O3b Enlists Kymeta for Flat-panel Antennas

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PARIS — Startup satellite antenna designer Kymeta Corp. is joining forces with startup satellite broadband provider O3b Networks to design tracking antennas and terminals adapted to O3b’s unusual 8,000-kilometer orbit, the two companies announced Sept. 5.

Redmond, Wash.-based Kymeta employs metamaterial technologies to develop light, thin, flat-panel antennas that the company says represent a significant improvement in antenna technology.

O3b is deploying an initial constellation of 12 satellites with at least eight more likely — and possibly many more after that — in an equatorial orbit that requires user antennas to track the satellites as they pass overhead.

The first four O3b satellites are in orbit. Four more are set for launch in September, with another group of four to launch in 2014. Satellite fleet operator SES of Luxembourg is a major O3b investor. O3b is based in Britain’s Channel Islands.

Industry officials have long said the challenge for O3b is not in space, but on the ground, where fixed and mobile antennas tracking the satellites will need to hold up in occasionally strenuous operating conditions, and to be light and inexpensive enough to be placed on multiple user platforms.

Kymeta and O3b said in their joint statement that they plan to develop a prototype antenna by the end of 2014, “at which point a range of antenna and terminal products with various form factors will be announced.”