Airbus selects UK's NSTF for testing SKYNET 6A satellite

Airbus, a leading aerospace and defence company, has selected the National Satellite Test Facility (NSTF) in Oxfordshire, UK, to undertake a comprehensive testing campaign on the UK Ministry of Defence’s next-generation secure communications satellite, SKYNET 6A. The testing campaign will involve various tests, including electromagnetic compatibility, acoustic, and thermal vacuum testing, to simulate the harsh conditions of space.

The NSTF, a government-funded facility operated by experts from the Science and Technology Facilities Council’s STFC RAL Space, will conduct the testing campaign, which is valued at £116 million. SKYNET 6A, entirely designed, built and tested in the UK, will be the first SKYNET milsatcom satellite of its kind. It will provide secure communication services for the UK’s armed forces worldwide following its launch in 2025.

Richard Franklin, Managing Director of Airbus Defence and Space UK, said, “SKYNET 6A is designed and manufactured at our Stevenage and Portsmouth sites and will undergo its entire testing campaign at the new National Satellite Test Facility. It is fitting that the facility’s first testing contract is for Britain’s’ next generation SKYNET 6A, which will provide critical, secure-communications capability for our armed forces and will help further extend the UK’s space ecosystem and capability.”

The project is a collaborative effort of a 500-strong team at Airbus and is supported by over 45 SMEs across the UK. The selection of the NSTF by Airbus and the UK Ministry of Defence will attract new businesses to Harwell and the UK, promoting investment and technology development, including advanced satellite manufacturing, secure communications, navigation, and Earth observation.

Ian Annett, Deputy CEO at the UK Space Agency, commented on the NSTF’s significance, saying, “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. 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.”

The testing campaign will take place entirely at the new NSTF, which is equipped with state-of-the-art facilities, including acoustic chambers, electromagnetic compatibility test chambers, and thermal vacuum chambers. The NSTF has been designed to support the development and testing of advanced space technologies and is set to become a key asset for the UK’s space industry.

SKYNET 6A is a vital component of the UK Ministry of Defence’s defence strategy, providing the country’s armed forces with secure and reliable communication services. The satellite will offer advanced capabilities, including increased bandwidth and resilience, enabling faster and more effective decision-making, which is essential in today’s rapidly evolving defence environment.

The comprehensive testing campaign of SKYNET 6A at the NSTF represents a significant milestone for the UK’s space industry, showcasing the country’s capability to deliver innovative and advanced space technologies.