Airbus workers in Portsmouth will help build new satellites in £35m-a-year deal

An artist's impression of the two Hotbird satellites workers will help build as part of the deal
An artist's impression of the two Hotbird satellites workers will help build as part of the deal

SKILLED workers in Portsmouth will build ‘key’ satellite components as part of a new deal worth more than £35m per year.

Announced today, the agreement will see Airbus Defence and Space employees manufacture parts for Eutelsat Communications’ two new devices set to launch in 2021. 

UK Space Agency CEO Graham Turnock, Niclolas Chamussy of Airbus, minister for universities and science Sam Gyimah and Rodolphe Belmer of Eutelsat at the signing of the deal

UK Space Agency CEO Graham Turnock, Niclolas Chamussy of Airbus, minister for universities and science Sam Gyimah and Rodolphe Belmer of Eutelsat at the signing of the deal

The equipment will replace operator Eutelsat’s three current satellites and will be part-assembled in the UK – in Portsmouth and Stevenage – before being completed in Toulouse, France. 

According to business secretary Greg Clark the deal will support hundreds of existing high quality jobs in Portsmouth and Stevenage as well as thousands of supply chain jobs. 

‘This investment is a significant vote of confidence for the UK’s world leading space industry,’ the MP said. 

‘The UK is already a world-leader in developing satellite technology, with a 40 per cent share of the global export market of small satellites and building major parts for one in four of the world’s commercial telecommunications satellites.

James Meahy of Airbus, astronaut Tim Peake, UK Space Agency CEO Graham Turnock and Wayne Littlefield from Airbus at a Eutelsat event in Hilsea earlier this year

James Meahy of Airbus, astronaut Tim Peake, UK Space Agency CEO Graham Turnock and Wayne Littlefield from Airbus at a Eutelsat event in Hilsea earlier this year

‘This new deal builds on the recent announcement, as part of our Industrial Strategy, that the UK is investing in, and building, its first proposed spaceport in Sutherland.

‘The spaceport will further develop our expertise and capabilities in the space sector enabling us to launch small satellites.’

Today’s announcement means six out of seven of Eutelsat’s next satellites will be partially built in Britain, bringing inward investment of as much as €40m per year. 

It follows a row between Whitehall and Brussels after it was announced work on the Galileo satellite navigation system – part-built in Portsmouth – would be moved to the EU after Brexit. 

As previously reported, the move would affect as many as 100 jobs at the Airbus base at Anchorage Park, in Hilsea.

But thanks to today’s deal, Airbus workers will build entire communications payloads, platform structures, propulsion systems, antennae and mechanisms for Eutelsat’s new Hotbird satellites. 

The fleet delivers 1,000 television channels to more than 135m homes in Europe, North Africa and the Middle East.

Colin Paynter, managing director of Airbus, said the UK's support for the European Space Agency's communication satellite programme, Artes, had helped the firm ‘develop world-leading technology for the world's leading satellite operators’.

Rodolphe Belmer, Eutelsat chief executive, added the firm was ‘impressed with the ongoing expansion of the UK space sector’ and it will ‘continue to rely on the UK's ability to build and deliver world-leading spacecraft’.

The News visited Airbus earlier this year when astronaut Tim Peake was given a tour around the world’s first ‘chameleon’ satellite, as it was being built by Portsmouth workers. The device, Quantum, was commissioned by Eutelsat.