Dubai-based Emirates Airlines said Monday (pdf) that it will start letting passengers on its A380 aircraft talk using their cellphones while in flight.
The service works with standard phones in conjunction with OnAir, the company that provides Wi-Fi service for Emirates’ aircraft.
A satellite data unit manufactured by Thales and branded TopConnect establishes a backhaul link to the ground through Inmarsat’s SwiftBroadband operating in the L band around 1500 MHz which allows the use of electronically steerable antennas mounted atop the aircraft fuselage.
The only major limitation is that, per Federal Aviation Administration rules, the phones can’t be used over the U.S., so the service shuts down within 250 miles of the States. Onboard pico cells ensure passengers’ GSM phones can only connect only to the on-board picocell and non GSM phones do not connect with terrestrial networks. Wi-Fi-enabled smartphones can also be used to access Internet OnAir.
The first call using the new system was made on Oct. 2 and was placed to China, Emirates said.
On Aug. 31, the Federal Aviation Administration has requested that its longstanding policy of prohibiting the use of personal electronics during takeoffs and landings be open for public comment.
The WSJ notes the restrictions date back to 1991, and were motivated in part by anecdotal reports from pilots and flight crews that electronic devices affected an airliner’s navigation equipment or disrupted communication between the cockpit and the ground. Pilots are currently supplied with iPads to store their flight plans, with blessings by the FAA.
The 363-pound Orbcomm satellite, built by Sierra Nevada Corp., is designed to provide two-way data communications services. Eight more second-generation, or OG2, satellites are due to launch on a dedicated Falcon 9 rocket in mid-2013. The rest of the 18-satellite fleet will be launched on another Falcon 9 rocket in 2014.
Orbcomm hopes to provide Automated Identification System for vessel tracking, worldwide, but has suffered a series of failures. Orbcomm’s satellite contractor, Sierra Nevada Corporation bought Canada’s SpaceDev, used by competitor ExactEarth for space-based AIS.
It is expected to begin its approach to the space station on October 10, where it will be grappled and berthed by Akihiko Hoshide of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. Over the following weeks, the crew will unload Dragon’s payload and reload it with cargo to be returned to Earth. Splashdown is targeted for October 28.
On August 3rd, 2012, NASA announced new agreements with the Sierra Nevada Corporation, along with SpaceX and Boeing, to design and develop the next generation of U.S. human spaceflight capabilities, enabling a launch of astronauts from U.S. soil in the next five years.