Thales/Get SAT ESA-based Safran Ku-band terminal for Airbus HBCplus, mounted on the wall at Safran's AIX 2024 booth

Safran Ku ESA terminal for Airbus to ensure gate-to-gate IFC with 5G


The Thales/Get SAT dual-beam Ku-band electronically steered antenna (ESA) selected by Safran Passenger Innovations for Airbus’ linefit, supplier-furnished HBCplus inflight connectivity program contains a few more components than the program’s ThinKom Solutions VICTS-based Ka-band terminal, including notably a 5G solution that will ensure gate-to-gate connectivity can be accommodated even if the Ku ESA overheats on the ground in very hot weather.

Adding further credence to the long-standing argument that passively cooled multi-orbit ESAs will face challenges delivering connectivity on the ground in very hot climates, Safran Passenger Innovations vice president of products and strategy Ben Asmar told RGN at the Aircraft Interiors Expo in reference to HBCplus that:

The Ka system has about five LRUs, the antenna itself, the Modman, and there’s other components like KANDUs, KRFUs and other things that actually convert signal to make the Internet work for passengers.

On the Ku side there’s a few extra components. Because we’re supporting the OneWeb LEO network from the outset, there is also a OneWeb modem installed which is separate to the GEO. (LEO modem closer to the antenna, RGN asked? “Correct”.)

And there’s something a little bit unique as well, on top of OneWeb, there’s also a 5G modem that sits in there as well that allows us to do gate-to-gate operations in very hot climates.

There’s no secret that the challenges around ESAs are cooling so to overcome that, rather than putting a very complicated active cooling system in, we have a 5G solution that sits there that will cut in if the terminal does get too hot and needs to shut down.

So, it means we can still achieve gate-to-gate without complexity and weight and all the other things that come with active cooling systems.

(Incidentally, Gilat spoke about using 4G/5G alongside its multi-beam ESA to support gate-to-gate connectivity at the Satellite 2024 exhibition in Washington D.C.)

Airbus HBCplus is a disruptive force in that it sees Airbus offer the Safran Passenger Innovations-provided Ka- and Ku-band terminals as supplier furnished equipment, and uncouples the hardware from the service, enabling airlines to switch bandwidth suppliers (known as managed service providers) without changing the hardware.

Initial HBCplus deliveries will facilitate broadband Ka satellite-based onboard Internet for passengers, using a Safran terminal based on ThinKom Solutions’ ThinAir Ka2517 VICTS hardware, with Emirates serving as launch customer on its forthcoming new A350s. MSPs on the Ka-band side of the program are Viasat, SES GEO/MEO multi-orbit, and Hughes Network Systems, the latter under a new MOU with Airbus. The Thales/Get SAT Ku-band dual-beam ESA, meanwhile, is expected to be available for linefit in 2026, with Intelsat and Panasonic Avionics serving as MSPs, providing their respective Eutelsat OneWeb Low Earth Orbit (LEO) + geostationary (GEO) satellite services.

When Safran receives the Ka VICTS antenna from ThinKom or the Ku ESA hardware from Thales/Get SAT, it serves as the systems integrator, pulling all the parts together, certifying it to go on the aircraft, then obviously delivering it to Airbus and providing support.

Though the two HBCplus systems differ, one is a mechanically steered phased array, the other electronically steered, there are also some similarities between the two packages, with the aim of making it easier for operators to ultimately switch between bands under the program if they so choose. For example, in both instances, a cross-compatible adapter plate will be mounted to the top of the aircraft. And both terminals will also have a radome, even though first-generation ESAs on the market have eschewed radomes.

Explaining the driver behind using a radome for the Ku-band ESA being used for HBCplus, Asmar said:

A lot of people are talking about non-radome applications for Ku ESA terminals. Where we’re at right now is we’re trying to drive interchangeability so if you selected Ka and at some point in the future you do want to move to Ku, the adapter plates are compatible with both systems. So, to do that, we had to actually select a radome-type solution to get that adaptability.

So, we figured that the interchangeability was a much more attractive proposition than having a radome-less Ku solution, where we already got excellent height on the radome so we’re really saving on drag in any case with retaining that radome. So, it comes down to tradeoffs; what do we want to try to achieve? I think if it were a Ku LEO-only solution then yeah, a solution without a radome is appropriate.

While Asmar reckons that radome-free ESAs are “good for particular applications”, it “just doesn’t make sense for us” given “what we’re trying to do with full interchangeability”.

As mentioned, Eutelsat OneWeb’s unique LEO-specific aero modem configuration will be accommodated under HBCplus (with the Hughes-manufactured LEO modem sitting inside the aircraft but not in the E&E avionics bay). Both the Ka- and Ku- sides of the program will feature a Dual-Modem Modman in the E&E bay. For Ka, this configuration ensures, for example, that the SES multi-orbit GEO/MEO service can be accommodated from the get-go. For Ku, the GEO modem in the bay will obviously be capable of supporting the GEO side of the different Panasonic and Intelsat configurations (and enable a fairly easy swap between the two).

“I don’t know that we’ll get a OneWeb modem down there [in the bay] any time soon. I think there is still some considerable work to do to make that happen. But in terms of the interchangeability between Intelsat and Panasonic, we certainly will have that dual capability,” said Asmar of the ease of using the Dual-Modem Modman.


A Dual-Modem Modman configuration for Ku also ensures that Airbus is ready should Eutelsat OneWeb ultimately be able to facilitate a more remote modem in the bay, for example with its Gen 2 constellation.

In any case, having this kind of HBCplus configuration initially for the Ku-band side of the program might also grease the skids for other LEO network operators to join as managed service providers. If, for example, SpaceX Starlink were willing to slide in as an MSP, with Ku LEO, could it be accommodated with something similar to the Eutelsat OneWeb modem configuration in the near term, RGN asked?

“Agree,” said Asmar. “That’s up to Starlink. You can tell them we’re ready.”

“That would be a great solution,” he continued in reference to Starlink. “The benefit of agnostic is you can switch between providers based on the available ones that are out there. So, the more we can get on to support it, the better it is for the customers selecting HBCplus.” Whether SpaceX will play ball remains to be seen.

To date, Boeing has taken a different approach than Airbus. “You have to think that they’ll want to take this direction at some point,” suggested Asmar in reference to Boeing.

“For us,” he added, “this has been a goal for SPI for about a decade to have agnostic connectivity. Doing that by ourselves into the market is difficult. It really takes a partnership with someone like Airbus to make that happen. They’ve got the size and the scale and the ability to dictate what goes on their airframes. Then it becomes a partnership that then supports what they want to achieve technically. And then we get to a point where the market now has a very attractive solution for interchangeable connectivity which has never been done before.”

Related Articles:

Featured image credited to Mary Kirby