Britain, France and Germany have signed an agreement which could lead to a programme worth hundreds of millions of pounds to build military communications satellites.
The deal covers the project definition phase of the Trimilsatcom programme, following the completion of trilateral negotiations in November.
The three countries plan to let two parallel competitive study contracts to European prime contractors Alcatel and Matra-Marconi Space.
MMS said its contract would be signed in the spring or summer, but it had no idea yet of the value.
The Ministry of Defence said that Occar, the new European joint organisation for armaments co-operation, will take on management responsibility for implementing the programme.
Trimilsatcom effectively takes over Skynet 5, the UK military communications satellite programme which was due to replace the current Skynet 4 satellites from around 2005.
Skynet 4D, the first in the latest series of Skynet 4s, is scheduled for launch tomorrow.
The new three nation project will see the joint development, production and launch of what the MoD said would be at least four satellites, plus upgrading user terminal and ground station facilities in each country.
The programme involves choosing the bid from the project definition contractor which ‘offers the best value for money’, the MoD said.
Other countries and Nato itself could become involved later. There are discussions ongoing with Belgium, Canada, Italy, the Netherlands and Spain.