Britain's fourth Skynet 5D military telecom satellite was successfully launched from Europe's Guiana Space Center Dec. 19 as a co-passenger with Mexico's Mexsat 3 atop an Ariane 5 rocket.
The Astrium-built Skynet 5D is likely the last satellite of Britain's Skynet 5 military communications constellation, which is owned and has been operated by Astrium Services since 2007 for the U.K. Defense Ministry. Signed in 2003 and valued at £3.6 billion ($5.6 billion), the contract gives Astrium ownership of the satellites through 2022 and the rights to sell the system's X-band and UHF-band capacity to other governments and NATO, once British military demand is met.
In addition to Skynet 5, Astrium continues to operate three legacy Skynet 4 satellites, one of which is now over 21 years old. Rounding out the constellation is an earlier NATO satellite purchased by Astrium after the alliance decommissioned it. However, only the Skynet 5 satellites are necessary to meet the company's core obligations to the ministry, allowing the company to sell capacity on the other four spacecraft to other governments.