When militaries around the world have wanted to expand their satellite communication (SATCOM) capacity, they traditionally have had 2 choices – either pay a satellite manufacturer billions of dollars to build a satellite constellation and then own and operate the constellation themselves or lease capacity on commercial satellites, with all the attendant concerns about availability and security.
The UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) came up with an innovative approach to expanding its SATCOM capacity called Skynet 5.
Through a GBP 3.6 billion UK MoD private finance initiative (PFI), EADS Astrium manufactures the Skynet 5 satellites and Paradigm owns, manages, and operates the Skynet constellation. The satellites are built to UK military specifications and the UK is committed to purchasing satellite capacity from Paradigm, an EADS Astrium subsidiary.
A SATCOM Paradigm
The Skynet 5 program began by using the legacy Skynet 4 satellites and then augmented them with a refurbished ground network before launching the Skynet 5A, 5B, and 5C satellites between 2007 and 2008.
Skynet 5A was the first satellite of the constellation to be launched, in March 2007, followed by Skynet 5B in November 2007. Skynet 5C was launched in April 2008. A 4th satellite, Skynet 5D, is expected to be launched in 2013.
The Skynet 5 satellites are based on the high-power E3000 variant of Astrium’s Eurostar series. Each Skynet 5 spacecraft has a launch mass of around 5 tonnes, compared to 1.6 tonnes for Skynet 4F, and a payload power of 5kW, up to 4 times the power of Skynet 4.
The ground systems being delivered by Astrium as part of the Skynet 5 program include 59 Reacher tactical vehicle-mounted units in various configurations.
Skynet 5 provides the capability to extend the range of in-theatre communications systems such as FALCON and Cormorant as well as providing a connection to the UK fixed communications systems. The Skynet 5 constellation also provides capacity for the UK army’s next generation Bowman tactical communications system.
While built to UK military specifications, the Skynet 5 satellites are also compatible with military communication systems of other NATO countries.
Contracts and Key Events
September 16/15: Airbus is urging the UK’s Defence Ministry to fast-track a replacement for the Skynet 5 communications satellites currently leased from the company. With internal wrangling within the MoD over specifications for the Skynet 6 constellation holding up progress, Airbus Defence’s boss has reportedly stated that a contract needs to be in place by 2018. The four satellites currently used by the British Armed Forces are the result of a multi-billion pound Private Finance Initiative (PFI) signed in 2003, with the contract set to conclude in 2022. One of the four Skynet 5 satellites was repositioned above the Asia-Pacific region in March to offer spare bandwidth to allied nations.
March 11/10: UK Ministry of Defence agrees to a GBP 400 million contract to lease capacity on the Skynet 5D satellite from Paradigm and extends the Skynet 5 contract for 2 years until 2022. The Skynet 5D satellite is being built by Paradigm parent EADS Astrium and is expected to be launched in 2013. MoD release | Paradigm release
Nov 3/09: CapRock Government Solutions in Fairfax, VA announces that it signed a multi-year, multi-transponder strategic purchase agreement with Paradigm to provide Skynet 5 satellite capacity to the US military and intelligence communities.
Sept 8/06: Paradigm announces that it signed an export contract to deliver military satellite communications services to the Dutch Ministry of Defence. This contract forms the 2nd part of a 2-phased approach where Paradigm provides managed secure communications services to the Netherlands MoD. The 1st phase, with an interim contract in-place, gives the Netherlands MoD direct access to secure satellite communications over the Skynet 4 system until the end of December 2006. The 2nd phase contract runs from Jan 1/07, and will see full service provision provided using a combination of the existing Skynet 4 and the new Skynet 5 system.
June 14/05:Paradigm announces that it signed an export contract for milsatcom services with Canada Paradigm Secure Communications under which Canada Paradigm will supply military communications services to the Canadian Department of National Defence (DND). This agreement requires Paradigm to provide managed secure communications services to the Canadian navy. Paradigm will also provide the use of modem equipment in the UK to support the service and the provision of a dedicated backhaul connection between UK and Canada.
Nov 22/04: Paradigm announces that it signed a GBP 100 million concession to provide military communications services to NATO. From the beginning of 2005 Paradigm will be providing the UK share of the military satellite space segment communications capability to NATO and its member states for use on NATO operations. Paradigm will initially use its existing Skynet 4 constellation and then migrate to new Skynet 5 satellites from 2007. Through the national military satellite communications systems of France, Italy and the UK, NATO will be able to satisfy its milsatcom requirements.
Sept 15/04: Paradigm announces that is signed an export contract to provide managed secure communications services to the Portuguese Armed Forces, as and when required. This will allow the Portuguese military direct access to secure satellite communications, which will enhance their communications capability in remote areas, facilitate their role in NATO and national operations.
October 2003: Paradigm, a subsidiary of EADS Astrium, signs an agreement with the UK Ministry of Defence to be the prime contractor for the GBP 3.6 billion Skynet 5 program, which will provide mobile voice, video, internet and broadcast communications for the UK armed forces, as well as a range of other government departments and agencies.
UK MoD – Skynet 5 Satellite Communications web site
UK MoD – Skynet 5 factsheet
EADS Astrium – Skynet 5