The Skynet-5D platform
weighs five tonnes. There are already three other satellites in orbit and this will complement them, allowing British forces to communicate with each other around the globe.
system is the largest space project of the UK. The program also includes radio equipment deployed on ships and held by troops. The program is contracted out to two private firms Astrium
and Paradigm Secure Communications.
. The arrangement is called a Private Finance Initiative (PFI) with the Ministry of Defence (MoD). Over a period of twenty years the contract is valued at 3.6 billion pounds. This is just one more of many examples of a symbiotic relationship between the military and private capital.
The UK military pays an annual fee for which they receive a guaranteed bandwidth. Any excess capacity is sold to other "friendly forces" usually NATO members.
The Skynet 5D will be dropped off 27 minutes after takeoff on the east coast of Africa. The 5D will then use its own propulsion system to move into a geostationary position at a 36,000 km altitude. The other three units in the Skynet series were launched back in 2007 and 2008. The Skynet spacecraft are as sophisticated as any satellite civilian platforms that can pass phone, Internet, or TV signals. However, they are "hardened" for military purposes. They are able to foil attempts to disable the craft through laser attacks and also able to thwart any attempts to jam the operations with signals.
The 5D system
is almost a clone of the first three 5A, 5B, and 5C. Skynet program manager at Astrium said:
"From a distance you would not be able to tell the difference between them all. It is inside though that there have been some subtle changes in terms of the configuration - particularly the UHF payload. We were able to introduce some design changes to be able to provide more than double the number of channels compared with 5A, 5B and 5C."
UHF is used by soldiers with backpack radios among others. Key encrypted data passes through a Super High Frequency band.
Skynet has some civilian uses as well. The High Integrity Telecommunication System of the UK Cabinet uses Skynet. HITS is a national-disaster-response capability that has a network running through police strategic command centers into crisis management centers.
The use of these satellites for military purposes represents another aspect of the militarization of space
Skynet is used byRAF pilots
to connect to their drones.