Airlines continue to evaluate their connectivity options with a keen eye on cost, one element of which is the weight and drag imposed by traditional mechanical broadband antennas for satellite communication. Now QEST, a German company that concentrates solely on aircraft antennas, expects that its new, flat phased-array electronically steerable antenna will be ready for the market by early next year.
In an interview at the Satellite 2018 show in Washington March 12, Chief Technical Officer Joerg Oppenlaender stressed that his firm designed the ESA only for aviation, with a focus on building performance and efficiency into the device. That means working within very tight size, weight and power limits and meeting high standards for performance under difficult aviation conditions.
The QEST device will be able to handle Ku, K and Ka bands, Oppenlaender says. The CTO says QEST got size and weight down so dramatically by designing an extremely efficient antenna just for aviation His ESA radiates 80% of input power, versus 30% for one competitive ESA.
QEST has about 2,000 mechanical antennas already flying, and mean time between failures so far has been about one million flight hours. Oppenlaender says he is targeting a 100,000 MTBF for his ESA. “We could get it higher, but customers want more performance, which makes it more complex, so with a higher MTBF.”
The QEST ESA is flat and small, which means it will not work well near trans-polar routes, until low-earth orbiting constellations are in place, possibly in five years. But QEST believes other antennas, like traditional mechanically steered models, will continue to be used on widebodies that fly these routes.