Telesat is looking to forge multiple aircraft antenna partnerships to support aero service via its forthcoming global Ka-band LEO constellation, Lightspeed. The company says it is open to both electronically steered and mechanically steered hardware.
For the aviation market, the Canadian satellite operator views commercial mainline aircraft as one track, while a separate track covers both regional aircraft and business jets. Given that the characteristics for each are quite different, Telesat expects to agree at least two antenna partnerships per track, company director, product and commercial Manik Vinnakota tells Runway Girl Network.
“And the reason for that,” he says, “is we don’t want to dictate only a single solution to the market.”
Notably, Vinnakota says the hardware “doesn’t have to be ESA”. Options on the table include pure mechanical gimbaled antennas, ThinKom’s unique VICTS antenna, as well as ESAs. And indeed, Telesat is seeing that even with mechanical antennas, “the overall connectivity to the passenger is not affected”, he says. To wit, Global Eagle in 2018 successfully tested its Qest-made, mechanically steered Ka-band antenna over Telesat’s Phase 1 LEO satellite.
“[W]e serve a lot of the aero service providers today and all of them have been working on antenna systems that could be compatible to the Lightspeed network,” says Vinnakota. The Canadian firm is helping the value chain with the antenna certification process, adds the Telesat executive.
Telesat has also been working with a broad array of antenna suppliers including those with products already in the market, and some potentially new ESA architectures. SatixFy – whose ESA-based terminal has been selected by OneWeb for commercial aviation – is one of the firms, confirms Vinnakota.
Separately, Telesat in March announced an agreement with SatixFy that gives it early access to SatixFy’s second-generation Sx3099 modem chip. The agreement will see the two firms demonstrate advanced modem designs for both landing stations and user terminals for Lightspeed. Testing has already begun, with both parties overall making very good progress.
Based on industry standard waveforms, the chip itself is not exclusive to Telesat, but “all the work we will do to customize the chip, that part will be proprietary”, explains Vinnakota.
Earlier this year, Telesat announced the selection of Thales Alenia Space as the prime manufacturer of its global LEO constellation, which will comprise 298 Ka-band satellites. At that time, it said commencement of full satellite construction activities – and the final constellation deployment schedule – are subject to, and conditional upon, the progress of the financing for the program. By mid-February, the Government of Québec had agreed to invest $400 million in Lightspeed.
Telesat has also announced that, together with Telesat LLC as co-issuer, it intends to issue $500 million of senior secured notes due 2026. It will use the net proceeds from the proposed offering “to fund additional investment into one or more unrestricted subsidiaries for the development of Telesat Lightspeed”.
Satellite construction involves similar automated manufacturing processes as other operators, says Vinnakota, and construction will be on a scale of roughly one satellite per day. Commercial service is expected to commence in late 2023.
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