Space Agency Awards Design Contract for Satellite Fleet

Canada’s space agency awarded a $40-million contract last Friday to the company that operates Radarsat-2, Canada’s earth observation satellite, to design the satellite’s successors.

MacDonald Dettwiler and Associates Ltd. (MDA), based in Richmond, B.C., received the 16-month contract to complete the preliminary design of the Radarsat Constellation Mission (RCM), a fleet of three satellites that can potentially add three more to its configuration.

“The development of this constellation will support the government in its efforts to assure sustainable development, manage natural resources, and exercise security and sovereignty, especially in the Arctic,” said Canadian Space Agency (CSA) President Steve MacLean in a statement.

“It will also allow Canada to continue to contribute significantly to global disaster management and rescue efforts.”

Radarsat-1, launched in November 1995, was the first satellite able to operate day and night and in all weather conditions, seeing through snow and ice, clouds, haze, and smoke.

Launched last December, Radarsat-2 produces clearer images faster and can survey an area more precisely.

Ensuring data continuity, the first RCM satellite will launch in 2014, about the same timeframe as the end of Radarsat-2’s design lifetime. The second and third satellites will launch in 2015 and 2016, respectively. The three will be smaller and lighter than Radarsat-2 and will fly equally spaced in a 600-km low Earth orbit, 200 kilometres lower than Radarsat-2.

Operating together, the satellites will enable greater coverage, backup redundancy, and new applications to augment their primary uses of maritime surveillance, disaster management, and ecosystem monitoring, said Savi Sachdev, director general of spaces programs for CSA.

While the Radarsat-2 was owned and operated by MDA, Canada’s largest aerospace company, Mr. Sachdev said the Canadian government will own the Constellation and will be its biggest user. However, private industry will continue to be able to generate revenue by marketing the data internationally, he said.

Radarsat-2 monitors shipping as well as ice and other environmental conditions and is widely hailed for its use in protecting Canada’s Arctic sovereignty.

In January when MDA proposed to sell its space division to Minneapolis-based arms and aerospace giant Alliant Techsystems Inc., critics warned that the foreign takeover would put Canadian sovereignty at risk.

Then-Industry Minister Jim Prentice blocked the sale saying he was not satisfied it would bring “net benefits” to Canada.

The $1.3-billion sale would have included Radarsat-2 as well as the Canadian Canadarm and Dextre space robotics technology.

However, Mr. Sachdev said Canadian government ownership is unrelated to the earlier potential sale of Radarsat-2.

“Keeping ownership of a satellite like this within the Canadian government gives us better ability to be able to share the data with our international partners and also globally for the public good,” said Mr. Sachdev.

Along with 74 other countries and the European Commission, Canada and the U.S. are members of an international initiative to build a global earth observation network.

This week some 300 officials from the Group on Earth Observations, established in 2005, met in Bucharest, Romania to plan the next three-year phase of a ten-year plan to build the network.

The Global Earth Observation System of Systems will link together satellites, weather stations, ocean buoys, seismic monitors, and other technologies into one comprehensive “system of systems.” It aims to help countries address global challenges such as climate change, biodiversity loss, water shortage, disease epidemics, and natural disasters.

“[Through this system] Earth observation data can be made available to developing countries that do not have their own satellites,” Mr. Sachdev said.

CSA is expected to release a new long-term space plan in the coming weeks.


Author: EARSC

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