Browse the internet, send and receive email in real time, and even enjoy premium entertainment straight from your home media device. In the near future, you will be able to do it all from your laptop thanks to a new antenna system promising to extend your broadband network to anywhere your aircraft flies.
Air transport is a vital asset for Europe's economic prosperity. The aeronautics sector contributes about EUR 500 billion to the gross national product (GNP) every year. It employs 3.1 million people, representing 1.9 % of all EU jobs. This unmitigated success is the direct result of finding an acceptable balance between public expectations and competitive pressures from global rivals.
However, to keep meeting the need for better service as well as the very highest safety standards, the aeronautics industry must develop rapidly and deploy new technologies. The Retina project, endorsed by the Sixth Framework Programme, has developed an antenna system that can provide aircraft passengers broadband internet access. No matter where you fly – over land or water in any region of the world – they will be able to browse the internet, send and receive emails.
This new antenna system is based on the global concept called Reflectarray. Although similar in principle to parabolic reflectors, in this antenna system, a planar antenna array has replaced the bulky reflective devices. It is not only a low cost alternative to conventional antennas. Because it allows a high data rate connection between mobile platforms such as planes, this antenna system is particularly suitable for deployment in space applications.
The core focus in developing a new antenna system has previously been based on passenger needs. The Retina partners' aim was to ensure a high quality service, offering both lucrative business and leisure passengers in-flight internet connectivity – especially on long-haul flights when they want to keep in touch at 35 000 feet. In developing new communications solutions, they spent time getting to know the technicalities of the emerging standards of the Ku-band data links.
Two alternatives were considered as the best solutions for shifting up to the high frequencies covered by the Ku-band; ferroelectric materials and radio frequency - microelectromechanical systems (RF-MEMS). These promise to level up on performance, and at the same time keep the cost down.
While the air transport system is being called upon to satisfy increasing demands for the highest safety standards, the Retina partners are capitalising on the investment they have made in microelectronics to improve air traffic management. Whatever the distance from the nearest airport, the new antenna system will improve communications and the mutual understanding between air traffic control services and flight crews.
Information Source: Result from the EU funded FP6-AEROSPACE programme
Collaboration Sought: Further research or development support