The UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) has awarded Airbus Defence and Space a £500m ($627m) contract for the Skynet 6A fleet military communications satellite.

Under the contract, Airbus will be responsible for the development and production of the satellite. The company will also perform cyber protection, assembly, integration, test and launch activities.

The Skynet 6A is expected to safeguard British Armed Forces worldwide with fast, secure and reliable communications.

The satellite is scheduled to launch in 2025 and has a minimum design lifetime of 15 years.

The contract also includes technology development programmes, new secure telemetry, tracking and command systems, launch, in-orbit testing and ground segment updates to the current Skynet 5 system.

Using a high radio frequency spectrum and advanced digital processing, the satellite will provide more enhanced capacity and speed than Skynet 5.

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The satellite will use the new Airbus Eurostar Neo telecommunications satellite platform coupled with electric orbit raising propulsion and station keeping systems.

UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said: “To safeguard our military on operations around the world we need to ensure that we protect their communications on land, sea or in air.

“The newest contested frontier is space and so we need to provide resilience and better communications for our forces.

“Skynet 6A is one of many solutions we shall be investing in over the next decade. This Government recognises the urgent need to defend and promote space capabilities.”

Once launched, the satellite will offer troops secure communications until 2040.

The Skynet 6A will be controlled from the UK’s existing ground stations and tested using RAL Space’s testing facilities at Harwell in Oxfordshire.

The contract will sustain 550 skilled jobs. Work will be performed at Airbus’ UK facilities.

UK Science Minister Amanda Solloway said: “Space technology plays an important role in supporting our military and keeping us safe, while also boosting the UK’s economy and enabling world-leading science and research.

“With this major investment in Skynet 6A, the development of the National Satellite Test Facility and the launch of a dedicated innovation programme, we are setting a bold new ambition for the UK in space.”

Airbus has been involved in all Skynet phases since 1974.