Steering a New Course (IFC Antenna Developments)
Below are a few excerpts from Inflight Magazine’s Nov/Dec 2022 article, “Steering a New Course” in which Emma Kelly discusses the latest developments in IFC antenna technology, including in conversations with ThinKom executives. (The article starts on p. 37 and is available to subscribers.)
While the flat-panel ESA has been around for decades, benefiting military users, their cost has been prohibitive to commercial users, despite the obvious appeal of their low-profile, small size and low weight, ability to instantaneously move beams to a satellite, and to connect with GEO, MEO and LEO satellites.
The company’s [ThinKom’s] Chief Technology Officer, Bill Milroy, says: ‘The ESAs are getting smaller and more capable, while reducing their power draw, but we think those ESAs – due to fundamental cost, power and size constraints – are likely going to be practical to deliver acceptable performance only on LEO, not GEO, constellations. It’s simply not realistic to make ESAs large enough to close links on GEO at an efficient rate, at least not with the performance levels required for in-flight.’
‘Furthermore, ESAs are promoted as being highly reliable due to their lack of moving parts, but they require significantly more power and generate a lot of heat,’ which Milroy notes is ‘a leading cause of electronic equipment failure.’
‘We’ve been flying in the commercial aviation market since 2015,’ says Greg Otto [ThinKom VP Sales and Marketing]. We’ve had a lot of time to test and validate the performance of our VICTS system across satellite networks, aircraft types and integrators.’
‘The rapid beam agility of the VICTS enables rapid switching between setting and rising satellites. This is especially important on LEO constellations that require switching every few minutes.’ – Otto
The Ka2517 has been successfully flight-tested with the O3b MEO; GEO systems with Inmarsat, Hughes, Thales and SES; successfully linked with Telesat’s test LEO satellite; and is approved for Inmarsat’s HEO satellites.
‘We’re confident that our products will work on any and all of these constellations as they come online,’ says Milroy. ‘Choosing our technology means that airlines don’t need a technology refresh in three to five years, even if they switch providers.’