Aircraft flying over water

Stellar Blu to develop multi-orbit, multi-beam aero ESA with BAE tiles


Stellar Blu Solutions plans to develop a multi-beam version of its multi-orbit Sidewinder electronically steered antenna (ESA) for commercial aviation, company vice president Stephen Rice revealed today at the Airline Passenger Experience Association’s APEX TECH conference in Los Angeles.

The Fort Worth, Texas-based firm’s first-generation, single-beam, multi-orbit Sidewinder ESA is capable of talking to Low Earth Orbit (LEO) or geostationary (GEO) satellites and switching between the two. It is categorized by the Seamless Air Alliance as a Type 3 antenna: hybrid with limited GEO coverage. Intelsat and Panasonic Avionics are using the package to support their forthcoming multi-orbit inflight connectivity for airlines, which will tap each firm’s respective GEO network plus OneWeb LEO service.

But a next-gen version of Sidewinder will in time enable airlines to simultaneously connect with both LEO and GEO satellites, offering a step change in the hardware’s flexibility and performance.

“Every tool that we can give a service provider to help expand their service and help build their portfolio is something that they’re going to take advantage of. Sidewinder was developed to meet a footprint at a cost that was a target of a number of parties that worked on it. Is there a multi-beam version of it coming? 100%,” Rice confirmed, when asked by Runway Girl Network at APEX TECH.

Rice continued: “Does it require some development by our technology partner, [Ball Aerospace parent] BAE Systems? BAE builds these tiles — not just for Stellar Blu, the US Department of Defense has a say in what they look like as well — so as those tiles get developed, they’ll get smaller, they’ll get better performing, we’ll be able to package them, but again we wanted to be a footprint that was frankly the standard because you can build a bigger antenna that meets all of those requirements about scan angle at high elevations and things like that, but it added cost, it added time, and it had a big impact on an airplane.”

Stellar Blu Solutions Sidewinder is pictured against a blue backdrop

Stellar Blu’s first generation Sidewinder ESA is single-beam. Image: Stellar Blu Solutions

BAE recently completed its multi-billion dollar acquisition of Ball Aerospace, and with it the modular scalable subarray products in Ball’s portfolio. Stellar Blu uses this tech in its ESA. Rice reckons that Stellar Blu’s future multi-beam aero antenna will have a huge impact “and I think that will be the standard going forward”, he said.


On the sidelines of the APEX TECH event, Rice confided to RGN that Stellar Blu’s goal for the multi-beam ESA will be to retain the same fitment as the current single-beam hardware. That’s an important consideration as Stellar Blu is currently going through the linefit offerability process with Boeing, and has positioned its no-radome ESA as an easily retrofittable solution for aircraft.

In the meantime, BAE continues to evolve the ESA technology “and we continue to take advantage of that and take cost out of our product. The idea here is we’re going to make this as low cost as possible to the airlines,” said Rice.

Other firms bringing multi-orbit, multi-beam ESAs to market include Gilat and Get SAT. The latter has been selected by Safran Passenger Innovations for use in the Ku-band terminal that will be delivered linefit on Airbus aircraft from 2026 as part of the airframer’s supplier-furnished HBCplus program, and which has been categorized as Type 4 by Seamless: hybrid with full GEO coverage.

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