ThinKom, Phasor, C-Com hit antenna milestones • Hughes, Inmarsat gain India IFC approvals

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Antenna builder ThinKom and fleet operator Inmarsat recently announced the completion of a series of tests using ThinKom antennas and Inmarsat’s high-throughput Global Xpress satellites. The first involved a ThinAir Ka2517 phased-array antenna mounted on Scaled Composites’ Proteus high-altitude, long-endurance aircraft. The test demonstrated 25 Mbps downlink and 5 Mbps uplink at an altitude of more than 15,000 meters. A second test using the same type of flat-panel antenna mounted on a truck showed 185 Mbps downlinks and 35 Mbps uplinks. ThinKom said it has the first production units of the antenna in service today aboard U.S. government aircraft. [ThinKom]

Antenna startup Phasor and in-flight connectivity provider Gogo have agreed to jointly market an electronically steered antenna for the commercial aviation market. The companies partnered on flat, electronically steered antennas in 2016, and have reached their “initial core-technology performance objectives,” Phasor said. Gogo CEO Oakleigh Thorne cited the antenna’s “multi-constellation capabilities and form factor” as some reasons for the company’s interest in working with Phasor. Thorne said Gogo sees several potential applications for Phasor antennas, starting with connecting small commercial aviation aircraft. [Phasor]

Internet-of-Things constellation startup Kepler Communications and Canadian terminal builder C-Com also demonstrated new satellite links, but using a dish antenna. The test, announced April 2, connected Kepler’s two demonstration cubesats KIPP and CASE using C-Com’s iNetVu FLY-981 Ku-band terminal. Kepler and C-Com demonstrated 100 Mbps downlink and 30 Mbps uplink. C-Com said it developed tracking algorithms so that its motorized dish antenna could follow Kepler’s satellites in low Earth orbit. Leslie Klein, C-Com’s CEO, told SpaceNews the test only used one dish antenna because of the advanced tracking algorithm. C-Com is also working with the University of Waterloo on a flat, electronically steered antenna that could track satellites without motorized parts. [C-Com]

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ArianeGroup will supply 10 reflectors for Eutelsat’s twin HotBird satellites. The company, a joint venture of Airbus and Safran known for building rockets, cited modernizing its antenna reflector manufacturing line at Les Mureaux, France, as a reason for the contract win. ArianeGroup said it will deliver the reflectors to Airbus Defence and Space, Eutelsat’s manufacturer for the Hotbird-13F and -13G satellites, by 2020. The satellites are scheduled to launch in 2021. [ArianeGroup]

Aireon announced Tuesday it had started commercial operations of its aircraft tracking service that uses space-based sensors. Air traffic regulators in Canada and the U.K. have started trials with Aireon’s service, initially focused on tracking aircraft over the North Atlantic Ocean. Aireon is offering global aircraft tracking services using sensors on Iridium’s next-generation satellite system. Aireon CEO Don Thoma said he expects the company to be cash flow positive by next year. [SpaceNews]

Inmarsat is now able to provide its Ka- and L-band communications services to aviation and maritime customers in India after its local partner BSNL received a license from India’s Department of Telecommunications. Inmarsat said it and BSNL should be able to start services later this year after ground infrastructure needed to support the services is approved and built. The license enables Inmarsat and BSNL to connect Indian airlines, foreign airlines flying through Indian airspace and shipping companies in Indian waters. [Inmarsat]

Hughes, having also secured a license to provide in-flight connectivity in India this month, intends to do so using two satellites from SES — SES-9 and NSS-12 — and the Indian space agency ISRO’s GSAT-16. Those three satellites have coverage of India in Ku-band. Going forward, Hughes is interested in using Ka-band satellites in order to bring larger amounts of capacity at a lower cost, according to Shivaji Chatterjee, senior vice president of Hughes Communications India Ltd. Chatterjee said Hughes doesn’t intend to pursue airlines directly as customers, but will seek to work with in-flight connectivity providers like Thales, Gogo, Panasonic Avionics and Global Eagle Entertainment. [Runway Girl Network]

Two companies announced Monday a partnership to better track orbital debris. ExoAnalytic, a company that operates a network of ground-based telescopes, said it will work with NorthStar Earth and Space, which is planning a constellation with sensors to track orbital debris. The companies said last week’s ASAT test by India highlighted growing concerns about space debris, although ExoAnalytic noted it wasn’t currently tracking any debris from that test, citing a lack of a business case to support it. [SpaceNews]

Small launch vehicle developer Vector is pushing back its first orbital launch because of changes in its development plan. The company now expects to perform a suborbital test flight of its Vector-R rocket in June, followed by its first orbital launch attempt before the end of the year. The company said it decided to skip an intermediate test that would have been able to place a very small payload into orbit but would have been “a dead-end configuration.” Two months ago, Vector said it expected to perform its first orbital launch in August, with up to four launches by the end of the year. [Ars Technica]

SpaceNews Senior Staff Writer Jeff Foust contributed to this newsletter.