It was announced on 11 July that the next satellite intended for the UK market, the Astra 2F, will be launched on 14 September. It will replace the Astra 1N which was itself a temporary replacement for the ageing Astra 2D. The 2D had to be taken out of service ahead of schedule when its fuel supply was about to run out. Satellites don't need fuel to power themselves - they use vast solar panels for that - but they need it for occasional positional maneouvering to make sure they stay in the right position in space. A small amount of fuel also has to be retained at the end of the satellite's life to boost it into a 'graveyard' orbit where it won't affect other operational vehicles.
The 1N had originally been built for the continental European market but was diverted to the Astra 2 fleet at fairly short notice to provide temporary cover until the 2D's longterm replacement could be launched. That's the 2F which is now being prepared for its launch in 2 months time.
The 1N took nearly 4 months from its launch to the point at which it entered full commercial service so on that basis, the 2F could be operational by the end of the year or very shortly after. Initially UK audiences will see little if any change. No new channels will be added immediately and Sky and freesat receivers will be adjusted automatically for any frequency changes (though free-to-air receivers might need to be retuned manually). The priority will be to move everything off the 1N so that it can be relocated to its originally intended position with the Astra 1 fleet. However, two more satellites are also being built for the UK market. These are the Astra 2E which will be launched sometime in 2013 and the Astra 2G which is currently scheduled for the first quarter of 2014. They will provide extra narrow-beam capacity and hopefully make many more channels, including HD channels, available free-to-air.
The people who probably will see a change at the end of 2012 are expats. The Astra 2D had a fairly tight beam focused on the Brtitish Isles, which restricted reception in mainland Europe. Many expats were pleasantly surprised when the Astra 1N was launched and proceeded to light up the continent! Unfortunately, that happy state of affairs is unlikely to survive the Astra 2F deployment. The 2F (together with its siblings, the 2E and 2G) has been designed specifically for the UK market whose broadcasters desperately want satellite signals that hit only the British Isles. Please don't contact me to ask what can be done to change their minds; the arguments were played out years ago and the situation will NOT change. Therefore it is likely that expats (and of course visiting caravanners) who have had a temporary reprieve thanks to the 1N will lose their satellite signals again in 2013