The UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) has invited industry to respond to a pre-pre-Qualification Questionnaire (PQQ) on the Wideband Satellite System (WSS) as part of the ongoing Skynet Enduring Capability (SKEC) requirement, that will provide military space-based communications services.

The SKEC programme procurement is for the design, manufacture, and post-design services of up to three wideband GEO satellite systems, associated ground equipment, and launch operations. The eventual contract is valued at £1.5bn and has an expected start date of 31 December 2025, terminating on 31 December 2040.

According to the MoD the functionality of the requirement will include X band, mil-Ka band, and UHF broadcast communications payload serving multiple service areas, including secure telemetry, tracking and command using X, mil-Ka and S-bands; inter-satellite links for communications payload traffic; the ability to link to anchors at mil-Ka and X band; nuclear radiation hardening, and have a minimum life of 15 years.

These satellite systems, and the procurement, are known as the Skynet Enduring Capability Wideband Satellite System (SKEC WSS).

The MoD’s £6bn Skynet 6 programme is expected to see the first satellite of the sixth-generation system launched in 2025. In February 2023, UK defence prime Babcock was awarded a six-year £400m contract to operate the existing Skynet constellation as well as accommodate future transitions to the upgraded military satellite communications services.  

Skynet military communications satellite programme

According to GlobalData’s Skynet project entry, Airbus Defence and Space, through its subsidiary Paradigm Secure Communications, was awarded a private finance initiative) contract worth around £4bn by the UK MoD in October 2003 to provide Skynet 5 satellite services up to 2020.

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The MoD subsequently awarded a £400m contract in March 2010, extending the procurement of satellite communication services up to at least 2022.

Skynet 5A, the first spacecraft in the constellation, was launched in March 2007. The second and third satellites, Skynet 5B and Skynet 5C, were launched in November 2007 and June 2008 respectively. The fourth and final satellite, Skynet 5D was launched in December 2012.

All four satellites of the Skynet 5 family were lifted into space by Arianespace’s Ariane 5 launcher from the Guiana Space Center in French Guiana, South America. Mission duration of the Skynet 5 satellites was set at 15 years.

The SKEC programme is intended to deliver the next generation of satellite communications to the MoD using new space assets, together with monitoring and control. The space-based assets will be support by additional commercial service, according to the UK MoD.

The contractual need of the SKEC WSS for industry to provide launch operations will limit the scope of industry able to meet this requirement.