Phasor sets 2018 release for electronically steered antenna

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WASHINGTON — Satellite antenna startup Phasor Solutions has completed full system testing of its electronically steered, phased-array antenna, and is now preparing for commercial release next year.

David Helfgott, CEO of Phasor, told SpaceNews field testing remains as the only major milestone, which involves partners trialing the antennas in various mobile environments.

“We are planning for beta testing around the availability of our partners,” Helfgott said. “We plan to get that done this year and launch our product at the successful conclusion, which I expect would be as early as early 2018 or as late as Q2 2018 depending on the length of the beta test.”

Headquartered in Washington with a research hub in London, Phasor has designed a thin flat-panel antenna system that uses software to eliminate the need for mechanical systems, such as steering motors, pedestals and large, protective radome covers. The antenna’s core module is 2.5 centimeters thick, and the full terminal measures 6.4 centimeters thick when encapsulated with a radome. The company has been working on the antenna for around seven years.

Satellite industry observers have highlighted low-cost, electronically steered antennas as essential to unlocking a sizably larger customer base. Not unlike Kymeta, whose electronically steered antenna first started shipping this June, Phasor’s antennas have attracted several industry partners interested in testing the product and potentially fielding it to customers.

Fleet operator Intelsat, inflight connectivity provider Gogo and maritime connectivity providers OmniAccess and Harris CapRock all have partnered with Phasor on its antenna. Helfgott said Phasor has several other industry partners not yet announced.

Phasor’s antenna is at Technology Readiness Level-7, or TRL-7, on NASA’s one to nine scale for gauging a technology’s maturity, meaning prototype trials have been completed. Helfgott said Phasor tested its antennas using Intelsat’s satellite fleet. Phasor’s final testing is expected to occur over the coming months.

Mobility applications mainly involving connected vehicles — aircraft, ships and trains — are Phasor’s primary markets, Helfgott said.

“Our first product is Ku-based. We will have a Ka-version to follow that in the future. The Ku-band product will first launch in maritime, then land-mobile, and then in aeronautical sequentially over the course of 2018 and into 2019,” he said.

The company’s modular antennas can conform to surfaces, such as the fuselage of an aircraft, and can be pieced together to generate large throughputs. Phasor says the price of its antenna is similar to a high-performance mechanically steered antenna.

Phasor bills its antenna as easier to install than parabolic VSATs, or Very Small Aperture Terminals, and less likely to break because of how it lacks moving parts. Regarding throughput, Helfgott said the antenna can downlink data at the same rate as a parabolic dish so long as the antenna apertures are the same size, and can surpass parabolic antennas on uplink data rates.

Helfgott said the antenna can also track multiple independent satellite beams, making it capable of tracking between the spot beams of high-throughput satellites and connecting with satellites in different orbits simultaneously. This feature has the attention of several low-Earth orbit (LEO) satellite telecom startups, he said.

“We are talking to all of the major LEO operators,” Helfgott said. “Some of them we are in very advanced-stage discussions — I can’t disclose that yet — and some are fairly introductory. That covers a range of different missions. Some of these LEOs have wideband communications satellite network missions. Some of them are narrow-band burst-data [Internet of Things] types of applications. Some are even geospatial intelligence and they still need phased-array antennas for up and downlink, including auto-acquire and tracking functionality.”

Helfgott said he is not concerned about being second to market behind Redmond, Washington-based Kymeta, for whom Intelsat is bundling antennas with satellite capacity contracts in a product called KyWay. Intelsat and Sky Perfect Jsat have both invested in Kymeta, and fleet operators Inmarsat, O3b Networks and Telesat have all done antenna research with the company. Rather, Helfgott believes Kymeta’s success should buoy Phasor along the way.

“We want to see Kymeta succeed, and to disprove the naysayers,” Helfgott said. “We feel it is good for the product category.”

Helfgott said Phasor has raised $25 million since forming, which included a Series A funding round. The company has a Series B expected to close later this summer that Helfgott said will likely be oversubscribed. He declined to say the amount Phasor raised in its Series A or is pursuing for its Series B.