Canadian Military Hungry for More Radarsat-2 Imagery

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VICTORIA, British Columbia — The Canadian Forces is using up its quota of surveillance information from Radarsat-2, prompting the Canadian government to look at purchasing more access to the satellite or turn observing time allocated to other federal departments over to the military.

The Canadian government started with an overall 445 million Canadian dollar ($409 million) allocation, the result of its original investment in Radarsat-2. That spacecraft was launched in December 2007 and became operational the next year.

The surveillance data produced by Radarsat-2 are used by various Canadian government departments and organizations, with one of the top consumers being the Canadian Forces and the Department of National Defence.

The military uses Radarsat-2 mainly for maritime domain awareness.

But military sources say the Canadian Forces allocation of Radarsat-2 data is dwindling and the Canadian Space Agency will have to decide whether to purchase additional observing time. It could also transfer the allocations set for other federal departments to the Defence Department and military.

The Defence Department referred questions about Radarsat-2 to the Canadian Space Agency (CSA).

CSA spokeswoman Julie Simard did not respond to specific questions about whether Radarsat-2 data will be reallocated or whether additional observing time would be purchased from Radarsat-2 operator MDA Corp.

“The number of Radarsat2 credits the government owns has been calculated based on the usage, the lifespan of the satellite and contingencies,” she wrote in an email. “We are confident we will not ran [sic] out of credits.”

Wendy Keyzer, MDA’s corporate communications manager, said it is up to the Canadian government to decide on how it uses its Radarsat-2 credits. “If the situation arises that the credit is exceeded, MDA would be open to discussing options,” she noted in an email.

Canada’s various Radarsat spacecraft, which can conduct surveillance day or night and in all weather conditions, have become critical to the country’s security and scientific needs.

Radarsat-1 was launched in 1995 and it just stopped functioning in 2013.

Radarsat-2 reaches the end of its designed operational life in 2014 but CSA officials expect the spacecraft to function well beyond that.

A September 2009 evaluation of the Radarsat-2 project by Public Works and Government Services Canada, which oversees federal procurements, noted that initially some departments were slow to take advantage of data provided by Radarsat-1.

But that changed after the CSA undertook initiatives to raise awareness of Radarsat-2’s capabilities and improve accessibility, the evaluation added.

Besides maritime surveillance, Radarsat spacecraft have been used to monitor the environment and levels of natural resources such as forestry stocks, map the Earth’s structural features, as well as provide data about ice buildup and natural and manmade disasters.

The Canadian government and MDA are also working on a new generation of Radarsat spacecraft.

In January 2013, the CSA and MDA announced they had signed a 706 million Canadian dollar contract that would see the Richmond, British Columbia, company build, launch and provide initial operations for the Radarsat Constellation Mission (RCM).

RCM is a constellation of three radar-imaging satellites to conduct maritime and Arctic surveillance.

The first RCM spacecraft was originally scheduled for launch in 2014 but project delays has pushed that back to 2018.

The RCM project is led by the CSA and supported by its principal users which are Canadian federal government departments: the Department of National Defence, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Environment Canada, Natural Resources Canada and Public Safety Canada.

The RCM satellites will be interoperable and will be equally spaced in a 600-kilometer low Earth orbit.

The RCM was initially focused on maritime security requirements, but land security, particularly in the Arctic, will be dramatically enhanced by the new system, according to the CSA. The constellation will provide up to four satellite passes per day in Canada’s far north, and several passes per day over the Northwest Passage.

The RCM satellites will be able to detect ships up to 25 meters in length. The ground segment for RCM will be based on upgrades to the existing Radarsat ground facilities.

The baseline RCM mission is for three satellites but the constellation is designed to be scalable to six spacecraft, according to CSA.

The Defence Department has also embarked on its Polar Epsilon 2 project, which will make use of an Automatic Identification System package to be installed on RCM to track ships. The system would use data provided by transponders on the vessels to monitor their locations.