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#SpaceWatchGL Interviews: Andrian Buchi and Joakim Espeland of QuadSAT

The antenna testing process has long been a drawn-out and expensive one yet it is integral to the prevention of interference. Enter QuadSAT, a company that brings the test range to you. Utilising drone technology, the QuadSAT system is able to offer affordable, accessible and accurate antenna testing and calibration, with no need re-locate the antenna. Torsten Kriening sat down with co-founders of QuadSat, Andrian Buchi, and Joakim Espeland to find out more about the business, products and services and future challenges and opportunities.

Andrian Buchi and Joakim Espeland; Credits: QuadSAT

Tell me, what is QuadSAT is and why did you establish the company?

QuadSAT uses drones as a tool to measure antenna systems in the field, anywhere in the world. Today, to get an accurate measurement of an antenna, you have to send the antenna to a test facility, but now we can now bring the test facility to you. QuadSAT uses automated drone technology to test and measure satellite and VSAT antennas by simulating a satellite. The solution is flexible and portable, making it cost effective to test any antenna at almost any location.

Tell me more about the company.

It was founded in March 2017. We offer a mobile antenna testing system that provides users with affordable, accessible and accurate antenna testing. The system utilizes a custom-built RF payload, drone technology, and mathematical algorithms in order to effectively simulate satellites and perform critical antenna performance tests. QuadSAT’s system is being developed to meet industry-wide standards.

QuadSAT’s system uses drone technology to test and measure the performance of antennas. The system offers similar capabilities as a traditional antenna test range, and does so autonomously, by generating and receiving test signals in a highly controlled and consistent manner. The result is a portable, cost-effective, and time-efficient method to verify antenna performance.

What size drone do you use to assess the antennas?

Credits: QuadSAT

The payload needs to work together with the drone, which is the key thing that we’re really working on. We have a multi-rotor drone that has eight propellers. This has built-in redundancy so if one motor stops in the air it will still continue to fly. It’s a five kilogramme drone that we have at the moment, which has a maximum of 2kgs carrying capacity.

What do you simulate on the satellite simulator?

It’s basically a test signal for the antennas to intercept. This measures the performance of the antenna and can generate antenna radiation diagram.

Why is it important?

When satellite operators are trying to evaluate how well an antenna performs on their network, they look at the antenna radiation diagram that it creates. They are looking for key things, such as whether the side lobes could interfere with an adjacent satellite and at the cross qualifying isolation performance to make sure that the terminal doesn’t interfere on other satellites.

Satellite operators themselves have set requirements for how these side lobes should perform, and they need to adhere to the regulations stipulated by industry bodies,  such as the ITUas these institutions set their own requirements of expectations on the performance of these antennas.

Where do you carry out the testing?

Andrian Buchi; Credits: QuadSAT

We mostly carry out testing on land. The key point is that we go out to the customer to carry out the testing instead of a customer sending the antenna off to a test range which involves a lot of work in terms of dismantling the antenna, not to mention a great deal of cost. We fly the drone around the antenna and we have the relevant measurements on the location within a few days, saving a huge amount of time, money and inconvenience.

Yes, it’s a lot of downtime for an operator.

Our key focus right now is verification, because we really want to start with the highest level of accuracy, and work our way down from there. That’s where we see the strongest need right now. There are some really expensive test ranges out there that make it very difficult for new antenna manufacturers to go to market, because it’s so expensive to have your antenna verified. If you’re creating a few models of an antenna, it becomes very expensive for you to have all versions verified. That’s where we can come in to demonstrate and prove to the satellite operators that the antenna performance is within their specifications.

Do you cater for any antenna size or type – the larger ones and the smaller on-the-move antennas?

Flight tests; Credits: QuadSAT

Yes, that’s one of the good things when using a drone as you’re not constrained by a predefined setup. The key for satellite operators today is that everybody wants smaller and smaller antennas on their ships, on their aircraft – everywhere. These antennas create the biggest beams because the smaller the antenna, the bigger the beam. These antenna types have the potential to create a lot of interference and need to be validated. The larger antennas are also important, but they have a very narrow beam so they’re not so likely to create as much interference. However, it is challenging work for us because the larger the dish, the further you have to be away from the drone to be able to measure it in the far field distance.

Are your verifications targeted at the GEO market?

Yes, that is our target market. However, we do see huge potential with new, emerging markets due to new antenna technologies.

We have been focusing on new initiatives put forward by the major satellite operators. Over the last two year, we have been working hard to become compliant with industry requirements to support interference-free space communication.

So what is the status of your operations right now? Are you already delivering your services?

We have done a lot of research and development and have built several versions of drone payloads, tested them out and compared them. We are now at a stage where we can offer this as a service to antenna manufacturers and satellite operators. We still need to fly the drone, because it’s still a very advanced system with a lot of software that goes with it, so it requires a specialist to operate it. So we need to control it for the time being. We’re working on the creation of a package that is easy-to-use so that anyone can operate it so that the user can simply push a button and the drone will take off, do its work and return. It would be autonomous. This would enable us to operate many more drones and to verify lots more antennas, making us aware of what is actually being transmitted.

How many people do you have in your company right now?

Currently, we have six people working full-time and four people working part-time out of Odense in Denmark, and one in the UK.

How are you funded?

Joakim Espeland; Credits: QuadSAT

Venture capital investment has funded our company. We’re backed by a local angel investor from Odense, Denmark, Seraphim Capital, UK space tech investor, and also the Danish government’s Venture arm, VF Venture. We have also had their funding matched with a European Space Agency (ESA) development grant to enable us to hire more people.

We are working to develop our testing solution to comply with industry wide SOMAP (Satellite Operators’ Minimum Antenna Performance) requirements. We’re working alongside GVF and the Danish Technological Institute to develop our product so that our testing capabilities can measure important parameters listed in the SOMAP requirements.

SpaceWatch.Global thanks Andrian Buchi and Joakim Espeland of QuadSAT for the interview.

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