Render of CesiumAstro active phased array terminals on an Airbus A320 jet. Credit: CesiumAstro

SAN FRANCISCO – CesiumAstro demonstrated its latest Ka-band active phased array terminal with the help of a Hughes software-defined modem and an SES geosynchronous satellite.

“We were able to make a connection in the June-July timeframe on both stationary and mobile platforms,” Shey Sabripour, CesiumAstro founder and CEO, told SpaceNews.  “We were able to livestream webcam footage, surf the internet and stream full motion video – all the things that are required to provide high-throughput in-flight connectivity.”

For the latest demonstration, the CesiumAstro terminal was mounted on a truck. Still, the demonstration was an important milestone on the way to qualifying terminals for commercial and military aircraft, Sabripour said.

The Austin, Texas-based firm won a U.S. Air Force contract in June to develop a phased array antenna for an MQ-9 Reaper drone. Working with Airbus, CesiumAstro also plans to demonstrate its satellite communications terminals on Airbus helicopters and jets.

Multi-Beam, Multi-Orbit

Requirements for in-flight connectivity are challenging. Terminals must be flat and able to track multiple satellites in different orbits from various constellations.

“Connecting with geosynchronous satellites is very different than connecting with satellites in low-Earth orbit,” Sabripour said. “The terminals have to be scalable and as software defined as possible.”

During the recent demonstration, CesiumAstro’s provided communications for a truck with the help of Hughes’ HM400 modem and the SES AMC-15 satellite.

“It was quite an accomplishment for our team to go in 18 months from essentially a sketch to building a product that connected the first time to a GEO satellite,” Sabripour said.

The terminal tested measured 61 centimeters by 61 centimeters and was approximately 10 centimeters thick. In the next iteration, terminals will be about half as thick, said Wayne Phelps, CesiumAstro business development director.

Milestones Ahead

Next, CesiumAstro phased terminals will be sent to SES for testing in Florida with O3b mPower satellites in medium-Earth orbit. Airbus plans to conduct tests in France with a satellite antenna radome mounted on top of CesiumAstro terminals. In addition, CesiumAstro will test its terminal with an Airbus helicopter to ensure the motion of rotor blades does not interfere with performance.

“By the middle of next year, Airbus will test this on a commercial aircraft,” Sabripour said. Testing on General Atomics MQ-9 is also scheduled for 2024.

In addition to in-flight connectivity, CesiumAstro plans to offer phased array terminals for military ground vehicles and, ultimately perhaps, cars.  

“This flat antenna could be built into the connected car of the future,” Sabripour said. “We’re a few years away from that.”

Debra Werner is a correspondent for SpaceNews based in San Francisco. Debra earned a bachelor’s degree in communications from the University of California, Berkeley, and a master’s degree in Journalism from Northwestern University. She...