DN - Defence Notes

Starling strikes gold at last

18th October 2008 - 00:00 GMT | by The Shephard News Team

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ONE of the longest-running stories in the broadband connectivity saga has come to a satisfactory conclusion for Starling Advanced Communications, which has seen its antenna technology selected for the eXconnect Ku-band satellite service that Panasonic plans to launch next year.

Filling in the details behind an announcement by Starling parent company Elron last month (Inflight Online, September 26), the Californian-based IFE leader says it has awarded a multi-year contract to EMS Technologies, Starling’s US partner. Atlanta-based EMS Technologies’ Defence and Space Systems Division will supply an antenna designated Aura-LE for installation on the aircraft of customer airlines.

EMS Technologies unveiled a range of new Ku-band antennas at last month’s WAEA show in Long Beach. Based on Starling’s existing MIJET selection of market-ready and in-development mechanically steered phased arrays, they are designated Aura 1P-A, Aura 1P-B and Aura 3P. It must be assumed that Aura-LE for Panasonic is one of these or otherwise very closely related.

The single-panel Aura 1P-A is designed as a lightweight, low-profile package to meet the needs of regional carriers. Aura 1P-B also has a single panel, but shaped differently to offer greater performance for regional and international carriers. Both are still in development. The larger, three-panel Aura 3P offers the maximum in data rates for regional and worldwide carriers. It is fully developed and commercially available.

Starling’s MIJET family comprises the original MIJET for long-haul airliners, mini-MIJET for business aircraft and MIJETLite for narrowbody airliners. In their modified and rebranded Aura guise the antennas combine Starling’s phased array and radio-frequency elements with an EMS positioner to physically tilt and rotate the array. The eXconnect version will also incorporate Panasonic-developed antenna adapter provision designed to avoid expensive downtime by facilitating system installation in the aircraft over a number of standard overnight stops.

Panasonic’s eXConnect service is due to be introduced by a North American carrier in the first half of next year. As well as the EMS/Starling aircraft antenna, it is based on leased satellite capacity from Intelsat and bandwidth management technology from Virginia-based telecoms equipment manufacturer iDirect that is designed to support a range of services besides Internet access over the same link.

“We believe our solution provides significantly better performance than other Ku-band aeronautical systems in the more difficult regions of the world like North America and the area between the tropics without causing adjacent satellite interference,” says Panasonic. “Our antenna installs more quickly, consumes less power, needs less maintenance, and is cheaper to acquire and operate than previous comparable systems. And our scalable approach will allow us to increase network capacity as demand grows.”

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