These terminals will provide high speed, reliable broadband connectivity for regional, narrow and wide body aircraft and are optimized for LEO networks but are compatible with multi-orbit constellations, including various LEO, MEO and GEO configurations.
The terminals use Ball Aerospace’s modular, scalable subarray products that implement electronically steered arrays (ESA), which are essential to realize the breakthrough performance on LEO networks. Stellar Blu is developing the aircraft integration package and internal avionics to support LEO, MEO and GEO networks at Ku-band.
ESA terminals are ideal for mobile applications, especially in-flight communications and connectivity. The speed at which aircraft move requires an antenna that can instantaneously move beams to ensure that it’s always pointing at the satellite. The Stellar Blu terminal will assure operators a “purpose built” aviation solution capable of meeting the diverse airline use cases, reliability and maintainability necessary for a “gate-to-gate” experience.
“Fast, secure and reliable in-air connectivity has been sought after for years and this new product puts us closer than ever to achieving this goal,” said Dr. Jacob Sauer, vice president and general manager, Tactical Solutions, Ball Aerospace. “The lightweight ESA terminals meet airlines’ budgetary requirements and, more importantly, their technological needs including size, weight and power requirements.”
“We are pleased to formally announce our relationship with Ball Aerospace,” said Tracy Trent, CEO of Stellar Blu. “This announcement builds upon over two years of collaboration with airlines, network operators and a network of maintenance, repair and operations partners. We are excited to move to the production phase with Ball and our other partners, with a singular focus of product availability early next year.”
By leveraging Flex’s global supply-chain organization and experience manufacturing complex communications products, Ball will be able to provide these advanced satellite-based mobile communications solutions at an affordable price.
The subarrays are the building blocks for Ball’s family of ESA’s to address the growing SATCOM market. The units are fully electronic, have no moving parts or special materials, and are modular, allowing customers to meet their design and cost requirements. This architecture leverages Flex’s advanced manufacturing infrastructure and assembly processes, simplifying the production ramp and resulting in cost-effective manufacturing.
The rapid growth of proliferated Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satcom constellations and the focus of Geostationary Earth Orbit (GEO) satellite networks on mobile communications are driving demand for antenna technologies that can connect to these networks. Multiple advancements give ESA terminals key advantages over other antennas in this environment: Their low-profile, small size and light weight makes ESAs ideal for moving platforms such as trains, planes, trucks and ships. The arrays are electronically steered, which means they can instantaneously track and connect with multiple satellites, regardless of how quickly a platform changes direction. The antenna is interoperable across networks, supporting GEO, MEO and LEO satellites. With no moving parts, phased array antennas provide long-term reliability with lower maintenance costs.
To lower the cost of this technology, Ball Aerospace designed a modular ESA solution called a subarray. These building blocks are optimized by frequency band for size, weight and power, as well as for manufacturability. Flex has the capabilities and infrastructure required to insert the subarrays directly into its existing production lines, minimizing setup time and costs.
“Government and commercial users have the same needs: affordable, reliable and secure broadband connectivity everywhere, from passenger jets flying at 30,000 ft. to tactical vehicles crossing hostile territory. The ideal technology to meet these needs exists in the form of ESAs, but the price was too high to spur wide adoption,” said Jake Sauer, vice president and general manager, Tactical Solutions, Ball Aerospace. “By leveraging Flex’s high volume manufacturing experience, we can now provide more affordable solutions to both military and commercial customers.”
“At Flex, we are committed to supporting the growth of the Low Earth Orbit (LEO) marketplace and we are proud to be collaborating with Ball to bring its ESA subarrays to market,” said Dennis Kirkpatrick, vice president of global sales, Flex. “As Ball’s partner in this new space, we have already shipped the initial units and continue to support the ramp to production with our experience manufacturing complex communications products. Our Austin manufacturing facility is well suited to meet the high-quality requirements of the ESA subarrays.”