ViaSat’s high-speed satellite broadband network was pressed into service last week to enable the US government’s National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa) and its partners to broadcast never-before-captured high-definition (HD) images of a total solar eclipse.
The solar eclipse of 21 August 2017, also known as the Great American Eclipse, was visible across the continental US, tracking southeast along a line of totality running from Oregon to the Carolinas. It was partially visible in the late evening in parts of the UK and north-western Europe, although in the event it was largely obscured by clouds.
Because the eclipse occurred within reach of hundreds of millions of people in an advanced economy, it attracted unprecedented public and media attention, and was broadcast across the US, and the world, by Nasa.
ViaSat – more widely known for providing in-flight Wi-Fi services to airlines – used its satellite broadband network coupled to airborne satellite communications (satcom) terminals mounted on Nasa’s WB-57 high-altitude research aircraft to stream live HD footage of the sun’s corona (outer atmosphere) during totality for Nasa to relay online.
The data links were also used to enable two-way communication between the aircraft crews and their controllers on the ground, and also helped Nasa to acquire extremely rare infrared images of Mercury that it will use to attempt to create the first-ever thermal imaging of the planet’s night-side, which was uniquely visible to the aircraft during the eclipse window.
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“We have maintained a partnership with Nasa – supplying advanced satellite-based broadband communications – for many years,” said Ken Peterman, ViaSat president of government systems.
“We are proud to have supported Nasa and its partners during their solar eclipse research endeavours, delivering a high-speed, high-performance satellite system backbone to satisfy their immediate research needs.