APEX2015: QEST gears up for full antenna manufacture

QEST's Michael Stobinski with the new GEE Global Ku antenna.
QEST’s Michael Stobinski with the new GEE Global Ku antenna.

Satellite antenna specialist QEST is expanding its manufacturing facilities so that it can produce complete Ku- and Ka-band antennas, rather than just the apertures.

Based near Stuttgart, Germany, QEST has traditionally focused on designing and producing the aluminium-based apertures that fit on the front of Ku and Ka-band aeronautical antennas or terminals – it produces the aperture for Honeywell’s new fuselage-mounted antenna for Inmarsat’s new Ka-band GX system.

But that all changed, thanks to a contract with Global Eagle Entertainment (GEE) to manufacture its new Global Ku-band antenna.

The Global Ku antenna is a three-axis mechanically-steered array, which GEE/QEST claims offers high-performance at a far greater range of elevation and skew angles than competitive systems.

Co-developed with QEST, the new antenna is designed to take full advantage of the high-speed performance offered by the upcoming generation of Ku-band High Throughput Satellites (HTS), such as Intelsat’s upcoming EpicNG.

QEST’s Michael Stobinski says the reason for bringing the whole process in house was simple.

“We felt that dividing up the manufacturing process among different suppliers was not the optimum way forward for us,” Stobinski said.

“We are bringing the whole process in house so that we can not only design the antenna, but make it as well. The tolerances are very tight.”

The antenna requires high-accuracy computer-controlled milling (CNC) where measurements are measured in thousandths of a millimetre.

“Doing this ourselves guarantees the quality of the final design and allows us to have more control over its manufacture,” he said. It will also make the high-precision tracking and aiming hardware for the antenna.

QEST will soon deliver its 1,000th aperture to TECOM, another of its Ku partners.

In 2008, QEST teamed up with the US-based TECOM Industries to develop the KuStream 1000, a compact broadband antenna system for connectivity applications.

Flydubai Boeing 737. Image:Boeing
flydubai Boeing 737. Image:Boeing

TECOM will supply the initial antenna for GEE’s installations aboard flydubai’s current and future fleet of Next-Generation Boeing 737-800 aircraft.

At some stage in the future the new three-axis GEE antenna may take its place on top of flydubai’s aircraft.

“The new antenna will fit under the same radome and we are looking at getting it approved as a line-fit solution for Boeing,” Stobinski said.

QEST currently has about 60 employees, but had only 30 two years ago.

“We’ve expanded rapidly,” said Stobinski. “In the future I can see us expanding to around 75-80 people, due to the demand for our products.”

He said it was also working on products for two further undisclosed customers.

“We entered the champion’s league with the Honeywell aperture contract, and now we forging even further ahead,” Stobinski concluded.

He estimates that the final count for the Honeywell aperture contract “will be in the thousands”.

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