OneWeb and GDC Technics signed a Joint Development Agreement to deliver a new in-flight connectivity terminal. The new terminal, based on the electronically steered antenna technology developed by Ball Aerospace, will enable airlines to connect their aircraft, passengers, and crew over OneWeb’s Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellite communication network.
This agreement with GDC Advanced Technology represents a major milestone for OneWeb as we accelerate our plans to bring globally consistent and game-changing in-flight connectivity to aviation users everywhere – regardless of the size of aircraft they fly on.– Ben Griffin, VP Mobility at OneWeb
The Agreement builds on 18 months of research completed in partnership with satellite operators and a major airline. The companies expect to begin flight testing in Q1 2022, with certification realized in early 2023. That timing coincides with OneWeb’s expected availability of its global, low earth orbit network for aviation usage.
The agreement includes development of installation certification (STCs) for several aircraft types. The companies also plan to eventually realize line-fit offerability with major airframe manufacturers (OEMs).
Tracy Trent, President of GDC Advanced Technology is keen on the system performance thus far in testing. He notes the terminal can “unlock the full capabilities of the OneWeb network” based on early testing. Trent continues, “We are on track to have the system airborne in early 2022 and continue the path to certification, implementation, and ultimately to bring this game-changing technology to our aviation customers and their passengers in 2023.”
Multi-orbit to ease adoption
One key compatibility feature of the terminal design is the ability to connect to both LEO and GEO satellites. OneWeb expects this to be a key differentiator as airlines initially embrace and become confident in the benefits and performance of their new LEO technologies.
As OneWeb VP Mobility Ben Griffin explained earlier this year:
Coming out of the pandemic and putting all your chips on an unknown horse is probably risky. So, we see it as a way of diluting that risk from [the airline’s] perspective and easing our way into the market. But as far as we’re concerned, LEO-only is more than capable, [delivering] much more capacity and capability that anyone will ever need.
And once people get used to that and the passengers and their applications are firing on all cylinders all over the OneWeb LEO network I expect [GEO dependence] to diminish over time. It’s sort of like a baby letting go of the pacifier. It is that comfort blanket. They’re like, ‘Yeah, I want to like it but I’m not quite ready to bet my house on it.’
Over the summer Griffin expanded on that idea, noting that even with the LEO constellation online “we’re not going to expect everyone to ground aircraft, rip GEO kit off and put ours on.” In the back half of the decade, however, Griffin is “fairly confident in a good up-take of LEO services” with the new constellations taking over the majority of aviation-related traffic.
Having a proven terminal in service will certainly help on that front.
Playing the Field
Another de-risking factor comes from OneWeb’s approach to antenna/terminal vendors…
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A range of sizes
The terminal will initially be developed in two sizes. A traditional ARINC 791 version is planned for larger commercial airliners. A smaller installation suitable for regional jets, single aisle and business aviation platforms is also under development.
The new solution promises a lighter, lower drag design, significantly reducing fuel burn compared with current fuselage mounted antenna types. The sealed antenna also contains no moving parts, making it extremely reliable with no risk of fluid ingress.
The system is designed for ease of maintainability, with four (4) simple Line Replacement Units (LRUs), any of which can be replaced in less than 30 minutes.
More news from APEX EXPO 2021
- OneWeb, GDC Technics partner on new ESA solution
- SmartSky announces ATG availability for regional airlines
- Inmarsat, GDC celebrate 737 certification of Falcon 300 terminal for GX Aviation
- Anuvu adds $50 million for MicroGEO connectivity growth
- Malaysia Airlines plans IFE update with Flymingo
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