The UK military telecommunications Skynet 5 satellite constellation should be in orbit by the end of this year, with the launch of the first of its three spacecraft, Skynet 5A, on 9 March and 5B in the third or fourth quarters.

The third satellite, 5C, is a spare and will be launched in 2008. The first two spacecraft will have in-orbit commissioning phases lasting eight days. Skynet 5A was to have been launched in the second half of 2006, followed by 5B this year and 5C in 2008.

Arianespace has been selected for the first two launches, with Skynet 5A part of a dual payload along with India's Insat 4B on an Ariane 5 rocket. There is no date to launch the fourth Skynet spacecraft. "We are only building the long lead items for 5D," says EADS Astrium.

The fourth satellite would be completed and launched in the event that one of the first three satellites was not successfully commissioned after launch.

The third satellite and partial construction of a fourth was added to the Skynet deal in a contract extension between Skynet operator and EADS Space Services company Paradigm Secure Communications and the UK Ministry of Defence, signed in December 2005.

Paradigm signed the original £2.5 billion ($4.93 billion) private finance initiative contract with the MoD in October 2003 for the provision of military satellite communications services up to 2018.

The constellation's satellites will have ultra-high frequency and super-high frequency payloads and steerable spot beam communication with an anti-jam capability.Paradigm is providing services to Canada, France, Germany, Portugal and the UK and their armed forces in Afghanistan, the Balkans and Iraq with the UK's current Skynet 4 satellites.

Source: Flight International