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Serco – A Leading Space Services Provider By Julian Nettlefold

Visit by Serco EMT to Defence Academy site, Shrivenham








BATTLESPACE Editor Julian Nettlefold met up with Paul McCarter, leader of Serco’s UK Defence business, responsibilities include Space, Maritime, Aerospace and Nuclear domains.

“Serco’s involvement in the international space industry has not been widely reported until recently with the formation of your team to bid for the Skynet 6 Service Delivery Wrap in 2019 and your Team Athena announcement last month. Can you give our readers an outline of Serco’s international space activities?” The Editor said.






“Serco’s first space contract was in 1988 to manage the RAF Fylingdales Ballistic Missile Early Warning facility North Yorkshire, UK.  In May 2020, Serco was awarded a further three-year contract extension by the UK MoD to continue to provide operations and maintenance support to the Solid State Phased Array Radar (SSPAR), part of the UK/US Ballistic Missile Early Warning System located at RAF Fylingdales. The current six-year contract ran from 1 April 2014 and was valued at over £15 million. This contract extension is the first of two three year options. Under the terms of the contract, Serco will continue to be responsible for the operation, maintenance and repair of the SSPAR and associated hardware and life support systems including Project Management and Software maintenance activities. Paul McCarter said.

RAF Fylingdales is considered one of the key components of UK national security providing Ballistic Missile Early Warning Operations for more than 57 years. Serco is the only prime contractor to have continuously operated and maintained the facility since its installation, despite 11 competitive tender exercises. Some of the Serco team have been supporting RAF Fylingdales since the very beginning, while Serco as a company has provided continuous support on site since its formation in 1988.





“How much revenue does the Serco Space segment contribute to Serco Plc.?”

“Given that many of the contracts are for a set period over many years, it does vary but it averages in excess of £100m per annum.  Serco is a leading Space Services Provider with over 2000 skilled resources supporting more than 25 space missions on behalf of more than 10 Space or Government agencies around the globe. Serco offers space capability across the full space lifecycle from satellite testing to Launch services, LEOP to Space craft operations, space surveillance to data management, and supporting  downstream application development.  With over 55 years history in the Space sector Serco is well placed to contribute to National strategies and blend best practice between both civilian and military domains globally.  Here in the UK we support MoD and Allied nations with the security cleared Spacecraft operators, SQEP expertise in Orbital Analysis, Military Satellite Communications, Network and Ground station Operations, and the provision of a substantial number of the technical operations staff supporting the Skynet 5 Service Delivery.”

On November 5th 19 Serco announced its intention to bid as Prime Contractor for the future UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) requirement for a successor to the current Skynet 5 support contract, known as ‘Service Delivery Wrap’ (SDW),  and will be leading a team of specialist system integrators and world class aerospace companies.

The Serco led consortium will comprise global defence and aerospace company Lockheed Martin, global IT specialist CGI and UK satellite operator Inmarsat, the world leader in global, mobile satellite communications, supported by a number of other highly skilled providers from across the domain. Serco and Lockheed Martin have worked together on a number of UK defence programmes over many years, whilst Serco, CGI and Inmarsat have worked closely together on the current Skynet 5 service from the start of its delivery. All the partners have a strong UK presence and track record with the UK MoD and wider space sector.

“We were delighted to be able to announce the formation of such a strong team last year, creating great balance between programme transition risk management as well as providing the MOD with access to best of breed capabilities and innovation.  Of course, we have worked closely with Lockheed Martin, the world’s largest space company for many years on a number of projects. Our consortium brings many years of experience of working on UK eyes-only critical defence contracts, combined with world leading expertise and technology.  The team has decades of experience of delivering mission critical military communications services to both UK military and ‘5 eyes’ customers. Together we can guarantee the UK MOD highly credible continuity of service as well as exciting opportunities for innovation. I’m afraid I can’t go into any more detail about the programme as all the consortia involved in the programme are subject to a Government NDA about the programme,” Paul McCarter said.

