Antenna encyclopaedia

What’s the Difference Between QM, EM and FM Antennas?

Back to our blog

In space engineering, precision and reliability are critical. Among the key components essential to a space mission’s success are antennas, which enable communication, navigation, and data transfer between spacecraft and Earth. Space antennas are meticulously designed to withstand the harsh conditions of space, including extreme temperatures, radiation, and the vacuum environment. Different models of antennas are developed and tested throughout the mission planning and development stages to ensure functionality and reliability.

In this article, we’ll delve into the three distinct types that play crucial roles in the lifecycle of a space mission: the Qualification Model (QM), the Engineering Model (EM), and the Flight Model (FM).

The Qualification Model (QM) Antenna

Purpose and Role

The Qualification Model (QM) antenna undergoes comprehensive testing during the designing phase of the antenna, it is defined for the Test Readiness Review (TRR) and reviewed during the Test Readiness Board (TRB). This phase ensures that the antenna design can withstand the various life cycles of a space product. It is used by the manufacturer to verify that the antenna meets all performance and durability standards before producing the final flight model.

Design and Construction

Using state-of-the-art manufacturing techniques, QM antennas are brought to life and subjected to rigorous testing in simulated harsh conditions—vibration, shocks, and extreme temperatures. This ensures the antennas can withstand the unique challenges posed by the space environment.

Testing and Qualification

QM antennas undergo extensive qualification tests, including:

  • Functional Measurement: Initial measurement of the radiation pattern and S-parameters to establish baseline performance.
  • Random Vibration Test: Simulates the vibrations induced by the rocket launch.
  • Shock Test: Simulates the shock caused by the detachment of the rocket stages.
  • Vacuum Thermal Cycling: Tests for degradation during repeated temperature variations.
  • Long Thermal Cycling (Life Test): Simulates the temperature variations over the antenna’s life in orbit.
  • Moist Heat Test (optional): Verifies that the antenna can withstand extreme storage conditions.
  • Power Handling Test (if used for transmission): Functional tests with high input power.
  • Radio Frequency Leakage Test (if equipped with a Test Cap): Ensures no leakage and operator protection.

Between each test phase, functional checks ensure the antenna continues to operate correctly. Finally, a thorough inspection and cross-sectional analysis of the antenna conclude the qualification phase.



The Engineering Model (EM) Antenna

Purpose and Role

The Engineering Model (EM) antenna is a preliminary version used to simulate, test and validate the overall system performance before integrating the Flight Model into the spacecraft. It is often sold to clients for their own testing, interface compatibility, and integration testing within their own EM spacecraft (also made uniquely for testing). The antenna design has already been proven and tested through a qualification stage with a QM model. EM antennas are less expensive than FM antennas because they do not undergo the rigorous and costly acceptance tests required for flight models.

Design and Construction

EM antennas are nearly identical to FM antennas in terms of materials, processes, and electrical performance. They are built to the same specifications to ensure that they accurately represent the final product.

Testing and Validation

EM antennas undergo limited testing, primarily focusing on S-parameters. These tests ensure that the basic electrical performance of the antenna is as expected. Unlike QM and FM antennas, EM antennas do not undergo environmental testing since they are not destined for flight.



The Flight Model (FM) Antenna

Purpose and Role

The Flight Model (FM) antenna is the final, fully-qualified version designed for actual deployment on a spacecraft. It represents the culmination of extensive testing, validation, and refinement processes initiated with the EM and QM antennas. The FM antenna is built to the highest standards of precision and reliability.

Design and Construction

As the EM models, FM antennas are constructed using high-quality materials and advanced manufacturing techniques, ensuring long-term durability and optimal performance. However, they feature a special radome anti-ESD (Electrostatic Discharge) paint coating, particularly for S-band TT&C (Telemetry, Tracking, and Control), X-band Payload Telemetry, and GNSS (Global Navigation Satellite System) All-bands antennas.

Testing and Acceptance

According to the ECSS (The European Cooperation for Space Standardization), FM antennas undergo acceptance tests, which are way lighter than the qualifications tests to avoid damaging or stressing the antenna unnecessarily. Those tests ensure that there were no problems during the assembly of the antenna and that its integrity wasn’t compromised. They include:

  • S-Parameter Test: Ensures the antenna meets electrical performance specifications.
  • Random Vibration Test: Confirms the antenna can withstand launch vibrations.
  • Thermal Cycling: Conducted at ambient pressure to ensure no damage from temperature variations.
  • Final S-Parameter Test and Visual Inspection: Verifies functionality and identifies any external damage.

These acceptance tests, performed in clean rooms, guarantee that the FM antenna delivered to the customer is functional and durable.


Key Differences Between EM, QM, and FM Antennas

Purpose and Use

  • QM Antennas: Used by manufacturers to verify that the design meets all performance and durability standards through rigorous qualification testing.
  • EM Antennas: Primarily for client testing, interface compatibility, and integration testing within spacecraft. They are less expensive and not intended for flight.
  • FM Antennas: The final product, built to the highest standards for actual deployment in space missions.


  • QM Antennas: Undergo comprehensive qualification tests, including functional measurements, vibration, shock, thermal cycling, and more.
  • EM Antennas: Limited to S-parameters. No environmental testing as those antennas won’t go into space.
  • FM Antennas: Subject to lighter acceptance tests including S-parameters, random vibration, thermal cycling at ambient pressure, and final inspections.

Cost and Construction

  • QM Antennas: Built with high-quality standards and undergo thorough testing to ensure design integrity.
  • EM Antennas: Cost-effective as they avoid expensive environmental testing.
  • FM Antennas: Constructed with the same materials and techniques, but they feature special coatings for additional protection and undergo additional testing in clean chambers.



Understanding the distinctions between Engineering Model (EM), Qualification Model (QM), and Flight Model (FM) antennas highlights the meticulous and iterative nature of space mission development. The QM antenna plays a crucial role in the early stages, and undergoes rigorous testing to ensure the design meets all necessary standards. The EM antenna enables engineers and clients to test interface compatibility and integration within spacecraft at a lower cost. The FM antenna, as the final product, represents the pinnacle of reliability and performance, ready to fulfill its mission in the unforgiving environment of space.

These differences underscore the complexity and precision required in space engineering, reflecting the extraordinary efforts that go into ensuring the success of space missions. Whether facilitating communication with Earth or supporting critical data transfer, these antennas are indispensable components for space exploration.

For more details on the specific tests performed on our antennas, please visit our Testing Process page.


If you have any question, we would be happy to help you out.