The UK Ministry of Defence has awarded EADS Astrium Services subsidiary Paradigm a £400 million ($600 million) contract extension to supply a fourth satellite for its Skynet 5 constellation.

Paradigm says the addition of Skynet 5D "will enhance the military satellite communications service provision capability to the UK MoD and allied forces until at least 2022". This represents a two-year extension to its previous contract.

Operated under a private finance initiative arrangement since 2003, the Skynet 5 service has managed the transition from last-generation equipment through the launch of three new satellites in 2007 and 2008. Secure communications cover has been provided for UK military personnel in Afghanistan, Iraq and the Balkans region, says Paradigm. The addition of Skynet 5D will "satisfy increasing future capacity requirements", it adds.

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"The demand for a fourth Skynet 5 satellite demonstrates the growing global demand for the services we can offer, and proves that we have successfully implemented a truly innovative approach to milsatcom procurement," says Astrium Services chief executive Eric Béranger.

Paradigm had predicted the likely demand for additional capability through its private finance deal, and has already built the fourth satellite. Completion work will now be conducted before its scheduled launch in 2013. The UK's Skynet 5 commitment is now worth around £3.6 billion, it says.

"The demand for satellite communications is growing faster than originally predicted," says Darrell Midgley, information systems and services networks head for the UK's Defence Equipment and Support organisation.

Third party use is also supported via the UK's Skynet infrastructure. Australia, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, NATO, the Netherlands, Portugal and the USA have bought access to the system since 2003, and the Czech Republic, Norway and Slovenia have also recently signed up for access.

Source: Flight International