbal-mount antenna.
“For decades, Ball Aerospace has been developing and building electronically-steered flat panel antennas for military and government customers,” said Rob Freedman, vice president and general manager, Tactical Solutions, Ball Aerospace. “We’re thrilled to work with Telesat to demonstrate this technology for their LEO satellite constellation and other commercial applications.”
The Ball Aerospace Antenna division includes tactical/military options and commercial solutions in both Ku and Ka bands. It is unclear which group will potentially see early implementations of the ESA technology but the Ka-band solution could extend to other satellite constellations as well. Ball already claims support for some of its phased array antennae on Inmarsat‘s network, for example, though that is a geostationary orbit offering rather than LEO and the offering does not yet apply in commercial aviation markets.
Ball joins QEST and Phasor in announcing progress in the ESA segment with a focus on the commercial aviation market. QEST’s efforts with Satcom Direct appear focused on the business aviation segment today, though that technology should scale up for commercial aircraft without too much trouble. Phasor is moving towards introduction of its first generation Ku-band ESA solution, with hopes of securing aero certification later in 2019. Phasor is focused on Ku-band services for its early generations of systems with Ka-band expected in 2021 and beyond.
The promise of ESA technology includes instant satellite switching, no moving parts and a lower profile to reduce drag once installed. It also typically has shown up with a significantly higher price tag and questions about power consumption, among other problems. If any of these manufacturers can deliver on their promise of solving those challenges the market could see a significant shake-up. These tests are a strong first step in that direction, but proving them out more broadly and delivering a certified solution to market is still a “coming soon” option, rather than reality today.