No Moving Parts!


After almost 30 years in IFE, this has to be one of the most exciting and important Hot Topics that we have produced for our IFExpress readers. The subject is a radically new antenna (mostly) but before you delete this email and log on to Facebook hear us out. Kymeta is the Redmond, WA startup that was voted by MIT’s Technology Review as one of 2013’s Most Disruptive (technology) Companies. Our subject is airborne satellite Ka-band communication and the disruptive technology is based around something called metamaterial and is the disruptive heart of this revolutionary antenna concept. We should really say “preproduction” concept and the Kymeta organization (42 team members strong) is busily preparing to get you your data faster, cheaper and a whole lot easier than with anything flying today. In a nutshell, gone will be the high power transmitters, power eating gimbals, large radomes, heavy antennas, aircraft installation downtime – all replaced with a device more the size of a two inch thick bathmat. With this discovery setup, we wanted to tell our readers about an interview we had with Kymeta executives.

The Kymeta website is a good place for you to start. We will get to the technology soon enough but it is interesting to first look at their marketing strategy as it surprised us a bit. The interview began with Vern Fotheringham, CEO and Chairman of Kymeta stating, “No moving parts is our mantra”, describing the inner workings of their incredible satcom antenna. Before we covered the inner workings Mr. Fotheringham outlined the outer workings (sales strategy) and it makes a lot of sense. He noted that since the airborne product is two years away, they are concentrating on markets not presently saturated with Ku-band attention like commercial airline aircraft, but rather, they are looking toward sales and installations aboard business jets and regional airlines. The issue here is product sales leverage. Because of the small antenna footprint, smaller aircraft will see improvements in weight, efficiencies in drag and fuel burn, higher data rates at a reduced cost per bit and basically a new plateau of data connectivity performance. The first announcement of a working partner is Inmarsat and we expect to see a lot more familiar names later as the Kymeta product gets closer to finalization. Also we should note that presently the company does not have end-to-end, FAA certification, product goals, but rather they are sensibly seeking to become an OEM supplier of the sophisticated metamaterial antenna modules that will make devices “Powered by Kymeta” an industry best seller.

Because the beam is electronically steered there is no need for mechanical gimbals to tilt or rotate the antenna aperture. Think of it as a pencil shaped beam anchored to a plate on the top of an airplane and pointing in all directions to geosynchronous satellites. Since the beam is electronically steered there is no need for keeping the platform steady or moving an array to point at a specific satellite. We also asked about the resultant beam-width, knowing that airborne microwave systems often have overlapping challenges in talking to satellites that are separated by a few degrees.

“Many aeronautical terminals have difficulty meeting regulatory requirements when they are operated near the equator because of the skew of their highly anisotropic beam,” noted Dr. Nathan Kundtz, Kymeta founder and chief technology officer, “One of our goals is to mitigate this problem through the use of a flat panel with a much larger effective aperture size, allowing us to meet regulatory masks without the use of spreading techniques, which are cumbersome on satellite resources.”

We don’t expect you to take our view of the importance of the above developments, so we asked engineering installation expert, John Courtright, (SIE Inc.) who has been involved with well over 500 Ku-band Satcom system/antenna installs on airlines like JetBlue, Southwest, and others. John told IFExpress that he first heard of the new development at a recent NBAA: “The Kymeta flat-panel metamaterial antenna is “transformative” from an aircraft system integration point of view. Firstly, it provides a lower drag coefficient with a design that essentially conforms to the aircraft, the drag coefficient goes down precipitously in that its 2 cm profile beats the 15-to-20 cm profile of most Ku-band and Ka-band radome installations. Another factor is lower maintenance cost due to longer inspection cycles being required – and yes, DTA (Damage Tolerance Analysis) will still need to be performed but the fuselage penetration required for the Kymeta design concept is much, much smaller than an electro-mechanically steered antenna. A lighter installation means better fuel-burn, which translates to lower operating costs. Also, a conformal antenna means more installation location options – this is particularly important because upper fuselage “real-estate” may be scarce, particularly on VIP and corporate jets. It also means that more aircraft can become AES (Airborne Earth Stations – this is the term for a satcom equipped aircraft to the satcom folks). Large radomes don’t work well on smaller business jets. Also, if I am not mistaken, I believe their antenna concept has a shared aperture design that means it could operate across many satcom bands and it has the potential to be frequency configurable. With all the aforementioned features and benefits, the Kymeta antenna should enable us to devote our efforts to applications development that are now severely limited by current aircraft satcom interoperability.”

OK, readers, let’s review: 1) There is a new Ka-band antenna technology on the horizon that looks to radically change the design, installation and performance of satellite communication technology. 2) The company, Kymeta, is staffed with impressive industry professionals. 3) Kymeta has broad coverage in this area with more than 107 patent assets that pertain to the aforementioned antenna. 4) The company has startup funding of $12 M, –as well an agreement with Inmarsat to develop an antenna for the aviation market. 5) During this period, Kymeta is seeking to become an OEM provider of antenna modules in the aeronautical industry and even a retail device for end users. 6) By seeking industry ventures and acting as an OEM antenna module provider, Kymeta will quite probably exceed their development goals by a long shot. Stay Tuned!

For more information contact at Kymeta.

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