The time for new antenna technologies is now. Or at least very, very soon. In the next two years multiple vendors expect to have electronically steered, phased array (ESPA) antennae in service on aircraft. This represents a seismic shift in the market, bringing higher efficiency, lower weight, lower drag profile and other benefits to bear. Of course, such promises are not new. This time around, however, they appear backed up with partnerships and contracts that should truly deliver.
QEST scores a partnership with Satcom Direct
In April 2018 German manufacturer QEST Quantenelektronische Systeme GmbH exhibited for the first time at the Aircraft Interiors Expo (AIX) in Hamburg. The company featured its Ku and Ka-band ESPA offerings as tested and functional but short of a commercial partner.
This week at NBAA in Orlando QEST took that next step. The company announced a partnership with Satcom Direct with plans to deliver hardware to the business aviation market late in 2020. The two will join forces on the development of an aeronautical product, with SD the exclusive distributor in the BizAv, military and government markets when it launches. Specifics on which frequency bands or satellite operator partners remain unclear at this time. The demonstrator at AIX focused on Ka-band technology but Dr. Oppenlaender also suggested that Ku-band is possible and even easier than Ka to accomplish, though the panels are slightly larger for comparable throughput.
Specific details on the size and shape of the final product will necessarily vary based on the the large variety of BizAv aircraft targeted. Fortunately the modular nature of the panels allows for flexibility as they are linked together atop the fuselage. This delivers the optimal mix of performance and size and can adjust to different aircraft models.
Phasor set to fly in 2019
If a late 2020 “product launch” (i.e. delivery and certification likely even later than that) is too far away then perhaps the news from Phasor on the Ku-band front is more compelling. Phasor’s Gen 3 ESPA offering successfully linked with the Kepler KIPP LEO nanosatellite in early September. Building on that success, the company is poised to deliver even more options, including an aeronautical terminal, in 2019.
Phasor CEO Dave Helfgott explained to PaxEx.Aero that the company’s current development cycle aims to put the Gen 5 hardware into production in early 2019. The initial installs target maritime and terrestrial applications. The kit will also begin the “long slog through [aeronautical] certification” at that time, according to Helfgott, with a target of year-end 2019 for offerability. Astronics is one of the partners Phasor is working with to realize that certification status. Helfgott also notes that the Gen 5 hardware targeted for 2019 and the following kit, expected just a year later, both have customers in the aero segment. Following those systems, a Ka-band solution is expected early in the 2020s.
Unlike the QEST offering, the initial customer push for Phasor’s solution targets the commercial aviation market according to Helfgott.