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Reliable, tuneable and inexpensive antennas by collective fabrication processes

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Low-cost, in-flight satellite communication system

EU-funded researchers adapted cutting-edge technologies to produce a reliable and low-cost satellite communications system for aircraft. The system is designed to provide in-flight Internet services related to passenger web connectivity and safety.

Digital Economy

Mobile communications have become routine. Not only do most people in the western world now own a cell phone, but Internet-related activities in many cases surpass those related to phone and message services. Mobile communications are also used by aircraft for monitoring and guidance functions and, increasingly, passenger Internet services. European researchers sought to develop technology for a low-cost, reliable, high data-rate connection for in-flight connectivity with funding for the ‘Reliable, tuneable and inexpensive antennas by collective fabrication processes’ (Retina) project. The system would be used for passenger web services and for Aircraft & Airline Management, the latter related both to flight parameters as well as to safety and security (online, real-time video streaming). Retina scientists aimed at developing agile beam-steering in the Ka- or Ku-band of electromagnetic radiation used by most satellites for broadband satellite-based Internet services. The technology was based on a 2D electronically steerable Reflectarray antenna, a revolutionary new generation planar reflector antenna implementing arrays of elementary antennas. The Reflectarray antenna is also low weight, low cost and easy to fabricate. Researchers explored phase-shifting technologies including radio-frequency micro electromechanical systems (RF-MEMS) and ferroelectric capacitors in order to realize electronic beamsteering in Ku-Band. Successful development of such technologies resulted in demonstrated function of a partial Reflectarray antenna in the operational satellite communications (SatCom) bandwidth. Retina has laid the foundation for further developments of Ku- and Ka-band SatCom antenna (e.g. the FP7-funded project “FLEXWIN”) using low-cost fabrication processes and enabling fast and reliable web-based in-flight services related to passengers and safety.

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