NEWTOWN, Conn. -- To meet future needs and replace aging in-orbit satellites, the U.K. MoD started the Skynet 6, formerly the Future Beyond Line of Sight (FBLOS), program. The Skynet 6 program calls for both gapfiller and long-term solutions to milsatcom needs in the U.K. The gapfiller portion will be built by Airbus under a noncompetitively awarded contract as the U.K. works to maintain domestic production capabilities. However, contracts for production of future satellites will be competitive.
Skynet 5 is a Private Finance Initiative, meaning that the U.K. government leases capacity from a commercial supplier (Airbus Defence and Space Secure Communications). In return, the supplier can sell spare capacity to friendly governments. For example, in June 2015, Airbus agreed to supply 30 MHz of satellite capacity from the Skynet constellation to Norway for four years. The current PFI contract will continue through 2022.
The U.K. intends to find a contractor to manage the ground segment of the Skynet system. While using a PFI arrangement is not likely, management of the ground system will be done by a commercial contractor rather than in-house.
At one point, the U.K. was expected to have replacement satellites in orbit by the time the PFI agreement was completed in 2022. However, it now appears that London will seek a company to manage its Skynet 5 satellites after 2022. That company will then transition to managing Skynet 6 satellites at a later date.
The U.K. wants to have Skynet 6A operational by 2025. That means a launch by 2024 is likely. Launches of the remaining satellites will follow shortly after. They will remain in orbit for about 15 years after that.