Ottawa’s Telesat pilots in-flight connectivity via low-Earth orbit satellite

LEO

An Ottawa company says it made history in the skies above Ontario with a test of its low-Earth orbit satellite – a demonstration that could have bearings on the future of connectivity in air and maritime travel.

Ottawa-based satellite firm Telesat announced earlier this week that it partnered with U.S. media company Global Eagle Entertainment to test an in-flight broadband connection through an LEO satellite system.

Telesat utilized its recently-launched Phase 1 LEO satellite in the first-of-its-kind trial aboard a Global Eagle test aircraft on Oct. 18. In the skies near Telesat’s station in Hanover, Ont., the in-flight aircraft communicated at broadband speeds with the firm’s LEO satellite. The test, Telesat says, included a smooth transition from geostationary-to-LEO satellite connection and allowed for uninterrupted video calling and streaming.

The two partners are calling the test a milestone that could have significant implications for the future of mobility. Making LEO satellite-based connectivity available for in-flight and oversea travellers’ data demands could “revolutionize” the industry, according to a statement from Global Eagle.

“Our companies’ systems will satisfy many of the world’s most challenging communications requirements, including the ability to provide high performing, cost effective fiber quality connectivity to millions of airline and maritime passengers worldwide,” said Erwin Hudson, vice-president of Telesat LEO, in a statement.

Telesat is in the process of scaling its LEO constellation to 300 satellites around the globe. It has contracted Airbus as well as a joint team of Thales Alenia Space, Maxar’s SSL and MDA to design the system, with one of the two teams expected to win a manufacturing contract for the satellites in 2019. Telesat expects to begin commercial LEO service in 2022.