Einstein Science Reporting for Kids
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Contact: Karina de Castris
European Space Agency

ESA helps the train take the strain

Click here for a high resolution photograph.

Have you ever got fed up with looking out of the window on a long train journey? Do not despair. Help is at hand, thanks to ESA and European industry.

Over the next three months, high-speed Internet access via satellite is being offered on one of the Thalys express trains. New broadband technology will enable passengers on the Brussels-Paris line to connect to the Internet with Wi-Fi-enabled laptops.

During this pilot project, the pioneering technology will be thoroughly tested and customers will be asked for their feedback. The Internet connection relies on a tracking antenna fixed to the roof of one of the carriages.

Special software maintains a continuous two-way link - even though the satellite is flying 36,000 km above the Earth and the train is travelling at 300 km/h.

Internet via satellite on board trains
Click here for a high resolution photograph.

The system, developed by the UK-based company 21Net, gives all passengers access to email and Web-browsing at reasonable speeds and costs. As a result, business people will be able to work as if they are in their own office while the Thalys dashes across Europe.

Others including bored youngsters will benefit too. The system will offer onboard video, news and weather reports, and even films.

"Everyone is eager to begin accessing the Internet on board trains," explains Fermin Alvarez Lopez of ESA Telecom. "21Net's technology is certainly making this become a reality."

As the next step, ESA is working with train operators to introduce broadband Internet on trains across the whole of Europe.