Thales FlytLINK Connectivity Demonstrator Streams from Stratosphere on Perlan 2 Historic High-Altitude Research Glider
The Thales FlytLINK™ Connectivity Demonstrator recently took aircraft connectivity to record-breaking heights by streaming real-time video footage from over 60,000 feet aboard the Perlan Mission 2 glider.
The US-based Airbus Perlan Mission II initiative, led by Nevada-based atmospheric research non-profit The Perlan Project, began its fifth experimental flight campaign in early August at Comandante Armando Tola International Airport in El Calafate, Argentina.
The team’s effort focused on continuing its mission to advance aerospace engineering and scientific research, explore areas of the stratosphere never before reached by an experimental pressurised glider – the Perlan 2 – and share its journey and research with the world.
Thales enabled the group to bring its flights to global audiences with the first real-time view streamed from the historic Perlan 2 glider’s tail camera, as it soared above the Andes mountain range. Watching were millions of people including aerospace and climate scientists, educators, and high-school and university students whose Cubesat experiments were aboard the aircraft, collecting data from the atmosphere’s upper regions.
“The Perlan Project’s mission is to explore, innovate, and inspire. Our collaboration with Thales is a great example of how we’re succeeding at all three of those goals to advance the possibilities of aerospace engineering and technology,” said Ed Warnock, CEO of the Perlan Project. “We were thrilled to have the Thales FlytLINKTM Connectivity Demonstrator helping us bring our exciting aerospace adventure to the world in real-time.”
The Thales FlytLINKTM Connectivity Demonstrator was installed on the Perlan 2 glider as well as on the Grob Egrett, the high-altitude research aircraft that towed Perlan 2 aloft to begin its record-breaking flight. Video cameras aboard both aircraft provided video for the Virtual Cockpit livestream, including epic vistas from soaring far into the stratosphere.
The world’s highest Wi-Fi hotspot
Developed by Thales Flight Avionics Connectivity team in the UK and US, the Thales FlytLINK™ Connectivity Demonstrator completed beta testing in the US earlier this year before undergoing final tests in Patagonia. And with Perlan reaching 60,300 feet, it becomes the world’s highest-ever Wi-Fi hotspot on an aircraft.
While aircraft connectivity isn’t a new concept, what distinguishes the Perlan 2 is the stratospheric altitudes and high latitudes it operates at – much higher than the typical 42,000-foot altitude of the highest commercial airline traffic.
Perlan 2 uses unique wind currents from the Andes called stratospheric mountain waves, which are strengthened by the polar vortex, to reach amazing altitudes without an engine.
The live stream was possible due to Videosoft Global’s next-generation FireLight software, an ultra-low bandwidth streaming solution developed by the specialist video compression company. The real-time transmission was broadcast via Thales FlytLINK™ Connectivity Demonstrator to the Iridium network at a data rate of only 22kbps. This gave an astonishing front-row view to followers on the ground as the glider soared to the edge of space.
“Although we have customers around the globe using our software, this was the first time anyone was able to stream secure live video over a commercial satellite network from these altitudes with such a small amount of bandwidth. We feel privileged to have been part of such an important aviation project,” said Stewart McCone, CEO, Videosoft Global.
As well as live streaming video, Thales FlytLINK™ Connectivity Demonstrator had other real-time onboard applications. These included sharing the glider’s location and orientation, AI-optimized flight planning using Thales’ AI toolkit, and providing up-to-date weather information to pilots.
A new era for the connected aircraft
Building on more than 30 years’ experience in satellite communications, Thales FlytLINK™ Connectivity Demonstrator showcased the seamless, reliable connectivity capabilities of the new Thales FlytLINK™ portfolio, which offers world-class airborne satellite communications equipment, airtime connectivity plans, and services for a vast range of crewed and uncrewed aircraft.
“The demonstrator has proved its broad connectivity capabilities, but what’s really exciting is how we integrated them into the Airbus Perlan Mission II platform to beam down live video to the ground, so everyone had a bird’s eye view and could experience the world-record with the crew,” said Marc Duval Destin, VP Strategy, Product Policy and Innovation at Thales.
Thales is taking the reality of ‘Connected Aircraft’ to new heights and, along with our partnerships, we’re enabling pilots, crews, and passengers to all benefit from secure, reliable in-flight connectivity that Thales customers are using to improve operational performance, increase flight efficiencies, reduce emissions, and enhance the onboard experience for everyone, including passengers.
To learn more about The Perlan Project, visit www.perlanproject.org.
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