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Airbus Sets The Scene for Skynet 6 By Julian Nettlefold


AIRBUS_D&S_Flat_CMYKAirbus Defence and Space (Airbus DS) invited BATTLESPACE to an update at its Corsham Skynet 5 facility for an update on the Skynet 5 satellite service provision contract. BATTLESPASCE last visited the facility in 2008.

The MoD is in the early stages of planning the Future Beyond Line of Sight (FBLOS) Programme which may or may not include Skynet 6.

Present at the brief were:

Rick Greenwood – Head of Engineering & Operations, Government Communications, Airbus Defence and Space (Airbus DS)

Lee Wookey – Head of Business Winning UK, Government Communications, Airbus Defence and Space (Airbus DS)

Wing Commander Richard Barr – UK MOD Joint Force Command Information Systems & Services (JFC ISS)

Ewan Haggarty – Spacecraft Management Authority, Government Communications, Airbus Defence and Space (Airbus DS)

The Skynet 5 service contract provides the UK’s strategic sovereign MILSATCOM capability for worldwide BLOS capability. As such the contract contains specific measures to protect MOD’s interests

The operations are integrated into the MOD JFC ISS command and control processes

Skynet supports other UK Government users for assured secure communications and other Government military communications requirements e.g. HITS

Rick Greenwood said that one of the key enablers of the Skynet Constellation was its ability to deploy to key areas and direct its beam directly onto the area required by the MoD, thus the Skynet’s satellites are spacecraft not satellites.

“This capability is unique to a non-governmental service provider, the other key capability is the provision of ‘X’ Band capability, Skynet 5 is the most powerful ‘X’ Band satellite in the world..” Rick Greenwood said

X-Band is used by military & government organisations for mission critical communications where loss of communications is not an option

X-band is ideal for communications to:

.Remote & harsh locations without any infrastructure

.Maritime & Naval platforms

.Small disadvantaged terminals

.Platforms which suffer from severe weather & rain fade

.Airborne & COTM platforms

.Critical military operations which require resilience, security and high power data rates

“The success of the Skynet 5 contract has been the partnership between Airbus DS and its sub-contractors with the MoD (JFC ISS).” Richard Barr said. “Rather than work at arm’s length between our 2 individual HQs at Corsham, we are co-located in one List-X facility enabling fast reaction times between placing a requirement for communications to Airbus executing the requirement. The time given for execution can be from a few hours to a month. Airbus plans the complete communications package including satellites, ground stations and other communications.”

“Airbus has the ability to procure any part of the system using its own financial facilities and contractors which allows new capabilities to be fielded in weeks rather than months. We also provide support on the ground, for instance we deployed 54 personnel to Afghanistan to support communications there. Satcom formed a crucial part of the British Armed Forces communications infrastructure in Afghanistan given the difficulties of operating the Bowman system in mountainous areas. Skynet 5 allows the Army to receive direct communications into the heart of the Afghan war zone. We continue to provide support post-withdrawal of the ground troops. We operate over 200 terminals for the Royal Navy, RAF and Army, as well as providing Third Party services for other countries.” Rick Greenwood continued.

Network Operations Centre

We were then escorted into the ‘holy of holies,’ the Network Operations Centre which controls the Constellation.

There are three rooms within the secure Network Operations Centre, the Primary Spacecraft Operations Centre, the Network Planning Centre and the Spacecraft Engineering Specialists room. The PSOC is manned 24/7 by a team of 4 people.

“How much notice do you get of a possible problem?” The Editor asked Ewan Haggarty.

“We have continuous communications with all the spacecraft. SKYNET 5s look after themselves very well. As soon as a problem is encountered the spacecraft will automatically switch to a back up system and communicate the problem to us on the ground. We will then fix the problem, almost always with no interruption to services at all. If the problem is significant, and we haven’t had one that bad yet, the spacecraft will shut down all of its comms payload, point its solar panels to the Sun and wait for us to fix it.”

“Are you concerned about hacking and cyber intrusion into your systems?”

“All the spacecraft and our comms system have been hardened against cyber intrusion. Indeed one of the key elements of Skynet  is the provision of a secure and  robust cyber defence system. When planning the complete communications requirement for the MoD, one of the key requirements from our sub-contractors is the provision of secure and robust communications with specifications meeting the top end of requirements.”

“What about solar storms and other satellites?”

