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Airbus Defence and Space is to extend the British MoD’s SKYNET communications network, the company announced on 19 July.

The contract, valued at over £500 million (€550 million) will involve development, manufacture, cyber protection, assembly, integration, test and launch of SKYNET 6A, a military communications scheduled for launch in 2025. It also covers technology development programmes, new secure telemetry, tracking and command systems, launch, in-orbit testing and ground segment updates to the current SKYNET 5 system.

Satellite manufacturing, linked to support services, is a critical component of the government-industry UK space strategy and this contract underpins the UK MoD’s and industry’s lead position in this sector. Building this military satellite will, like SKYNET 5, lead to significant export opportunities in the years ahead, growing high-value manufacturing jobs and supporting a diverse supply chain in this increasingly important sector […] This contract for 6A demonstrates the strong working partnership we have with UK MoD, built on the success we have jointly achieved on the SKYNET 5 system since 2003,” explained Richard Franklin, Airbus Defence and Space UK Managing Director.

A new, more advanced satellite capability will provide continued communications support to the UK deployed forces for many years. British defence must continue to innovate and transform, particularly in cyber and space. Investment in first-class equipment like this new SKYNET satellite will keep us safe from the threats we face both now and in the future,” added Secretary of State for Defence, Ben Wallace.  

The SKYNET 5 programme, managed by Airbus, has provided UK MoD with a suite of highly robust, reliable and secure military communications services, supporting global operations since 2003. Airbus has been involved in all SKYNET phases since 1974 and this phase builds on a strong UK commitment to space manufacturing in the UK. The recent programme commenced by using the legacy SKYNET 4 satellites, then augmenting them with a fully refurbished ground network before launching the SKYNET 5A, 5B, 5C and 5D satellites between 2007 and 2012. The SKYNET 5 programme has reduced or removed many of the technical and service risks for the MoD, while ensuring unrivalled secure SATCOM and innovation for UK forces and offering significant additional value for money and capability.

SKYNET 6A will be based on Airbus’ Eurostar Neo telecommunications satellite platform and will use more of the RF spectrum available for SATCOM and the latest digital processing to provide both more capacity and greater versatility than existing satellites.  It will feature electric orbit-raising propulsion as well as electric station-keeping systems for maximum cost effectiveness. 

Space technology plays an important role in supporting our military and keeping us safe, while also boosting the UK’s economy and enabling world-leading science and research […] With this major investment in SKYNET 6A, the development of the National Satellite Test Facility and the launch of a dedicated innovation programme, we are setting a bold new ambition for the UK in space,” stated Science Minister, Amanda Solloway.

SKYNET 6A is due for launch in 2025 and will have a minimum design lifetime of 15 years. (Image via Airbus)

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