Space Systems/Loral Passed over by Canadian Parent for Radarsat Work

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PARIS — In a deal that turned on national industrial policy as much as technical know-how, Canada’s Magellan Aerospace Corp. will build the satellite skeletal structures for Canada’s three-satellite Radarsat Constellation Mission (RCM) under a contract valued at 110 million Canadian dollars ($107 million) with MDA Corp.

Richmond, British Columbia-based MDA, which signed the prime contract for RCM construction in February for 706 million Canadian dollars, had weighed whether to give the satellite bus subcontract to Space Systems/Loral of Palo Alto, Calif., which MDA purchased in November 2012.

MDA officials told investors in May that the RCM project had been slow in taking off following the contract award to allow time to consider “an alternative approach to manufacturing the spacecraft bus.”

Toronto-based Magellan had been involved in the RCM project as the presumptive bus provider since the project’s beginning, as the company saw fit to mention in its Sept. 4 announcement of the contract with MDA.

MDA officials have said one of the advantages of their ownership of Space Systems/Loral, which is a major builder of commercial telecommunications satellites, is the ability to shift work between Canada and the United States to smooth out work flows at one or another production plant.

The RCM satellites will carry C-band synthetic aperture radars in an orbit tailored to survey Canada’s territorial waters and northern territories. In addition, the satellites will carry Automatic Identification System terminals to transmit ship identification data to coastal authorities, a business that exactEarth Ltd., majority-owned by Com Dev of Canada, is commercializing with a small fleet of its own satellites.

“RCM is one of the largest space projects that has been undertaken by Canada to date, and Magellan is proud to be a Tier One subcontractor on the mission,” Magellan Chief Executive James Butyniec said in a statement announcing the contract with MDA. “Canada is one of the world’s first spacefaring nations and national programs like RCM are critical for keeping our domestic space technology capabilities relevant as well as providing benefits for Canadians.”

Magellan said it will use an upgraded version of its MAC-200 satellite frame for RCM. The modifications include the ability to carry the deployable radar antenna and to generate sufficient power for the payload. The MAC-200 avionics package has been upgraded to assure a seven-year operational life for RCM, Magellan said.

Magellan said it has been working on RCM’s early development phases since 2005. The assembly, integration and test of the RCM buses will occur at the company’s plant in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Canada’s Cassiope science satellite, set for launch on the inaugural flight of the SpaceX Falcon 9 v1.1 rocket in late September, was also built there, as was Canada’s Scisat-1 spacecraft, which was launched in 2003.