“We think this is going to open up a lot of opportunities in the smaller aircraft market—single-aisle and business jets—and ultimately commercial aviation will find a lot of applications that could not be served due to form-factor and cost considerations,” Fotheringham says.
Last November, Kymeta entered into an exclusive two-year engineering contract with Inmarsat, an opportunity that will link the emerging technology to the new all-Ka-band Global Xpress satellite network slated to launch this year.
Aimed at the business aviation market, the Aero Antenna will be available only to Global Xpress users, providing an alternative to antenna hardware provided under an exclusive agreement signed last year with aerospace supplier Honeywell, valued at $2.8 billion over the next 20 years.
“Honeywell prides itself on advanced technology and innovation and is pleased to support this research endeavor,” says Jack Jacobs, vice president of marketing and product management at Honeywell. “We are continuously looking to help deliver the most efficient and affordable connectivity products to the industry.”
On April 5, Kymeta tested the first link between a geosynchronous satellite and one of the company's metamaterial antennas using a receive-only aperture pointed at a Ka-band feed from a DirecTV satellite in geostationary orbit.
“It was the first time for a flat-plate, holographic, beam-forming, electronic software-defined antenna to actually see a signal from a satellite,” Fotheringham says of the test, which comprised eight of 32 subchannels that will eventually make up a full-scale aperture. “But the fact that it was seeing all the carriers and providing sufficient confirmation of link margin was a big deal.”
In the coming months, the company plans to refine the antenna's design and increase performance, culminating in a first transmission demonstration later this year.
“What we are working on now is to assemble a full-sized panel and actually close the link with a satellite,” Fotheringham says, adding that some of the challenges associated with metamaterial antenna technology have to do with efficiency, which improves at higher frequencies.
“The practical realities of scale direct us toward X-band and above,” he says. “We could build an S-band or L-band version of this. It'd just be really big, and there are better ways to do that at those frequencies.”