Communications company, OneWeb, has signed a joint development agreement (JDA) with GDC Advanced Technology to collaborate on the development of a new inflight connectivity terminal that will enable airlines to connect their aircraft, passengers, and crew over OneWeb’s Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellite communication network.
The relationship, announced at APEX Expo, builds upon 18 months of research completed in partnership with satellite operators and what they describe as “one of the industry’s leading airlines”. The agreement includes development of installation certification (STCs) for several aircraft types, and pursuit of line-fit offers with major airframe manufacturers (OEMs).
The terminal will be based on the electronically steered antenna technology developed by Ball Aerospace, which has already undergone early lab and ground testing at GDC’s facilities in Fort Worth, Texas, and will be modified to deliver the benefits of OneWeb’s LEO constellation, including high throughput and low latency. The partners expect the terminal to be certified in 2023.
The terminal will initially be available in two sizes: a conventional ARINC 791 for larger commercial airliners, and a smaller installation suitable for regional jets, single aisle and business aviation platforms.
The GDC terminals for OneWeb are compact and lightweight, with an attenuated aerodynamic profile for low drag – virtually no drag, according to GDC.. The antenna is sealed and contains no moving parts, which improves reliability and reduces the risk of fluid ingress. The system is designed for ease of maintainability, with just four simple Line Replacement Units (LRUs), any of which can be replaced in less than 30 minutes.
The terminals have also been engineered to allow airlines to deploy a hybrid LEO/GEO connectivity setup. OneWeb expects this to be a key differentiator as the initial airline customers for LEO technologies become more confident in their performance.
Tracy Trent, president of GDC Advanced Technology stated, “We were thrilled by the performance of the terminal during ground testing earlier this year. The terminal was able to unlock the full capabilities of the OneWeb network. We are on track to have the system airborne in early 2022 and continue the path to certification, implementation, and ultimately to bring this game-changing technology to our aviation customers and their passengers in 2023.”
Initial flight testing of the terminal on a Boeing 777 is scheduled for Q1 2022.