Broadband in-flight connectivity, delivered to a commercial aircraft via low-earth orbit (LEO) satellites and an electrically steered antenna (ESA) is – finally – a reality. Stellar Blu and OneWeb promised earlier this year that testing would begin this month. On Friday, May 27th the company met that goal.
Formerly GDC Technics, Stellar Blu partnered with Ball Aerospace to develop its Sidewinder ESA terminal offering. Stellar Blu VP Sales & Business Development Stephen Rice notes that the solution is “built on existing Ball hardware, so we already know it works.” The testing is much more about the integration of the components and getting it safely installed on the aircraft, not proving the base connectivity functionality.
Photos from the test flight show download speeds north of 260 megabits per second, with uploads about a third of that. The Sidewinder terminal promises 190/40 speeds in the specs on the company website. The kit is also ARINC 791 compliant to ease integration on commercial aircraft.
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One successful flight is a huge milestone, of course, but Stellar Blu must still complete the testing and certification process with the terminal. With the gear now installed on a 777 and running test flights, the companies can push towards that goal.
When the partnership was announced last November the testing was expected in Q1. Slipping a couple months is not great, but also likely does not deliver a notable delay in the potential deployment of the solution on the commercial market. The companies see 90% coverage available for their testing over North America, which should be enough to get started. And the constellation faces a delay of at least a few months while OneWeb switches from Soyuz to SpaceX and ISRO for the last few launches.
OneWeb expects that “elements of the aviation network will be online by late 2023” but full global coverage is not expected until early 2024, according to VP Mobility Ben Griffin.
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