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Skynet 6

The purpose of the SKYNET 6 programme is to sustain strategic assured Beyond Line of Sight Satellite Communications when the current Skynet 5 Private Finance Initiative (PFI) service provision contract terminates on 31 August 2022, through to 2041. This capability will be delivered through 4 main components:

  • SKYNET 6A, a single Satellite procurement from Airbus Defence and Space (ADS), under a single source contract.
  • Service Delivery Wrap, a support contract for management services to control the SKYNET constellation, extend the life of key ground infrastructure and manage satellite communication services.
  • SKYNET 6 Enduring Capability, encompassing determination of the future architectures, followed by provision and operation of both satellites and ground infrastructure to deliver satellite communication services on an enduring basis.
  • Secure Telemetry, Tracking and Command (STT&C), providing assured sovereign control and management of satellites and their payloads
On 19 July 2020 Airbus Defence and Space signed a contract with the UK Ministry of Defence (MOD) to extend and enhance the Skynet fleet. This will involve the development, manufacture, cyber protection, assembly, integration, test and launch, of a military communications satellite, Skynet 6A, planned for launch in 2025. The contract 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. The value of the contract is more than £500 million.

Richard Franklin, Airbus Defence and Space UK Managing Director said: “Airbus is extremely proud to be awarded this critical UK defence contract continuing our long tradition as the UK national milsatcom end-to-end services provider. 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. Airbus is fully committed to delivering world-class military communications services to our Armed Forces across the globe, and look forward to delivering this step change in capability to the MOD,” he continued.

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said: “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.”

The Skynet 6A satellite will be based on Airbus’ Eurostar Neo telecommunications satellite platform. It will utilise more of the radio frequency spectrum available for satellite communications and the latest digital processing to provide both more capacity and greater versatility than Skynet 5 satellites. The satellite will feature electric orbit raising propulsion as well as electric station keeping systems for maximum cost effectiveness. Complete satellite integration will take place at Airbus facilities in the UK followed by testing using RAL Space testing facilities at Harwell in Oxfordshire supporting the UK Space Agency initiative for sovereign UK end-to-end satellite production and support.

Science Minister Amanda Solloway said: “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.”

The satellite was due for launch in 2025, and would have a minimum design lifetime of 15 years. Its orbital position will be announced closer to the launch date.

Airbus provides a range of space-based services to customers worldwide including supporting the UK Armed Forces, and its NATO Allies. Airbus has owned and operated the Skynet military communications system, providing 24/7 services across the world for more than 15 years on behalf of the UK MOD. Airbus recently announced its partnership with KBR, Leidos, Northrop Grumman and QinetiQ to work together for the next phase of proving secure milsatcoms for the UK MOD focusing on new thinking and greater involvement of SMEs.

SK6 project will procure assets and services to maintain mission critical communication capability for the MOD/ UK Armed Forces beyond 2022, at which point the current Skynet 5 (SK5) PFI, will expire, with the orbital assets and ground stations transferring to the Crown. The delivery approach includes three delivery workstreams and two enabling workstreams. The current core team comprise a mix of civil servants, military and contractors totalling 47 people – NB. At 47 the team is under resourced. 54% of the team is comprised of contractor resources (including MOD Contingent Labour). Functionally, the Crown Servant resources available consist of project management and commercial skillsets, along with a limited number of engineering personnel.

The SKYNET 6 programme is essential to the sustainment of Beyond Line of Sight Communications and the Defence Operations dependant on these communications. The programme is well-founded to deliver this ongoing capability, and to manage the inherent complexity and risk in such a program. The reason for raising this AOA is to highlight the level of risk against achieving the demanding schedule for the delivery of SKYNET 6A with a Planning Assumption for Service Entry of Q2 2025.

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Page last modified: 21-07-2020 09:44:15 ZULU