Belgium’s second largest space company, a hugely varied range of activities and Boeing as a competitor: QinetiQ is a groundbreaking company. Sales & Business Development Director Frank Preud’homme introduces you to the beautiful world of their space activities.
QinetiQ Space (formerly known as Verhaert Space) has a 30 years track record in building, launching and operating complex small space systems and satellites. “Today, we distinguish four business lines”, says Frank Preud’homme, Sales & Business Development Director. “And they all are related to our passion for space.”
“We design and build instruments for scientific research in space or related to space, at our clients’ requests. Our main client is the European Space Agency (ESA). We build instruments, and ESA makes sure they get on board of the Space Station. An example? Think of materials linked to liquid research. Due to the lack of gravity in space, liquids behave differently. Thanks to our instrument, scientists can examine which other forces play a role. The results can be applied on earth. Another example is the measuring instruments we design for astronauts. The astronaut’s body changes a lot in space unless they work out every day. We build instruments for running and cycling in space and measuring breath, heart rate, and brain activity. These findings can benefit bed-bounded people on earth or people with osteoporosis.”
“We also design and build satellites for our clients, from A to Z. Today, we have three satellites in space: two of them observe the earth with cameras that capture the entire spectrum. One of those looks at the earth in its entirety. This is a collaboration with VITO, the independent Flemish research organisation in cleantech and sustainable development. For example, they look at the earth’s vegetation to do harvest forecastings. Next to that, we have five satellites under construction. Two of them will study the sun corona soon. Another one will look at the greenhouse gases. And we’re also building a satellite for a commercial company. They want to apply a new encryption system that operates from space. An uncrackable system.”
“Our third business line is the subsystems we deliver to third parties for satellites or space stations. Our main product is our docking system that allows connecting different vehicles or modules in space. We’re ready to use this new system in the Lunar Gateway space station that will circle the moon. Fun fact: our biggest competitor in this field is Boeing. Although we’re not that big, we’re still making good progress in convincing different American partners to buy our docking system. It’s our ambition to become the standard for new space stations and spacecraft. We also make onboard computers, for instance, for a European asteroid-hunter. They want to test if a satellite can deflect an asteroid. It sounds like a Bruce Willis movie, but it is true. Last but not least, we also operate a satellite ground station in Luxemburg in a joint venture with another company.”
“You see, we do a lot of different things. In all of this, Antwerp is essential for us. We started our space activities in the centre of Antwerp 40 years ago. Although we moved to the east already a long time ago, many of our employees still live in the city. Last year we hired 23 new people, and more or less half of them are ex-pats with a passion for space. I know they like Antwerp a lot.”