EADS Astrium (OE13) showed a model of what it claims is the world's most sophisticated satellite for secure military communications. The company's Paradigm business already has three in geostationary orbit, with a fourth currently in testing in Toulouse before it is shipped to the European Space Agency's launch centre in Kourou, French Guiana, for a November or December Ariane 5 flight to complete the constellation.
Business development director for UK defence, Ken Hadfield, says Paradigm provides secure military communications services to 15 countries plus NATO from Skynet 5, the predecessor Skynet 4 satellites and a previous generation of NATO communication satellites. Skynet 5 contracts, he says, are worth £4.5 billion ($7 billion).
The Skynet spacecraft, he adds, are hardened against all attack or interference and feature a novel technology in the form of steering vanes that use solar wind to keep them on station in their fixed geostationary orbit. Critically, such automatic station-keeping saves fuel and should extend spacecraft service life.
The Skynet 4 satellites, by contrast, are geosynchronous, meaning they are held in East-West position but can drift slightly North and South. As a result, Paradigm is able to sell a communications channel to the US Antarctic Survey station for two hours a day.
Paradigm has a yearly turnover of some £350 billion and employs 300 people, mostly in the UK. "We've taken a commercial model to military communications," says Hadfield.