ThinKom partners with Telesat and SES to test Ka-band phased array antenna system

08 November 2018

ThinKom’s ThinAir Ka2517 phased array antenna system will be used for over-the-air testing on Telesat’s LEO satellite over the next few months.

Aero terminal connectivity using ThinKom’s ThinAir Ka2517 phased array antenna system has already been successfully demonstrated using SES’ O3b MEO satellites.

ThinKom Solutions and Telesat will jointly develop a Ka-band enterprise user terminal for Telesat’s planned low Earth orbit (LEO) constellation of satellites.

As an initial step in the process, ThinKom’s ThinAir Ka2517 phased array antenna system will be used for over-the-air testing on Telesat’s phase 1 LEO satellite over the next few months.

Telesat hopes this will validate that ThinKom’s Ka-band aero antennas, which currently operate on geostationary satellites, meet all of its LEO system requirements.

The two companies will then collaborate on the development of a new Telesat LEO-compliant enterprise terminal for terrestrial applications.

They claim the new terminal will be “cost effective” while delivering “high-performance” connectivity for applications including mobile backhaul, Wi-Fi hotspots, isolated cable and DSL networks, and remote institutions.

According to ThinKom chairman and CTO Bill Milroy, his company’s patented phased-array architecture provides rapid switching speeds without the drawbacks typical of electronic scanning antennas in terms of limited instantaneous bandwidth, poor low look-angle performance, high power consumption and lower aperture efficiency.

He says: “Our proven antenna technology has the versatility to support an integrated LEO constellation solution offering gap-free pole-to-pole coverage with automatic beam switching, rapid outage recovery and network optimisation for different geographical regions.

"This means we can offer a fast-track path to commercialisation of a fully interoperable, multi-orbit solution in the near term.”

Canada-based Telesat’s existing space fleet consists of 16 geostationary satellites but in January 2018 it launched a phase 1 LEO satellite that is currently undergoing commissioning and orbit-raising.

The company says its LEO constellation will offer a low latency, high throughput global broadband service with an initial constellation of around 120 satellites planned by 2021.

It claims this will deliver an “unsurpassed” combination of capacity, speed, security, resiliency, latency and low cost. It goes on to boast that its constellation will accelerate 4G/5G expansion, and bridge the digital divide by bringing fibre-like high-speed services into rural and remote communities.

“ThinKom’s new terminal, combined with the revolutionary value proposition of Telesat’s LEO constellation, will unlock new satellite communications market opportunities with better value economics for service providers and their customers,” says Michel Forest, director of engineering, Telesat.

“Easy to deploy, cost effective, and agile beam antenna technology are key requirements for our Telesat LEO constellation, which will be able to allocate bandwidth seamlessly and instantly where it’s most needed.”

In August, ThinKom completed the first ground test of its Ka2517 antenna.

The demo took place at the company’s facility in California in collaboration with SES subsidiary O3b Networks.

It involved a Ka2517 aeronautical antenna mounted on a vehicle that was used to acquire successive O3b MEO satellites at a 13º elevation. ThinKom says its antenna successfully tracked the satellites for 30-minute periods as they traversed from west to east.

ThinKom said the test is a precursor to a flight test, expected to take place before the end of this year.

This will be the first in-flight demo of the company’s antenna communicating through a non-geostationary constellation and aims to show the ability of the system to auto-track and perform seamless beam switching through aircraft roll, pitch and yaw motions.