October 21, 2020

In Magellan’s Footsteps – One More Orbit

In Magellan’s Footsteps – One More Orbit

“I figure you must have some engineers and some really good technical people to even make the wi-fi work!” – Anderson Cooper, Live Q&A with Terry Virts and Hamish Harding, One More Orbit mission.

Anyone involved in the space sector will acknowledge that it is fraught with risk. Though this might seem daunting, it’s also part of its attraction. Whether launching a satellite or actually traveling into space, the pioneering nature of the industry is irresistible to many. So when you’ve actually experienced space as an astronaut and had that unique experience that so few achieve, how do you rival that ultimate adrenaline rush?

One More OrbitTerry Virts is one of those few. A former astronaut, ISS Commander, Space Shuttle and test pilot, he put himself up for an incredible challenge along with Captain Hamish Harding, Chairman of Action Aviation. The aim? To make history by completing the world’s fastest polar circumnavigation of the globe in a Gulfstream G650ER business jet, all in under 48 hours.

The daring flight took place during the 50th anniversary celebrations of the Apollo 11 Moon landing and the 500th anniversary of man first circling the planet with Magellan’s historic expedition. The mission was a nod to the past, the present, and the future of space exploration. The crew were joined on board by Russian cosmonaut Gennady Padalka, payload specialist Jannike Mikkelsen and flight attendant Magdalene Staowicz. This hugely ambitious vision was 5 years in the planning and involved over 200 people.

But it wasn’t simply the challenge itself that was driving the team. It was also the opportunity to inspire young people to take an interest in space. Taking off from the same location that the Apollo 11 mission left the Earth some 50 years ago, this project was set to ignite the imaginations of the next generation of explorers, of pioneers.

The entire journey was livestreamed using satellite connectivity. Through collaboration with service provider, Satcom Direct and Inmarsat’s Global Xpress satellite network supported by ST Engineering iDirect’s high-performance Velocity platform, no-one missed a beat of the mission.

The Global Xpress satellite network provided Hamish, Terry and the crew with safety services and cockpit communications and allowed people from around the globe to watch the world record attempt in real time. 

Satcom Direct connected the One More Orbit team across the network service areas with its state-of-the-art equipment, including the Satcom Direct Router (SDR) and SD Pro® Operating System, supporting multiple real-time streaming and communication capabilities. 

For anyone involved in the satellite communications business, it’s well known that achieving high-speed, highly available broadband connectivity on board an aircraft is a challenge. But meeting this demand on board an aircraft traveling at 9.0 mach was a challenge on a different level. Nonetheless, during the mission, the team commented on the quality of the Wi-Fi and connectivity on board, describing it as ‘fantastic’ with speeds reaching 3000 kbps.

During the flight, a livestreamed Q&A session was set up between the crew and a group of schoolchildren so they could experience the mission with the team and put their burning questions to them. Anderson Cooper also conducted an interview for a TV interview – and all went without a hitch.

So, did they achieve their goal?

Incredibly, the team made it in 46 hours, 39 minutes and 38 seconds, breaking the previous record by 5 hours and 52 minutes. The speed record has been certified by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) and GUINNESS WORLD RECORDS™. The team will be pursuing various other records, including the fastest time from the North Pole to South Pole.

The entire ST Engineering iDirect team is proud to have provided our satellite operator and service provider partners with the ground infrastructure to enable highly reliable Wi-Fi and streamed video service throughout.

Congratulations to the One More Orbit team!

A movie that chronicles the One More Orbit flight is available now at on iTunes. It’s well worth a watch!