Phased-array satcom antennas are moving closer to availability for aircraft, following a successful demonstration of a Viasat antenna on a Cessna Citation II. The first demonstration flight took place on April 20 during a flight from Rotterdam, Netherlands, to Payerne, Switzerland.
This effort was part of Project AIDAN, which is led by Viasat Antenna Systems Switzerland and involved a consortium of partners that included Viasat Netherlands, NLR, and Lionix International. The Citation II was provided by NLR, and funding for Project AIDAN comes from the European Space Agency, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Viasat, and other European companies.
Viasat's phased-array antenna can track satellites without any moving parts, electronically steering “its beams to maintain contact with the satellite,” according to the company. While the antenna is somewhat large and must be installed in a suitable location on top of the fuselage, it could open opportunities to deliver broadband high-speed Ka-band connectivity for aircraft that can’t accommodate a tail- or fuselage-mounted mechanically steered antenna.
Prior to the April 20 demo flight, the phased-array antenna’s tiles and apertures were tested in an anechoic chamber, then the antenna was mounted in a van that was driven around to ensure its beams could point properly at the Viasat satellites.
After the first flight, multiple demonstration flights were conducted, according to Carolina Vigano, RF and terminal director at Viasat Antenna Systems. “We were trying to stress the system and see how it is responding,” she said. This included streaming Netflix on one laptop, making a Zoom call on another laptop, while another user uploaded a large file using a VPN and everyone on board connected as many devices as possible.
“This core technology is a building block to connect fixed and mobile platforms in the air, on land, and at sea, to enable the game-changing broadband experiences that Viasat satellites will provide worldwide,” according to Viasat.