The MoD issued its Pre- Qualification Questionnaire for the Skynet 6 Service Delivery Wrap (SDW) phase on November 5th 2019, which will ensure successful transition and continuous delivery of service for future Skynet operations. The contract is expected to commence in 2021 with a one year transition phase prior to the end of the current Private Finance Initiative arrangement in 2022, under which both the current satellites and the support services were procured.  The MoD is also expected to facilitate future technology upgrades and satcom approaches for a longer-term contract, known as Skynet Enduring Capability (EC). MoD recently announced the companies successfully down selected from the PQQ, to take part in the ITN phase, which includes the Serco led team.

“In forming this consortium of bidders, you have brought together many of the major players associated with the Skynet 6 bid, including Lockheed Martin. Do you expect more outsourcing of service contracts on a flexible basis and the use of satellite services providers, such as Inmarsat to meet the UK MoD’s Beyond Visual Line-of-Sight (BVLOS) Requirements?”

“Certainly we see the MoD looking at a much more flexible approach to their BVLOS future requirements using a mixture of civil and military satcom to enable multi-domain activities across the globe as well as the use of tactical radio communications linked to satcom on the battlefield. In recent operations, the MoD has learnt that a flexible approach not only gives the soldier access to seamless 24/7 communications in theatre but it has also given the MoD the allowance to switch providers in the event of any cyber intrusions, thus ensuring the strength and resilience of the networks.”

“Will Brexit give a boost to the space sector?”

“Brexit has had both positive and negative effects on the UK space sector. The obvious negative is the inability of the UK to now participate in Galileo, with the knock of effect to UK companies involved in that. However, this also brings opportunity for participation in a UK alternative. Space and space technology, in the civil and defence arenas, is seen as a growth area across the world with a number of countries including the US, UK, Australia and Japan forming their own dedicated space forces. A key consequence of the Brexit process has been to assess and understand the indigenous UK space capability in terms of technology, manufacturing and SQEP and explore how to use it to best effect. The UK has world leading space technologies and capabilities in some areas, which are certainly of interest to our allies and a strong base from which to grow. Examples includes small satellite design and manufacture, and also SSA. Another aspect of the Brexit process is for the UK to continue its commitments as a key member of 5 Eyes, maintaining or enhancing its intelligence relationships, all whilst forging its new Global Britain identity.”

On June 24th a virtual conference was held by the Five Eyes nations to discuss ways to strengthen defence partnership. Five Eyes is an alliance comprising Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the UK and the US. Defence ministers of the mentioned nations participated in the video conference. The partner nations aim to support and defend a stable, rules-based global order. They also talked about commitment to advance defence and security cooperation on matters of mutual interest. Additionally, the group discussed the role of Indo-Pacific area for a secure, economically resilient community respecting the sovereign rights of all states. New opportunities to further strengthen the alliance relationship, hold regular meetings to address existing and emerging security challenges, as well as international rules and regulations were discussed.

“The news reported by the FT on Thursday June 25th that the UK Government is looking to invest in purchasing OneWeb from the receiver as part of a consortium is a good example of repatriating manufacturing and technology?”

On June 25th the FT reported that the UK is ready to invest millions to back OneWeb bid. Boris Johnson is reported to have pledged hundreds of millions of pounds to invest in the collapsed satellite operator OneWeb, in a move that underlines the government’s push to put the UK at the forefront of space technology. The prime minister’s decision to put up about £500m of taxpayers’ money to invest in UK-based OneWeb — as part of a wider private-sector consortium bid — confirms the government is confident about acquiring state ownership in leading sectors. If the bid is successful, the British state could end up with more than 20 per cent in OneWeb. Dominic Cummings, Mr Johnson’s chief adviser, was instrumental in pushing the case for the investment, which seeks to secure a frontline position for Britain in cutting-edge satellite navigation systems. The decision to invest was taken after an extended meeting between Mr Johnson and chancellor Rishi Sunak on Wednesday. 

“It is certainly a brave move but raises some potential technology pitfall questions. To succeed in precision navigation GNSS systems require complete accuracy which is why the majority of the world’s systems such as the US GPS, Europe’s Galileo, Russia’s Glasnost and the Indian NaviC systems are all GEO or Middle Earth Orbit (MEO) systems, whereas OneWeb is a Low Earth Orbit (LEO) system. LEO systems won’t last as long, are vulnerable to being taken out by missiles and they also suffer from magnetic field interference which is crucial at a time when the earth’s magnetic field is now moving. UK Industry are all keen for Government to back the creation of a national GNSS system, and to invest in the space sector, but there are concerns that this is an unproven capability with significant technical risks.”

