The government is allowing contractors to sell off spare capacity on its military satellite as part of a £2.5bn deal to update Ministry of Defence (MoD) communications.
A British-based consortium, Paradigm Secure Communications, has won the £2.5bn, 15-year deal for Skynet 5, which will see two satellites launched to provide communications for the armed forces.
Paradigm has already taken over the existing Skynet 4 infrastructure, and will be responsible for launching and running the replacement satellites.
Because the new satellites are in effect leased by the MoD, Paradigm will be able to sell off any spare capacity.
While plans for the type of service are at an early stage, applications such as transmitting real-time imaging data are looking interesting, said Steve Smart, director of space and satellite at IT solutions company, LogicaCMG.
LogicaCMG won an £80m slice of the Skynet 5 deal and will provide the management systems, based on SAP software, that will allow Paradigm to set up billing systems for satellite usage.
"Satellite communications are crucially important on the battlefield; they give our troops, their commanders and UK headquarters access to information across robust links," said defence procurement minister, Lord Bach.
"The use of [the] private finance initiative means armed forces personnel are freed from the requirement to operate and maintain these systems."
The Skynet satellites are due to be launched by 2007. Paradigm will spend the next two years updating the infrastructure taken over from the MoD.
Initially two satellites will be relied upon to provide the secure military communications, but there are provisions for further satellites to be sent up.
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