As prime contractor on Skipper, an international program funded by MDA to produce an atmospheric research satellite, SDL designed, built, and integrated the UV and vacuum-UV (VUV) spectrometers and photometers, wrote all flight software, and developed flight electronics and all ground-based data handling and display hardware. SDL also integrated and tested the Russian power and propulsion subsystems developed by the Research Institute of Applied Mechanics and Electrodynamics of the Moscow Aviation Institute (RIAME/MAI). In addition, SDL integrated the spacecraft to the launch vehicle, established and operated the mission control center at SDL, performed mission operations through AFSCN, and defined link and operations protocols, mission planning, and orbit design.
The 230-kg spacecraft was jointly designed and built by SDL and RIAME/MAI. It was launched by a Molniya-M booster as a piggyback payload with the Indian IRS-1C remote sensing spacecraft. From an initial circular orbit of about 820 km, Skipper was to lower its perigee in stages to 120-150 km. Data was to be collected during atmospheric interfaces near perigee and finally during a planned de-orbit over the Pacific Ocean.