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Skynet 5B still on ground after Arianespace snags

'System has been delivered on time'

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The UK armed forces' Skynet 5B military communications satellite, which was due to be launched on Friday night, has suffered a second delay over the weekend and remains on the ground in French Guiana. A revised launch date and time are not yet available.

Skynet 5B was to join the 5A spacecraft launched earlier this year, completing the British forces' satellite coverage of nearly two-thirds of the world. There will also be an on-orbit spare, Skynet 5C, but the system will be fully operational once the second satellite is up.

The original launch was delayed by an electronics problem in the Ariane 5 rocket aboard which the satellite is to travel into space (along with a Brazilian telecoms bird). Now a second hitch has arisen, related to pipework in the launch pad.

The Skynet programme is notable for being privately funded. Paradigm, its operator, expects to recoup its initial outlay by charging the Ministry of Defence for bandwidth. It believes this is a feasible business strategy despite the strain on MoD budgets because of additional Treasury "conflict resolution" funds which are made available when the UK is engaged in wars.

Paradigm believes, probably correctly, that Britain will be at war in Afghanistan (and to some degree elsewhere) for years, and thus the MoD will have both the need for satellite bandwidth and extra money to pay for it. In any case, Skynet bandwidth can also be sold to other customers.

"Skynet's been delivered on time and on budget," Paradigm chief Malcolm Peto told the Beeb.

Apart from this little ongoing delay from Arianespace. ®

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