In a market mostly know for unfulfilled promises a real-world technology demonstration deserves to be celebrated. With years of such promises delivering little in the way of functional hardware the electronically steered antenna (ESA) segment could use such festivities. Enter Gilat and its Ka-band inflight connectivity ESA. The company took the hardware flying on the Honeywell 757 testbed and linked with Telesat’s Telestar 19 VANTAGE Ka-band payload in an initial proof of function in flight.
The accomplishment of the successful in-flight demonstration of Gilat’s IFC ESA terminal onboard Honeywell’s commercial jetliner using Ka-band capacity on Telesat’s Telstar 19 VANTAGE HTS demonstrates Gilat’s innovation and progress for next-generation IFC ESA technology, and our ability to overcome massive technological challenges. This exciting solution meets the communication needs of the aero market including both commercial and smaller jets that until now could not be served efficiently by existing solutions and opens up great opportunity for Gilat both over GEO satellites and Non-GEO constellations.– Liran Wiener, Director of SatCom On-the-Move Programs at Gilat
The system operated from gate-to-gate, demonstrating the high bandwidth performance available from the system that includes no moving parts and fully electronic beam steering. The low drag profile and ability to nearly instantly switch between satellites are two key features in the ESA segment, though getting them from the drawing board through manufacturing and on to airplanes at a competitive price point has proven a challenge that many vendors were unable to overcome. While pricing and heat/power challenges related to Gilat’s model are not entirely clear this demonstration is a true milestone for the industry. It is the first commercial aircraft ESA live demo operating in the Ka-band space. And the fact that the company made it this far suggests that the pricing and heat/power challenges are likely solved or very close to being solved.
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The partnership with Honeywell, and flying on the company’s 757 testbed, raises an interesting conversation about that company’s future in the commercial aerospace satellite terminal segment. For the past several years Honeywell’s JetWave was the exclusive terminal hardware option for the Inmarsat GX Aviation network, including the Jet Xpress business aviation model. The exclusivity clause in that contract expired, however, meaning competition is coming on the GX side.
And while Honeywell continues its development efforts on antenna systems the company is not averse to partnering with other companies when that makes sense. Kevin Calcagni, Chief Technology Officer at Honeywell Connected Enterprise Aviation, explains, “Honeywell sees the electronically steered antenna as a key future technology, and this test is an important milestone showcasing its potential… We are pleased to successfully collaborate with Gilat in this pilot that again demonstrates Honeywell’s leadership position in the connectivity market.”
That the test aircraft remains decked out with the JetWave markings is just an amusing side note now that other systems are also flying on board.
The business aviation segment has the Ball Aerospace option that demonstrated connectivity with Telesat’s LEO Phase 1 test satellite in January 2019, but that test came from the ground, not an aircraft. Phasor also successfully linked is ESAs with LEO satellites, but also on the ground, and many questions remain unanswered around the timing and status of that program.
Gilat’s successful test comes as other promising – and often more hyped – options have failed to deliver on promised timelines.