Stellar Blu Solutions, which provides satcom terminals in aviation, expects to receive supplemental type certifications for its new Ku-band, multi-orbit electronically steerable antenna (ESA) on regional and narrowbody aircraft this year, and on widebody types in 2024.
So says Stellar Blu CEO Tracy Trent, who revealed to RGN via email that: “The multi-orbit version will be STC’d on the CRJ, Embraer 170/190, B737 family, A320 family in 2023, and the B777 and A330 in 2024. Other airframes are in process and will be prioritized for customer demand.”
The multi-orbit antenna is part of Stellar Blu’s Sidewinder-branded family of ESAs. For Sidewinder, the Fort Worth, Texas-based firm has integrated Ball Aerospace’s modular scalable subarrays into a terminal that, notes Trent, features multiple antenna and adaptor plate versions to accommodate various use cases, including:
- Airframe type: regional jets/large business jets up to twin-aisle aircraft
- Network: LEO only, multi-network, multi-orbit. Or, if an ISP chooses – GEO only.
- Installation type: ARINC 791 compliant suitable for linefit or retrofit and a slim non-ARINC compliant version. All versions are compatible with LEO only, and all but the smallest version are compatible with LEO+GEO or GEO only.
A multi-orbit version of Sidewinder that can talk to OneWeb’s LEO satellite network as well as GEO satellites is proving particularly popular at present. To wit, inflight entertainment and connectivity giant Panasonic Avionics — a new OneWeb service distribution partner — has selected the kit for its ESA-enabled, nextgen, hybrid GEO/LEO IFC solution.
Trent points out that service providers will likely brand their own specific versions of Sidewinder. And indeed, Panasonic has aptly branded the multi-orbit version that will talk to both its GEO network and OneWeb as “Diamondback”.
Once Stellar Blu secures STCs for the multi-orbit kit across various commercial aircraft types, its current and future partners will have the option of availing of these STCs to quickly bring the solution to commercial aircraft for their airline partners. Panasonic certainly seems to be on board with Stellar Blu’s strategy, with VP, connectivity business unit John Wade telling RGN that the firm is not pressed about who ultimately owns the STC, whether that be Stellar Blu or Panasonic’s own Delta Engineering subsidiary. “The end goal is to get the STC,” he says plainly.
Rival Ku-band inflight connectivity provider Intelsat, meanwhile, has already installed and is flight-testing a multi-orbit ESA prototype on its own Bombardier CRJ700 testbed. The hardware is based on Ball’s mature technology and the modular design from integration partner Stellar Blu, the latter of which is pulling the parts together for the CRJ700 flight-testing program and STC.
Intelsat has already announced a customer for its ‘Intelsat ESA’ in the form of Alaska Airlines, which in early 2024 will start bringing the package to Embraer E175s flown by its regional feeders, Horizon Air and SkyWest, to support high-speed Internet connectivity that will transmit via Intelsat’s GEO network and OneWeb LEO. The satellite operator and aero ISP is “pretty sure” it will do the STC work itself for the Intelsat ESA on aircraft types beyond the CRJ700/CRJ900, but has not made a final determination, confides company SVP, commercial Dave Bijur. And then there is a “whole generation of mainline airplanes” that Intelsat wants to piece through, he notes.
In terms of securing linefit offerability for Sidewinder at Airbus and Boeing — whereby each airframer agrees to install the connectivity kit on their airline customers’ brand new aircraft at the factory — Stellar Blu’s Trent reveals,
We are in advanced discussions with all major airframe OEMs for linefit offerability. Expect more specific announcements in the next couple of months.
Stellar Blu is hopeful of cracking into Airbus’ new supplier-furnished HBCplus inflight connectivity program via Safran Passenger Innovations (SPI), which has already been tapped to provide the separate Ka-band terminal based on ThinKom Solutions’ popular Ka2517 VICTS antenna. Inmarsat and SES have been chosen to act as Ka-band managed service providers (MSPs) as part of HBCplus.
But Airbus is also in talks with OneWeb about the possibility of powering Ku-band service for HBCplus (presumably as part of a multi-orbit service). And Stellar Blu vice president of sales Stephen Rice reveals that his firm is “working with Airbus (BFE) and Safran (SFE) via HBCplus) on offerability of Sidewinder”.
If Safran Passenger Innovations is positioning Sidewinder as part of a Ku-band terminal for HBCplus, as suggested, its work certainly syncs with OneWeb’s feelings on the matter. The satellite operator clearly favors Sidewinder (and kit of its ilk such as the Intelsat package with Stellar and Ball), and wants its distribution partners, Intelsat and Panasonic, to serve as the Ku MSPs. (OneWeb’s service distribution partners would presumably benefit from a buyer-furnished equipment distinction for Sidewinder and its multi-orbit siblings as well.)
A SPI spokeswoman tells RGN: “Regarding Ku-band, SPI cannot comment due the ongoing commercial activities.”
Sidewinder — irrespective of use case — will not require a thermal management system to stay cool.
“Sidewinder integrates heat dissipation in its design. The efficiency of the Ball Aerospace antenna sub arrays meant our thermal challenge was quite minimal. Thermal testing proved our design is sufficient,” explains Trent, adding that the antenna has already been flight tested “on several GEO networks”.
Rice further notes that Stellar Blu’s development target is “full operation on the ground at temperatures of 50 degrees Celsius (120 Fahrenheit), to ensure we have gate-to-gate functionality”. The next step is network interoperability testing, i.e., switching between OneWeb and GEO satellites in-flight.
Stellar Blu is targeting Sidewinder certification and initial service launch this summer.
- Alaska picks Intelsat multi-orbit satcom for E175s, in industry first
- Panasonic positions Stellar Blu multi-orbit ESA as nextgen terminal
- Intelsat sees 2Ku longevity but prepares for ESA-enabled future
- Airbus HBCplus could accelerate adoption of free Wi-Fi model: Safran
- Stellar Blu readies Sidewinder to support multiple Ku networks
- OneWeb focuses on B2B aero model; ESAs for Gen 1 and Gen 2 network
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