LONDON — The British Defence Ministry has awarded two contracts for the development of ground-based software to support its planned intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance satellite constellation.

The U.K. arms of Belgian-based company Rhea and American firm Lockheed Martin won separate contracts, cumulatively worth £4 million (U.S. $5 million).

The deals were announced Feb. 14, although both contractors have worked on their potential offerings since mid-2023, when they were selected from six firms initially tasked to undertake work on what is known as Project Beroe.

The amount of money involved may be small, but the outcome of the research and development work by the two companies could be key, according to Commodore David Moody, the head of capability at UK Space Command.

“This is a pivotal moment for UK Defence and the UK Space Sector as we develop software and partnerships that will determine the future of how we manage our activities in space,” Moody said in a statement released at the time of the announcement. “This project will enable us to define and understand how we will control and optimise the use of our satellites in a safe and sustainable way and is an important part of UK MOD’s future satellite aspirations.”

The 20-month-long contracts are scheduled to conclude in March 2025. There is no public timeline regarding the possible acquisition or future development phases of the software.

Existing British satellite control is focused around the Skynet 5 communications spacecraft network but Project Beroe is expected to enable satellite taskings from a much wider group of government entities and satellite types, individually or in concert.

Project Beroe is not directly related to Skynet and will support future non-Skynet satellite constellations like the low-Earth orbit ISTARI and Minerva programs.

Together, ISTARI and Minerva are to form the building blocks of a low-Earth orbit ISR capability for the British military.

ISTARI is a 10-year, £968 million program planned to deliver a multi-satellite system supporting surveillance and intelligence gathering for military operations.

Minerva is a £127 million project to develop four concept demonstrator satellites: Titania, Tyche, Oberon and Juno.

Tyche, which is the first of the four to launch, is scheduled to enter orbit this year. The Minerva group is meant to demonstrate the ability to autonomously collect, process and disseminate data from British and allied space assets, and this will inform how the ISTARI project moves forward.

Both programs are part of a planned £6.4 billion fund spread out over 10 years, as announced by the MoD when it rolled out its space defense strategy in 2022.

At a cost of about £5 billion, the lion’s share of that spending will go toward the procurement of a new generation of satellites and ground facilities under the Skynet 6 program.

Airbus is already building the first of those satellites, known as Skynet 6A, and a further competition is underway to provide a new generation of narrowband and wideband satellites under the Skynet 6 banner.

Andrew Chuter is the United Kingdom correspondent for Defense News.

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