Team Athena Launch

On May 19th, 2020 an announcement was made about the launch of a new UK-based space team to boost the sector and the economy in general. Serco, Inmarsat, CGI UK and Lockheed Martin UK have formed ‘Athena’ to develop additional UK space capabilities, win new business and boost the British economy. Athena is the UK’s new national team in space, formed by Serco, Inmarsat, CGI UK and Lockheed Martin UK. The four companies are world leaders in providing technology and services across defence, space, communications and information technology to governments, businesses and other organisations.

Athena has been formed to seize development opportunities that new space technologies will offer, driving economic growth for the UK and diversification across the British space sector as Athena succeeds. The combined capabilities and technologies available to Athena will enhance further the country’s ability to deliver the UK’s Prosperity and Security in Space’ strategy, which aims to increase the value of space to wider industrial activities to £500 billion, generate an extra £5 billion in UK exports and attract £3 billion of additional inward investment.

Kevin Craven Serco Chief Executive, UK & Europe, said,“I am delighted to introduce Athena as an exciting new team that will deliver enhanced space-based technologies and services from the UK. Athena will boost British capabilities, as well as the economy, via growth in this fast-moving, developing sector. The launch of Athena also ensures diversity and choice in the UK space sector for future sustainable development.”

Athena will work on a number of opportunities that leverage space-based technologies, their ground-based systems and end-to-end services as they arise, both in the UK and internationally in the export market.

The UK has significant potential for strong growth in the space sector, as it develops in importance worldwide to facilitate new technologies such as driverless transport, enhanced navigation, secure communications for defence and for industry via the Internet of Things (IoT) and, more broadly, as part of 5G and other hybrid networks.

While continuing to operate as separate companies, Athena will see Serco, Inmarsat, CGI UK and Lockheed Martin UK – already major employers in the UK – develop shared capabilities to meet future demand for space-enabled solutions for business and government customers. This will also aim to boost the UK economy, in partnership with the UK Government’s growing focus on the space sector and its priorities around ‘levelling up’ economic benefits across the country. Unleashing untapped potential in the UK space sector through future export business will deliver further growth and job creation at the four companies’ sites across the country as well as enhanced skills in the UK workforce.

“Outside the UK, you have considerable activities in Europe and the US?”

“Yes, in Europe we have been supporting the European Space Agency (ESA) for over 30 years, delivering specialist  space engineering skills, ground station satellite  controllers, EO mission support and data  management and support to space launch at  Kourou, French Guyana. We are supporting delivery of critical missions such as Copernicus. In the US we have won significant new space contracts over the past year including in April 2020 a new contract from the U.S. Space Force to manage, operate and maintain the Ground-Based Electro-Optical Deep Space Surveillance (GEODSS) system.  The contract has an eight-month base period and six one-year option years with a total value of $57 million. Our UK SSA and space ground station capability in the UK has been vital as referenceability for winning contracts with the USAF and US Space Command.. In addition to the GEODSS win in the USA, in the same month,  Serco’s Defence business was awarded a £25m contract by CACI to continue to provide operations and maintenance support to the US Air Force Satellite Control Network (AFSCN) at the Telemetry and Command Station (TCS) at Oakhanger, Hampshire, UK for a further four years until 2024. We were delighted to have been chosen to continue to provide these vital services for the US Space Force.  This is an important contract win for Serco and strengthens our capabilities in the Space market in the UK, which we see as an area of growth.  We will build on the success and experience of operating that site over the past seventeen years to continue to deliver and improve the services we provide in the coming years.

The GEODDS system supports the U.S. Strategic Command and theater war fighters’ requirements through the detection and surveillance of deep space satellites using one-meter telescopes that are equipped with highly sensitive digital camera technology.  The GEODSS system detects, tracks, identifies and reports on all deep-space man-made objects in the Earth’s orbit.  Both new objects that are discovered and objects already in the catalogue require regular observations in order to keep the orbit information accurate. Under this new contract, Serco’s operators will be performing space observation, including operating the telescopes, maintaining and supporting the systems, and logging and reporting the findings in support of the Combined Space Operations Center (CSpOC), the National Space Defense Center (NSDC) and the 18th Space Control Squadron (SPCS); Serco operators will also be undertaking Space Object Identification tasks in support of the National Air and Space Intelligence Center (NASIC).  Serco will provide operation and maintenance (O&M), along with exercise and testing, and mission systems maintenance including repairs, logistics management, civil engineering, and support depot modifications.  Work will be performed at all three geographically-separated GEODSS locations in Socorro, New Mexico; Diego Garcia, British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT); and Maui, Hawaii.

