On This Day…

On the 22 November 1969 Skynet launched

Skynet 1A was launched on 22 November 1969. Positioned approximately 22,000 miles above the earth it was the world’s first geostationary defence communications satellite but only operated for a few months. Today most military communications satellites are in geostationary orbits above the equator. They appear stationary because they travel at the same speed as the earth’s rotation.

Satellites for signals

In the 1960s only two countries – the US and Soviet Union (USSR) – utilised satellites for signals and military intelligence, as a consequence the United Kingdom created Skynet as its own military communications satellite. The Skynet satellite provided secure and encrypted facilities for the British armed forces and Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ),

Skynets 1B and 2A failed, but Skynet 2B, launched in 1974 was in service for 20 years. It operated at SHF and provided two wideband channels. Skynet 3 was cancelled. Between 1988 and 2001, six Skynet 4 satellites were launched. These were followed by four Skynet 5 satellites, launched between 2007 and 2012, which were far more sophisticated, successful and had greater capacity than their predecessors.


Skynet5, Talon, Reacher and The Royal Signals

Today, The Royal Signals are responsible for the provision of all of the Army’s tactical satellite ground terminals, providing strategic and operational satellite communications for all land-based Headquarters. Skynet 5 also provides the deployable satellite ground terminals, Talon and Reacher.


Skynet 5

The Skynet 5 satellite, weighs about 4,700 kilograms has two solar panels each about fifteen metres long, and has a power budget of five kilowatts. It has four steerable transmission dishes, and a phased-array receiver designed to allow jamming signals to be cancelled out. They will also resist attempts to disrupt them with high-powered lasers. Recently, satellite ‘Skynet 5A’ moved from its position over Europe, the Middle East and Africa, making Skynet services available over the eastern Asia-Pacific region, including in Australia which will also host a new ground station.



Talon is a lightweight deployable terminal which uses off-the-shelf commercial technology packaged to provide a terminal suitable for military use. Talon terminals were brought into service in July 2002 and were incorporated into the Skynet 5 contract in October 2003 The terminal is controlled from a laptop and can be set up by a crew of two trained operators within 30 minutes. Talon was used extensively in Operation Telic in Iraq.



Reacher was a mobile deployable satellite ground terminal and communications hub that delivered Skynet 5 communications services to the battlefield. It was in service with the Royal Signals and RAF from 2007. Reacher was delivered as part of the Skynet 5 private finance initiative with Airbus Defence and Space (ADS). ADS maintained and provided the service support to Reacher and the Skynet 5 constellation, though the Reacher terminals were manned by military personnel.

The crew of each Reacher detachment comprised three Communications Systems Engineers/Operators along with support from a Royal Signals Electrician, who was responsible for providing power to the detachment either from the organic power of the HQ – where the Reacher was deployed, or from the two Reacher generators that were part of the detachment.

There were three variants of Reacher terminal. Reacher Medium was equipped with a 2.4m dish and Reacher Large had a 4.5m dish. Both were mounted on Mowag Duro III vehicles. The third variant, Reacher RM, was a medium terminal equipped with the same 2.4m dish but mounted on 2 BV 206 tracked vehicles and was in service with the Royal Marines. All terminals were transportable by Chinook helicopter or C-130 Hercules aircraft.

Roger So Far

The Corps Centenary book ‘Roger So Far” celebrates many of the Corps’ achievements during its first 100 years.

This hardback, illustrated coffee table book is packed full of stories about people, units and events in the context of campaigns, technologies and equipment. RRP £30 with discounts for Regular, Reserve and Retired Corps members.

Buy now from the Royal Signals Museum Shop