“We get notified of any close approach by the Space Data Association which monitors space on a 24/7 basis. We can then move our spacecraft away from the other satellite or just keep a watching brief. Space Weather is also closely monitored, particularly solar storms which affect the ionosphere and can cause communication problems. Again, we have procedures for dealing with bad space weather.” Ewan Haggarty continued.

“The SKYNET 4 spacecraft have now gone beyond the end of their design lives, what happens to them now?”

“Indeed they have! The momentum wheels on Skynet 4C may be some of the oldest continuously moving systems in space. Having been launched in 1982, its 23 years old, and was designed for 7 years of operation! When we have to ‘Graveyard’ them, we place them in a circular orbit an extra 300 kilometres above the geosynchronous one.”

“How do you ensure that you have enough fuel to perform these final manoeuvres 23 years after launch?”

“We keep very careful account of every burn needed over the lifetime of the spacecraft and include calculations of the fuel needed for potential emergencies and its final graveyard manoeuvre. The move of SKYNET 5A to its new position over Asia was within its fuel budget and puts it in a position where it could provide services to a range of new clients.”

Airbus Defence and Space gave us details of the planned 67,000 km move of the Skynet 5A satellite over the Asia Pacific region is on track. The move from 6° East to 94.8° East will expand Airbus Defence and Space’s capability to provide protected and secure military satcom services to allied governments in the Asia-Pacific region. The satellite will be on station at its new location in the autumn this year.

Airbus Defence and Space announced the planned move of Skynet 5A military communications satellite at the Satellite 2015 Conference in March 2015. The relocation will extend the Skynet constellation coverage and services from 178 West to 163 East, including the Indian Ocean and Western Pacific region. This will provide near-global military X-band and UHF coverage, expanding core service reach for the UK military and augment coalition capabilities in the region.

“The Skynet 5 constellation consists of the world’s most powerful, nuclear hardened and protected, military X-band and UHF satellites,” said Lee Wookey “With the move of Skynet 5A, we will expand the availability of our premium secure MILSATCOM services to allied nations in the region who need high grade resilient and secure communications services to complement their existing systems.”

Given the new position of Skynet 5A, a new Ground Station is being constructed in Australia which will become operational in Q1 2016, with manual operations commencing in September 2015. This station will have direct secure links to Corsham.

“It must be getting crowded up there at the geostationary orbit level, how do you ensure that there is room for any new birds and there will be no collisions?”

“You can’t just launch a satellite – it requires years of planning and permission from a number of key agencies to give you the required orbital slot, but slots can be shared.” Ewan Haggarty continued. “For instance it is possible to group together in one position number of TV satellites with enough separation in frequency and position to ensure there is no interference.”

History of Skynet 5 Win

It’s worth looking back at the history of the Skynet 5 Private Finance Initiative (PFI)  bid in 2003 to understand the ground-breaking contract win by the then Paradigm Secure Communications.

Paradigm Secure Communications, a wholly owned subsidiary of EADS, signed the £2.5 billion Skynet 5 PFI contract was signed on October 24th 2003 Limited, with the UK Ministry of Defence (MOD).  An entirely new concept, Paradigm was the first ever company to deliver secure military satellite communications services under a PFI approach; the Skynet 5 contract extends through to 2018. [KB2] Today the contract has extended to 2022 and is worth 4bn (as it now includes SKYNET 5D – launched in 2012

This unique PFI approach provides the MOD with significant benefits, for example allowing the use of system capacity as and when required, enabling a hi-tech solution with regular technology upgrades and also ensuring that risk is transferred to the contractor.

Malcolm Peto (later to be judged BATTLESPACE Businessman of the Year 2006), Managing Director, Paradigm Secure Communications Limited, said, “Paradigm is delighted to have achieved contract signature and made such a successful start to the programme.  We recently took over operation of the existing UK Skynet 4 satellites and ground segment, and from today, are delivering services to a number of overseas customers.  Paradigm and its team members now look forward to developing this innovative concept into a reality and delivering secure, reliable, cost effective communications services to UK and other nations’ Armed Forces around the world.”

