What is Low Earth Orbit (LEO) and How Does it Benefit Airline Connectivity?

Panasonic Avionics< Panasonic Avionics
07/06/23 3 MIN READ

In October 2022, Panasonic Avionics Corporation and OneWeb entered into a distribution agreement to offer Low Earth Orbit (LEO) communications networks to commercial airlines worldwide. This combines with Panasonic Avionics Corporation’s industry leading GEO network to provide near total global coverage in commercial aviation. In this post we’ll explain what a LEO constellation is, how it works, and the benefits that LEO communications offer.

What is LEO?

Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellite constellations orbit the Earth between 160 – 2,000 kilometers above Earth’s surface. OneWeb’s LEO network consists of 588 active satellites, plus back-ups, orbiting at 1,200 km above Earth, allowing for agile and efficient global coverage. This enables a more responsive passenger experience and improved application performance, such as online collaboration tools, video streaming, gaming, and content uploads.

OneWeb’s LEO satellites are about the size of a washing machine and orbit the Earth in just 109 minutes. Each one uses sixteen beams to cover an area on Earth that is around the size of Alaska. OneWeb’s satellites then all work together to form the LEO constellation that provides fast, reliable connectivity worldwide, including remote polar and oceanic regions. OneWeb’s constellation operates on 12 orbital planes to cover the globe. This gives 49 active satellites per orbital plane, plus five additional planes in orbit spares for redundancy.

Due to the size of OneWeb’s LEO satellites, their manufacturing speed, and the ease of launching LEO satellites, OneWeb is able to continually evolve their LEO constellation with the latest technologies on a rolling basis. LEO satellites leverage mass production techniques, enabling augmentation to quickly respond to increases in capacity demand.

How Does LEO Work:

When making a data request on a device while on LEO, the data connects through a terminal that encrypts the request and sends it to one of the 588 active LEO satellites overhead. The satellite routes the data request down to Earth, hits a ground station called a Satellite Network Portal (SNP), moves through a Point of Presence (POP), and then goes out to the internet. This entire process happens in just one-tenth of a second due to the close proximity of LEO satellites to Earth and their low latency.

What are the Benefits of LEO?

Perhaps the most important benefits of connecting to a LEO constellation are those that passengers can experience first-hand. A low latency, high capacity, global connectivity network that are very similar to terrestrial internet connections. Low latency and higher speeds to and from the aircraft mean that passengers can access more applications from the air; online collaboration tools, social media, and even gaming applications.

In addition to the benefits that passengers will experience, airlines will benefit from the added capacity and expanded coverage that LEO offers. With coverage over remote polar and oceanic regions, airlines can continue to provide high-speed connectivity for passengers where previously not available. LEO’s added capacity also allows airlines to cater to and support the needs of their high-capacity users.

OneWeb and Panasonic Avionics Corporation are also committed to a more sustainable future. To learn more about OneWeb’s Responsible Space approach, visit its website. https://oneweb.net/about-us/responsible-space

The addition of OneWeb’s LEO network to Panasonic Avionics Corporation’s existing GEO network is changing the face of the satellite industry with low latency, high-speed connectivity. The 588 satellites orbiting Earth provide fast and reliable connectivity anywhere in the world. Additionally, OneWeb’s commitment to responsible space practices ensures the sustainability of its LEO constellation. With OneWeb’s and Panasonic Avionics Corporation’s connectivity network, passengers can enjoy a connected experience in flight that is similar to what they experience on the ground.

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