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 27, the company achieved this goal.
Formerly GDC Technics, Stellar Blu has partnered with Ball Aerospace to expand its Sidewinder ESA terminal offering. Stephen Rice, vice president of sales and business development at Stellar Blu, notes that the solution is “built on top of existing Ball hardware, so we already know it works.” Testing is much more about integrating components and installing them securely on the aircraft, not about proving basic connectivity functionality.
Photos from the test flight show download speeds north of 260 megabits per second, with downloads around a third of that. The Sidewinder terminal promises speeds of 190/40 in the company’s website specs. The kit is also ARINC 791 compliant for easy integration on commercial aircraft.
A successful flight is of course a milestone, but Stellar Blu still needs to complete the testing and certification process with the terminal. With equipment now installed on a 777 and test flights underway, airlines can push towards that goal.
When the partnership was announced last November, testing was expected in the first quarter. Slipping a few months out isn’t great, but it probably won’t cause a noticeable delay in the potential deployment of the solution in the commercial market either. Companies are seeing 90% coverage available for their testing in North America, which should be enough to get started. And the constellation faces a delay of at least a few months as OneWeb switches from Soyuz to SpaceX and ISRO for final launches.
OneWeb expects “elements of the aviation network to be online by the end of 2023,” but full global coverage isn’t expected until early 2024, according to VP of Mobility Ben Griffin.
Earlier in the week, OneWeb also announced a pair of new distribution deals to bring business aviation onto its LEO network, one with Gogo and the other with Satcom Direct.
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