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Airbus selects UK NSTF for SKYNET testing

Ian Annett, Deputy CEO UK Space Agency, Matt Fletcher Head of Environmental Test at STFC RAL Space, and Richard Budd, Head of Secure Communications UK, US & Australia, Airbus Defence and Space, at the signing ceremony for SKYNET 6A testing. Credit: STFC RAL Space
Ian Annett, Deputy CEO UK Space Agency, Matt Fletcher Head of Environmental Test at STFC RAL Space, and Richard Budd, Head of Secure Communications UK, US & Australia, Airbus Defence and Space, at the signing ceremony for SKYNET 6A testing. Credit: STFC RAL Space

London, 12 May 2023.- Airbus announced on the 11th of May that it has selected the National Satellite Test Facility (NSFT) at Hartwell in Oxfordshire to carry out the test campaign on the UK Ministry of Defence’s next generation secure communications satellite SKYNET 6A.

The £116 million NSTF is funded by the government and operated by experts from the STFC RAL Space (Science and Technology Facilities Council), who will carry out the SKYNET 6A test campaign. This will include testing the electromagnetic compatibility, as well as acoustic and thermal vacuum testing, to replicate the harsh conditions of space. 

“The National Satellite Test Facility is a significant addition to the UK’s growing space infrastructure that will improve the support available for companies across the breadth of the UK space industry, which employ thousands of people across the country. The brand new facility, the first customer of which will be Airbus Defence and Space, will also help attract new businesses of all shapes and sizes to Harwell and the UK,” says Ian Annet, Deputy CEO at the UK Space Agency. “This will catalyse investment and accelerate the development of new technologies for decades to come – from advanced satellite manufacturing to secure communications, navigation and Earth observation.”

SKYNET 6A will be the first SKYNET milsatcom satellite to be entirely designed, built and tested in the UK. According to Richard Franklin, the managing director of Airbus Defence and Space UK, SKYNET 6A is designed and manufactured at our Stevenage and Portsmouth sites and will undergo its entire testing campaign at the new NSTF. 

The programme involves a 500-strong team at Airbus and is being supported by more than 45 SMEs across the UK. This geostationary telecommunications satellite intends to provide secure communications services for the UK’s armed forces around the world. It is expected to launch in 2025.

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