Microwave Journal

OneWeb & Stellar Blu Deliver LEO In-flight Connectivity on Boeing 777 Test Flight

June 14, 2022

OneWeb with commercial aviation terminal partner Stellar Blu Solutions achieved a significant milestone on May 28, when it successfully delivered high speed, low latency in-flight low Earth orbit (LEO) satellite connectivity to a commercial airliner. Stellar Blu has partnered with antenna technology provider Ball Aerospace to incorporate its electronically steered arrays into the terminal solution. This collaboration realized breakthrough performance on OneWeb’s LEO network. The new Stellar Blu platform, known as “Sidewinder,” will continue flight testing through the remainder of 2022, with a target for certification and availability in mid-2023. 

This first test flight was conducted aboard a Boeing B777-200LR and took off from Fort Worth Alliance Airport (KAFW), in Texas on May 27 at 15:20 UTC and flew for just over one hour delivering the game-changing connectivity experience. 

This test flight validates not only the installation and integration of the aircraft terminal, but underscores the performance of the antenna technology, and verifies the reliability of the connectivity during taxi, take-off, landing and typical aircraft flight manoeuvres. As with any test flight, the assessment of performance reviewed expected parameters against vendor specifications, while also instrumenting and verifying on-aircraft impact and operating characteristics.

The Test Flight Crew simultaneously demonstrated the ability to connect Teams calls, 4K YouTube streaming, Netflix, online VR gaming and Nintendo Switch gaming, among other structured performance tests. Maximum speeds of 260 Mbps download/80 upload and file transfer scenarios of 5 GB demonstrated in approximately 20 seconds. All while operating at well under 100 ms of network latency.

Commenting on the successful test flight, Ben Griffin, vice president Mobility said: “This test flight represents a fantastic milestone for OneWeb. Broadband in-flight connectivity, delivered to a commercial aircraft via LEO satellites and an electrically steered antenna is now—finally—a reality. Together with our partners Stellar Blu and technology from Ball Aerospace, we are now well and truly on our way to delivering consistently reliable, game-changing, affordable in-flight connectivity to commercial aviation users everywhere.

“This successful flight test demonstrates the power, not only of the OneWeb network, but our industry focused and partnership-led approach to the design, development and deployment of ground-breaking technologies to connect commercial aviation. A solution designed for the aviation industry, by the aviation industry”

This maiden flight represented the culmination of several months' collaboration between Stellar Blu, OneWeb and Ball Aerospace including ground trials and flight tests. Their goal is to achieve certification in mid-2023.

The Sidewinder terminal is ARINC 791 compliant to ease integration on commercial aircraft, with a smaller form factor option for installation on regional jets and single-aisle airliners.

Tracy Trent, Stellar Blu CEO, commented, “This initial testing is more about the integration of the components and accomplishing a safe installation on the aircraft, versus proving the connectivity functionality. That said, we are delighted by the performance of the terminal during the test flight. OneWeb is changing the reality of in-flight connectivity now and for the future. Our antenna will harness the power of OneWeb’s LEO constellation to deliver high-speed, low latency, globally consistent and reliable connectivity for every passenger, without conflict or compromise. We are very confident the Sidewinder terminal will present operators with a purpose-built aviation solution, delivering new breakthroughs for passenger experience, and redefining aircraft operating expectations for reliability and maintainability.”  

Based on the electronically steered antenna technology developed by Ball Aerospace, the terminal is significantly, lower profile, lighter and smaller than existing aviation antennas.  It will enable airlines to connect their aircraft, passengers and crew over OneWeb’s LEO satellite communication network. OneWeb expects this to be a key differentiator as airlines initially embrace and become confident in the benefits and performance of its new LEO technologies.