Delta, Hughes tout Jupiter connectivity following CRJ200 flight tests


Delta Air Lines and Hughes Network Systems revealed this week at the massive Satellite 2024 conference and exhibition that the Hughes Jupiter inflight connectivity solution was put through its paces aboard a Delta CRJ200. The system saw strong performance results during the flight tests, and after just two ‘witness’ flights, the US major was satisfied, late last year tapping Hughes to provide IFC on over 400 aircraft, including its Boeing 717 fleet and regional jets operated by subsidiary and contract carriers.

“We worked with the Delta Endeavor team to install the equipment on the aircraft in record time. [T]he collaboration was absolutely fabulous,” Hughes vice president Reza Rasoulian explained to Runway Girl Network at Satellite 2024 in Washington D.C.

“And then we performed several flight tests, and the goal was to make sure that we can deliver the customer experience at all phases of flight: ascent, descent, banking, hard banking … we heavily exercised the system, and we were able to demonstrate that the Jupiter platform, the Hughes system, our network, our end-to-end managed service, is resilient, high performance. You know we had hundreds of megabits going to this aircraft. So, we were able to demonstrate that this was the right solution for Delta with again their expectation of a customer experience [that] is a premier experience on board.”

Hughes is technically not new to aero. It is a prominent modem provider and further downstream, from a baseband perspective, it has long been the de facto standard for various high profile satellite constellations. Notably, it has also provided capacity for aero ISPs (for example, it initially powered broadband Internet on Thales’ FlytLIVE rollout at Spirit Airlines).

“[W]e’ve been doing this for such a long time over, you know, 15 years in IFC and you know 20 years if you think about TV to the aircraft [including via Dish, now its sister]. So, there’s a lot of heritage. It’s not our first rodeo, if you will,” noted Rasoulian.

But the satellite operator is a relative newcomer to the direct-to-airline IFC space, last year revealing three new systems for operators: Hughes LEO-only, supporting Eutelsat OneWeb’s Ku-band LEO satellite service, as enabled by Hughes’ electronically steerable antenna; Hughes Jupiter In-Flight, a high-throughput Ka-band GEO-now focused product in the Americas and beyond (with a path to Ka-band MEO and LEO in the future) using the popular ThinKom Solutions Ka2517 VICTS antenna or, for regional jets, ThinKom’s smaller Ka1717 (with Hughes’ Jupiter auxiliary modem unit); and, a Hughes Jupiter Fusion product whereby Hughes blends Ka-band GEO with OneWeb Ku-band LEO services in a multi-band, multi-orbit hybrid using the ThinAir Plus architecture.

In November 2023, Hughes announced that Delta selected the GEO-now-focused Hughes Jupiter In-flight solution, using Ka1717, for the 717 and RJ fleets. The kit, which also features Hughes’ In-flight management system and wireless access points on board the aircraft, will access Hughes JUPITER Ka-band GEO satellite capacity, it said. But within very short order, rumors started swirling in industry that the OneWeb ESA might also be in play for at least a portion of the Delta project.

When RGN sought comment from Hughes on 15 November 2023, no response was forthcoming. And indeed Hughes has stayed consistently mum about its contractual agreement with Delta, despite our latest best efforts this week at Satellite 2024. However, Hughes COO Paul Gaske and Delta managing director inflight entertainment & connectivity Glenn Latta hinted this week during a conference session that the Hughes Fusion product might be in play, possibly for the 717s, with both executives touting the benefits of multi-orbit IFC in the context of the Delta project.

“If you look at it today, there’s really three orbits to work with,” said Gaske. “It used to be just one, the geosynchronous orbit, now you have a LEO orbit and a MEO orbit. So for us, the evolution is how do you blend those orbits together. How do you bring services that are tailored to the requirement of the particular passenger set and how do you do that? So in our case, we have our JUPITER fleet, which is a GEO fleet. We have a great partner in OneWeb, where we provide ground system and terminals to them and their customers and we also operate on SES’ mPOWER.”

Delta, Hughes and moderator in stage at SatShow.Gaske continued, “So we have the ability through our technology now to operate on all three platforms. So we think as time goes on you’ll see more and more of that blending. We have a technology which we have today in our consumer enterprise market called Fusion which actually is an intelligent technology that allows us to pick the best route across the three orbits for a given piece of traffic, so we think all of that comes together over time here to increase the passenger experience for the ultimate broadband connection, as Delta is trying to do.”


Asked by Via Satellite‘s Jeffrey Hill if multi-orbit is a game-changer, Delta’s Latta said: “If you ask, is low latency better than high latency? That’s an easy answer. But I think you’ve got to look at the holistic experience and make sure, in all phases of the flight, in all aspects of use of the Internet, can you still truly deliver your designed experience? And I think that’s the challenge is, to look at those options and to blend, combine and deliver.” A photo of the CRJ200 (at top), shared during the Satellite 2024 conference session, appears to show a larger radome hump on the jet. But RGN can now confirm that the larger radome/fairing used for the Ka1717 Delta CRJ200 flight test was unique for the flight test and is not what is being used for production.

It’s important to note that Hughes Jupiter In-Flight is also able to support multi-orbit when SES’ MEO-based IFC service is ready for revenue service in aero.

Irrespective of whether Hughes Jupiter In-Flight and/or Hughes Jupiter Fusion is employed, Delta has high expectations for the service including that it support free inflight Wi-Fi as part of its Delta Sync program. Latta confided on stage that Delta delivered “very difficult requirements” to Hughes in terms of platform weight “and we innovated that together and we ultimately tested that on one of our aircraft.”

We expect this experience to be just like the experience we offer on our mainline aircraft but in a smaller package to support the constraints of our regional, 717 fleet.

Viasat powers IFC on most Delta mainline aircraft, supporting Delta Sync.

Hughes, meanwhile, will ultimately secure the supplemental type certificates for equipping Delta’s 717s, RJs, and indeed other aircraft types. “So for all aircraft types, they’re our STCs,” Rasoulian revealed to RGN. He is confident that Hughes-going-direct in IFC will finally consistently deliver a living room experience in the sky, which “requires a holistic end-to-end view and that’s, I think, why we’re different with what we’re doing, not only are we taking a holistic end-to-end view, but because we’re a technology solutions developer and manufacturer of the satellite baseband technology, the modem technology, and also the service technology, which is a really important piece.

“So being a managed service provider is not trivial. I mean there’s a lot that goes into managing the bits and the bytes that need to get to the passenger. And you know, we have such a great legacy of doing this for others and when we decided to to go direct, that was one of the ‘aha’ moments. It’s like well, we are the premier managed service provider in so many different spaces. We’re enabling partners to serve the airlines but we still hear complaints. So it’s like okay, you know what, let’s just flip this model and Delta is a fantastic partner. They have great ideas. We have great ideas and you know we have no baggage.”