Britain in the USA
UK's fourth generation military communications satellite blasts off

Ministry of Defence Press Release, 10 January 1998

The UK Ministry of Defence's SKYNET 4D satellite was launched, in the early hours of today (UK time), from the Kennedy Space Centre at Cape Canaveral, Florida, USA, using a DELTA booster rocket, supplied by Boeing (formerly McDonnell Douglas).

SKYNET 4D is the latest in a line of UK military communications satellites, going back to SKYNET 1, launched in the late 1960's.

SKYNET 4 first entered service in 1988. Three satellites were built by British Aerospace and Marconi (now part of Matra Marconi Space (MMS)) for UK service and two more for NATO (NATO IV). All five of these satellites are controlled on behalf of the three UK armed services and NATO by the Royal Air Force (RAF) from ground stations in the UK.

As the existing UK satellites (SKYNET 4A, B and C) reach the end of their operational lives, after nearly a decade's service, they will be replaced by three further satellites (SKYNET 4D, E and F), known collectively as SKYNET 4 Stage 2. These new satellites will have an enhanced communications package and will provide UHF (Ultra High Frequency) and SHF (Super-High Frequency) communications services designed to support the UK armed forces in their enhanced roles, such as the NATO Rapid Reaction Force and support of humanitarian aid anywhere in the Western hemisphere.

The SKYNET 4 Stage 2 programme is the subject of a fixed-price prime contract placed by the MoD Procurement Executive with MMS in 1993. It covers the design, production, launch, in-orbit testing and delivery in-orbit of the satellites, together with the associated ground station work.

The launch of SKYNET 4D means that the withdrawal of existing SKYNET 4 Stage 1 satellites can commence. The remaining two launches, this time using the European ARIANE 4 launch vehicle, are planned for later in 1998 and 1999.

Lord Gilbert, Minister of State for Defence Procurement said:

'Satellite communications are essential to support all aspects of modern military operations. In the UK, they are required to provide the necessary national communications support for strategic nuclear forces, maritime, air and land forces under both NATO and national tasking, together with UK forces deployed overseas. The successful launch of the SKYNET 4D satellite goes a significant way towards ensuring that this essential service is continued into the next century.'


The requirement for UK military satellite communications is currently met by the SKYNET 4 Stage 1 system which consists of three Super High Frequency / Ultra High Frequency (SHF/UHF) satellites and an associated UK ground segment which provides satellite control and communications management facilities.

The SKYNET 4 Stage 1 satellites are now being replaced by the three new SKYNET Stage 2 satellites. These will serve until the middle of the next decade, when they are scheduled to be replaced under the SKYNET 5 programme. A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was recently signed with France and Germany to undertake a collaborative Project Definition phase for this programme, under the title of TRIMILSATCOM.