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Airbus Defence and Space Services is 10

This month sees Airbus Defence and Space Services reaching the landmark date of 10 years since its creation.

Skynet 5

At the turn of the century Airbus Defence and Space was not alone in seeing a future where the service sector would take on increasing importance. However, it was unique in seeing this future in the military telecoms domain and bidding to take over ownership of the UK’s military satellites. It was to be the start of an exciting adventure for all involved.

Even prior to Skynet 5, Airbus Defence and Space, then under the Paradigm brand, began delivering ‘WelComE’ services to British troops serving overseas enabling them to keep in touch with families and friends back home. Starting in 1999, the ‘WelComE’ service demonstrated that a civilian supplier was able to deliver services in an operational military environment.

Following the Skynet 5 contract signature in 2003 Airbus Defence and Space took over ownership and operation of the Skynet 4 satellites. It then started building up a number of export customers, as well as NATO, whose military communications were delivered via the Skynet fleet – initially the existing Skynet 4s and from 2007 the Skynet 5s.

Welfare communications for troops

Welfare communications for troops were extended from the British to various troops across Europe – to the French in 2008 under the Passerel contract, to the Irish in 2009 and then to the German Bundeswehr in 2011. Operational communications services for the French military were subsequently introduced in 2010 under the Astel-S contract.

While military communications was the catalyst for Airbus Defence and Space’ creation, this was just the beginning. It was soon recognised that Airbus Defence and Space’ real strength would lie in being able to offer a range of space-based services. So, with the creation of a subsidiary, then known as Infoterra, imaging services were rapidly introduced to the portfolio.

Expanding the imaging side with the launch of TerraSAR-X in 2007 – operated by Airbus Defence and Space on behalf of the German Aerospace Centre – a year later, Airbus Defence and Space acquired one of the market leaders, Spot Image in France, as well as the smaller iMass to complement its existing Infoterra activities in the UK. Soon after the Spot Image acquisition, Airbus Defence and Space decided to launch the self-funded Astroterra programme to ensure it was able to continue delivering services post-Spot 5 – already past the end of its scheduled service life at that point.

Spot 5

This decision paid off, and despite Spot 5 still continuing to deliver millions of images a year, the Spot 6 satellite joined it in orbit last year, only serving to strengthen Airbus Defence and Space’ offering. Moreover, the Pléiades 1A and TanDEM-X satellites were launched in 2011, with Pléiades 1B following in 2012, meaning that Airbus Defence and Space now has a comprehensive portfolio of optical and radar imaging resources.


At the same time the communications arm of Airbus Defence and Space wasn’t standing still as the decision was made to proceed with construction of a fourth Skynet 5 satellite in 2010 (launched in 2012), along with the British MoD’s agreement to extend the Skynet 5 concession period to 2022.

Yet the biggest change for communications was yet to come – with the acquisition of commercial satcom provider Vizada at the end of 2011. The purchase of Vizada added a new string to Airbus Defence and Space’s bow – now in the shape of the Business Communications division.

It has been a breath-taking first 10 years. Let’s continue to keep ahead of the game, taking on new challenges and delivering the best services to our customers.

Geoinformation ServicesTelecom ServicesSkynet 5SPOTTerraSAR-XSATCOMBwPléiadesSecure communications systems