Satcom Direct is readying release this year of its first two Plane Simple satellite communication antennas, bringing lower-cost high-speed connectivity options to a wider array of airframes. The SD Plane Simple Ku antenna, slated for June introduction, will provide connectivity via Intelsat’s broadband Ku-band satellite service. Meanwhile, the SD Plane Simple Certus LEO antenna, coming in the fourth quarter, will access Iridium’s new Next low earth orbit (LEO) L-band constellation and its high-speed Certus service. Satcom Direct president Chris Moore called the pair “exciting, milestone products.”
A longtime authorized service reseller of its satcom services, Iridium named Florida-based Satcom Direct an authorized hardware OEM two years ago, and Satcom Direct unveiled the Plane Simple line of modular, agnostic, open-architecture antennas in February 2020. These and forthcoming Plane Simple antennas will be comprised of two line replaceable units, including the SDR Gateway 2.0 router, which integrates the modem, and the antenna. As the portfolio’s name implies, the products are designed to be simple to onboard, reducing associated costs. “We’ve been conscious to minimize the invasiveness of installations,” Moore said.
Supplemental type certificate approvals for a variety of aircraft are in development for both systems and will be available at product release.
The Certus LEO antenna will be among the first connectivity options providing access to Iridium’s Next LEO constellation, offering high-speed connectivity aboard airframes from turboprop singles and larger. The small form factor fuselage-mounted antenna will also be the first Certus high-gain antenna, providing a more focused beam and better connectivity than available from low-gain antennas. Meeting Iridium’s performance requirements for Class H2 systems, the antenna will support the highest current and future Certus data rates.
The new Iridium core digital and radio frequency module, the Certus 9810 transceiver, delivers a top speed of 704 kbps, some 10 times the speed of classic Iridium, supporting hi-def video streaming and other bandwidth-intensive applications. With Satcom Direct’s acceleration tools, it “will seem like more than a megabit per second,” said Moore.
LEO constellations hold some advantages over geostationary satellite connectivity. Orbiting some 45 times closer to earth, the satellites have correspondingly lower latency, or lag time on bidirectional traffic; their proximity allows smaller and lighter antenna footprints that reduce power requirements and drag; and they’re less susceptible to terrestrial weather interference. Coverage is also better over higher-latitude polar areas.
Satcom Direct also sees a market for the Certus service as a cabin system backup or for dedicated cockpit connectivity aboard larger platforms equipped with Ka-band systems, or for aircraft that operate at higher latitudes where geostationary coverage is unreliable or unavailable. Hardware and service plan prices for Certus service have yet to be announced but Satcom Direct, as both an authorized hardware OEM and value-added service reseller, will be able to offer attractive turnkey packages, Moore said.
The Plane Simple Ku antenna, designed for super-midsize and larger business jets, also provides access to the Intelsat FlexExec Ku-band broadband network. Satcom Direct developed the electronically steered, phased-array, 12-inch tail-mounted antenna in partnership with German aeronautical antenna specialist QEST (Quantum Electronic Systems).
Operating in a lower frequency range, Ku doesn’t offer as much bandwidth as Ka-band systems, which remain the “gold standard of onboard connectivity at the moment,” Moore said. But Satcom Direct sees “a gap in the market for customers with a GIV or a Global who may have struggled to justify the higher installation and service costs of Ka-band.”
Combined with its SD Pro platform and connectivity management tools, aircraft with Ka-band connectivity could use a supplementary Ku service to manage data loads, for example offloading the low-latency data communication demands of multiple passengers to the Ku constellation as needed, automatically. For those interested in secure communications and data integrity, Satcom Direct’s Comsat division, which handles its military and government services, is the exclusive satcom services provider to the Air Force Space Command’s Enhanced Mobile Satellite Services program.
The Ku service could also serve as a portal to a range of Internet of Things-based services that Satcom Direct can customize for larger customers, according to Moore.
Though MROs will obviously have a say in installation costs, Satcom Direct is “targeting a sub-$400,000 install,” hardware included, for Plane Simple Ku antenna systems, Moore said. Satcom Direct is the new antenna's exclusive provider and was set to begin flight testing the Ku installation on its Gulfstream jet near the end of February.
Satcom Direct is also partnering with QEST on its forthcoming Plane Simple Ka TMA, for midsize to large-cabin jets (slated for service entry in the fourth quarter of 2022), and the Plane Simple Flat Panel fuselage-mounted phased-array antenna for light and larger jets (for service entry around 2023).