Serco has been providing the operations, maintenance and site services at TCS Oakhanger since 2003 as part of the UK Skynet 5 programme, since when customer satisfaction, reliability and safety have all been significantly improved.  As part of Serco’s wider Space capability, there are c.75 highly skilled Serco engineers and technicians employed on the contract to support the US Space Force. CACI is the Prime Contractor for the Consolidated Air Force Satellite Control Network Modifications, Maintenance and Operations (CAMMO) contract providing worldwide operations and maintenance for the AFSCN. The Oakhanger site is owned by the MOD and is the busiest ground station in the AFSCN supporting over 38,000 contacts during 2019 with an operational performance of 99.99%. The AFSCN, operated by the U.S.  Space Force’s Space Operation Command, provides support for the operation, control, and maintenance of a variety of United States Department of Defense and some non-DoD satellites. This involves continual execution of Telemetry, Tracking, and Commanding operations. In addition, the AFSCN provides prelaunch checkout and simulation, launch support, and early orbit support while satellites are in initial or transfer orbits and require manoeuvring to their final orbit. The AFSCN provides tracking data to help maintain the catalogue of space objects and distributes various data such as satellite ephemeris, almanacs, and other information.

“The establishment of Athena and your continued growth in international activities, particularly in Europe and the USA, will certainly cement Serco as a premier supplier of space services in the UK and beyond. Do you see this as the beginning of the establishment of Serco’s space activities as the driving force of the expansion of Serco Plc over the next decade and beyond?”

“Athena and the many relationships Serco already had with OEMs and SMEs on existing space programmes around the globe has positioned Serco to take advantage of new opportunities for UK space activities, including our interest in a potential Launch Site Operator role in the UK Launch programme.  There are 3 vertical launch sites in contention as well as 2 horizontal launch options and we have been tracking all five with interest and have a number of capabilities to offer. Over the last two years we have created a Serco Global Space community, who regularly review cross geography ideas, expertise and best practise. Space is an international endeavour and its only right that we bring our international capability to bear to prosecute it to best effect for both the UK Government and other 5 Eyes Governments. We have factored in a number of opportunities to drive growth throughout the next decade, but certainly if one of the larger opportunities available comes to fruition, it will be a game changer for Serco’s space activities.”

Serco Space Key stats

  • Space X Crew Dragon launch on its first pass and on subsequent orbits as it manoeuvred to the International Space Station (ISS). TCS have supported 8 launches this year so far, including ISS resupply missions

Paul McCarter BEng CEng MIET MBA CV

Paul McCarter served for twelve years in the Royal Signals and then developed a second career in the Technology and Defence sectors. His roles since military service have included Programme Management, Strategy, Business Development and, for the last 15 years, General Management as CEO or Managing Director of UK and International businesses. He has worked for Thales, Cobham and now Serco with an expertise and focus on Defence businesses with technology or engineering intellectual property at their core. His current role, as leader of Serco’s UK Defence business, has responsibilities that include Space, Maritime, Aerospace and Nuclear domains, with multiple critical national infrastructure assets. Through his career Paul has always been involved in adventure sports and ran several expeditions in his military career to train soldiers in skiing, scuba diving and free fall parachuting. During his second career he has supported Sir Ranulph Fiennes as his technology planner and advisor for all communications capabilities for ‘The Coldest Journey’. The expedition was an attempt to be the first ever unsupported Antarctic crossing during polar winter. Paul has a degree in Software Engineering, gained his chartered engineer in communications through the IET and his MBA through London Business School. He lives in Buckinghamshire with his family.

N.B. Since this interview. On Friday July 3rd, the UK was announced as the winning bidder for OneWeb. See: BATTLESPACE ALERT Vol.22 ISSUE 10, 03 July 2020 – UK Wins Bid For OneWeb

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