The Skynet 5 contract was awarded to Paradigm Secure Communications, the contractual entity responsible for meeting the UK MoD requirements; for seeking to capture overseas business; and for the relationship with its lead banks (BNP-Paribas, CIBC and HSBC) and financial advisor Citigroup.  Paradigm Secure Communications’ two primary subcontractors are Paradigm Services for end-to-end service delivery, including network maintenance, customer support and technical refresh, and EADS Astrium for the design and implementation of at least two new Skynet 5 satellites, upgrades to existing UK ground control stations, provision of a new fleet of land terminals and full upgrades for the SCOT communications terminals onboard Royal Navy ships.

Paradigm Secure Communications , now Airbus DS, brought together industry leaders in the fields of communications and service provision including Serco for satellite operations, LogicaCMG for software infrastructure, EADS Telecom (Cogent DSN) for the baseband network and encryption systems, General Dynamics Decision Systems for Iridium services, Stratos for Inmarsat services and Cable & Wireless for commercial satcom services.

The Skynet 5 satellites replaced the company’s highly successful Skynet 4 series of satellites, the last of which, Skynet 4F, was launched in February 2001. Airbus has expanded the skills and specialist knowledge gained from previous successful contracts and introduce new technologies whilst still making best use of flight-proven hardware.  The first two contracted satellites, Skynet 5A 5B, 5C and 5D were launched in 2006, 2007, 2008, 2012 respectively and will embody the latest advances in military satellite technology.

The Skynet 5 satellites were built using the new high-power E3000 variant of Airbus’s well-proven Eurostar spacecraft. 23 Eurostar-based satellites have been successfully launched in the last decade and, between them, have accumulated over 160 years of operational life.  Each Skynet 5 spacecraft will have 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 Airbus as part of the Skynet 5 programme include 59 “Reacher” tactical vehicle-mounted units in various configurations, capable of standing up to the rigours of all-terrain transport and operation in harsh environments.

Airbus also provides a complete upgrade to the Royal Navy’s SCOT shipborne satellite communications systems, which will involve the replacement of existing terminals on 28 ships.

Sky Net 5 – 5 Years on

In 2008 BATTLESPACE met Peter Bruton to discuss five years of progress at Corsham. The landmark PFI partnership between the UK MoD and Paradigm has now reached its fifth year of operation.

“It was a brave move on the MoD’s part to choose the Skynet 5 Project as a ground-breaking PFI?” the Editor asked Peter Bruton.

“Yes indeed, but you must remember that at that time the MoD had to consider all Procurements for PFI under the Public Sector Comparison Scheme. Skynet 5 was deemed to be a better value for money option under a PFI. The MOD had done its groundwork well, before the decision was taken”

“Yes, it is due to the long-term vision of EADS, now Airbus,  and its management to establish the company in such innovative communications projects. The Board of EADS was totally supportive in the early days and the Company is now reaping the rewards of its foresight.”

Airbus Defence and Space owns and operates the hardened Skynet X-band satellite constellation of 8 satellites and the ground network to provide all Beyond Line of Sight (BLOS) communications to the UK Ministry of Defence. The contract also allows other NATO and allied governments such as members of the five-eyes community (besides UK, the USA, Australia, New Zealand and Canada) to use the Skynet system to augment their existing services. Airbus Defence and Space also leases the X-band hosted payload on Telesat’s Anik G1 satellite which covers the Americas and parts of the Pacific including Hawaii and Easter Island.

Sky Net 6 Planning

“Do you see the Skynet 6 Requirement running along the same lines as Skynet 5?”

“We are in early days for Skynet 6 and believe that the Future Beyond Line of Sight (FBLOS) requirement (as it is officially known as by the MOD) is being put through its early programme stages by ISS at Corsham We don’t believe that it will be run on the same PFI lines as Skynet 5, given the lack of appetite for PFI in the current climate. ISS will start from a clean slate having recouped the Skynet 5 facilities and birds from us for a £1 in 2022. Indeed the lease on these very buildings expires in 2015, and this had to be extended over the duration of the contract.” Lee Wookey said “Do you expect strong competition[KB3] for Skynet 6?”

“Very much so and we don’t know yet whether the requirement will be for a serviced contract which will suit the likes of Inmarsat or a system management contract which we are well placed to compete for against the likes of Lockheed Martin and Boeing.”

“There were rumours that the MoD might ditch its sovereign capability and join the US WGS constellation?”

“We very much doubt this would happen given the advanced capabilities we have and the fact that nations such as Holland have to share positions of sensitive items with the US Government when joining WGS.”


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