LONDON — Astrium’s U.K. arm is promoting the idea of working with the British government to field a space-surveillance capability that could be modeled on the Skynet 5 commercial satellite service contract.

The goal would be to provide the U.K. with space-based imagery that could then also be provided on a barter basis to European allies to gain access to what other countries collect, says Martin Littlehales, head of U.K. security and defense marketing at Astrium U.K. The goal is not to duplicate the systems of France, Germany and Italy, but to create some unique capabilities such as wide-area maritime modes, he suggests.

The effort would draw on the Surrey Satellite capability acquired by Astrium. “We would conceptually provide this service with the government just paying for use,” Littlehales says. “We do not look for up-front funding,” he tells the Royal United Services Institute’s Air Power Conference 2011. Industry also could sell some of the product to other operators.

Under the proposed architecture, images would be available within minutes on a global basis. The imagery would be collected initially at an unclassified level to ease data sharing.

One of the issues in the U.K., though, is demand. The U.K. Space Agency is examining what the government-wide demand is for space-based imagery (even beyond the national security structure), but Littlehales indicates the outcome of that assessment so far is not positive.

Littlehales also says that work needs to begin soon on the Skynet 5 follow-on. The current program is assured through 2022, but to ensure that no gap emerges thereafter will require design and development activities in the not-too-distant future.