Caption: Polar Communications and Weather (PCW) satellite mission Credit: CSA artist’s concept

VICTORIA, British Columbia — Companies planning to bid on the Canadian government’s upcoming Polar Communication and Weather satellite mission will find themselves up against a formidable team of the country’s top domestic space firms, who have formed an alliance to compete for the project.

Telesat, MDA Corp., and Com Dev — considered Canada’s top three space companies — have formed what they are calling a Team Canada solution to bid on the PCW mission, development of which expected to start in earnest in 2016.

“It is a made-in-Canada solution that is compatible with how the government has been thinking about how to leverage defense procurement to stimulate innovation and high value jobs in Canada,” Telesat President and Chief Executive Dan Goldberg told SpaceNews. “It’s three world-leading Canadian companies who have a very, very compelling, technical, operational solution to meet the government’s requirements.”

Lockheed Martin Space Systems of Sunnyvale, Calif., is among the foreign companies hoping to give Team Canada a run for its money. Lockheed Martin responded to the Canadian government’s request for information on the project, which closed on Jan. 31, said Paul Scearce, the company’s director of military space advanced programs.

Scearce would not get into specifics but noted that the company is offering Canada a number of options, including a specifically designed satellite for its needs. Lockheed Martin has also broached the possibility of Canadian involvement in the U.S. Navy’s Mobile User Objective System (MUOS), a next-generation narrowband tactical satellite communications system that could be used for Arctic communications, he added.

Lockheed says it has demonstrated that system’s ability to deliver communications bandwidth to very high latitudes, despite the fact its satellites orbit above the equator.

PCW would see the launch of two satellites in a highly elliptical orbit for Arctic communications and weather observation. The spacecraft would also carry space weather instruments.

The PCW system is seen as a priority space project for the Conservative government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Harper has promoted expansion of Canada’s presence in the Arctic as a key platform for his government and has cited the region’s natural resources as important for the country’s future economy.

Canadian government organizations who would use the satellites’ weather data and communications services include the Department of National Defence, the Canadian Coast Guard, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Nav Canada, Transport Canada, Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, Natural Resources Canada and Environment Canada.

The project was initially estimated to cost around 600 million Canadian dollars ($552 million), but industry sources say they would not be surprised if the total climbs to 800 million Canadian dollars or higher.

The request for information issued to companies stated that full-scale development of the project was expected to start in November 2016. Pierre-Alain Bujold, a spokesman for Public Works and Government Services Canada, said that estimated start date is at this point only for discussion purposes.

The industry feedback will be used to inform the Canadian government on the technical options, business viability, potential project delivery models, costs and risks for industry to support such a project.

Public Works, which oversees Canadian government procurements, did not release details on the companies that responded. But Canadian government officials say they are interested in an open competition, with a focus not only in meeting the parameters of the mission but in creating high-technology Canadian jobs.

Industry sources say Lockheed Martin and any other foreign companies that bid on PCW face an uphill battle against the Telesat team because it features Canada’s top space companies. In addition, MDA of Richmond, British Columbia, developed the PCW mission concept for the Canadian Space Agency.

“We certainly respect their position and their abilities and obviously they’re Canadian companies,” Scearce said. But he pointed out that Lockheed Martin has had a 40-year presence in Canada and has provided high-value jobs for Canadians on past aerospace programs.

“We’re certainly tied in to providing industrial and regional benefits,” Scearce said. “We would fully anticipate leveraging Canadian industry.”

 Scearce said Lockheed Martin would act as prime contractor under its proposal, but added that it is still too early to discuss what opportunities might be available for Canadian firms. He noted, however, that Com Dev already provides a communications payload for MUOS.

Chris Dodd of Com Dev International, based in Cambridge, Ontario, confirmed that the company has hardware on the MUOS satellites but added, “We’re part of the Team Canada solution. It’s a good opportunity for Com Dev to work with Telesat.”

Goldberg said he does not see his team’s forthcoming proposal as a “slam dunk” and that he expects Public Works to carefully review all options. “My expectation is that at the end of the day it has to be a very compelling value proposition for Canada from the technical perspective, the operational perspective, a broader economic perspective,” he said. “We should be able to meet all of those priorities.”

Telesat would be the prime contractor on the Team Canada bid, with MDA building the spacecraft. Com Dev would provide the space weather payload.

There is no indication of when a request for proposals might be issued by the Canadian government. Canadian officials have acknowledged the challenge in funding the project.

The proposed PCW mission would include a ground segment to process the meteorological information and to manage the communication services offered by the satellites. In addition, the mission would allow Canada to contribute meteorological data to other nations.

Current geostationary communications satellites have gaps in coverage over the high Arctic. Geostationary weather satellites face similar challenges covering extreme northern and southern latitudes.

Last year Guennadi Kroupnik, the Canadian Space Agency’s director of satellite communications and space environment, said the aim of the PCW system is to provide high data-rate communications throughout the north as well as near-real-time weather information for the region.

The satellites are expected to weigh around 1,000 to 1,500 kilograms each and operate for 15 years.


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David Pugliese covers space policy and developments in the space industry in Canada. He has a bachelor’s degree in political science from Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ontario, and a degree in journalism from Carleton University in Ottawa, Ontario.