Canada Blocks Baikonur-bound Satellite Shipment over Ukraine Crisis

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PARIS — The Canadian government, raising the ante among Western governments in their confrontation with Russia over its actions in Ukraine, has blocked a shipment to Kazakhstan of a small maritime communications satellite that was scheduled for a June launch on Russia’s Soyuz rocket.

The Canadian government decision was disclosed April 24 by Com Dev International Ltd. of Canada. Com Dev’s majority-owned exactEarth affiliate is building a commercial business of supplying satellite-enabled ship-identification services to maritime authorities and others, and the M3M satellite, with a payload for exactEarth, had been scheduled for the June Soyuz flight from the Russian-run Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

Cambridge, Ontario-based Com Dev, in a statement, said it had already started to make plans “to mitigate the impact of any such delay” and was confident that such plans could be in effect in short order. The company did not identify its launch options.

Canada’s Maritime Monitoring and Messaging Microsatellite, known as M3M, was to ride as a secondary payload with other satellites on the June Soyuz launch.

M3M was built by Com Dev under contract to several Canadian government agencies. The government had given a license to exactEarth to use the satellite’s Automatic Identification System (AIS) payload to add to its existing fleet of orbiting sensors as it builds its business.

Com Dev said the Canadian government has signaled its willingness to help the company secure an alternate launch service.

“Both Com Dev and exactEarth made significant investments in the development of the satellite, and in upgrading its capabilities,” Com Dev said in its statement. 

The U.S. government decided in March to stop issuing new export licenses for space projects involving cooperation with the Russian government, but has decided to continue collaboration on the international space station. Russia is the United States’ sole means of sending astronauts to the orbital outpost.

Industry officials in recent weeks have privately expressed the hope that the Ukrainian tensions would dissipate soon enough to avoid major interruptions in satellite programs for which licenses will be necessary.

The Canadian government action goes further than any other government, so far, inasmuch as it revokes an already approved license for export. The question now is whether others will follow Canada’s lead.

International Launch Services of Reston, Va., markets Russia’s Proton rocket worldwide and regularly launches U.S. satellites and satellites with multiple U.S. components. Europe’s Arianespace launch consortium has added Russia’s Soyuz to its family of rockets operated from Europe’s Guiana Space Center in French Guiana.

Arianespace’s Soyuz manifest is full of satellites with U.S. components, including Europe’s Galileo positioning, navigation and timing components.

Orbital Sciences of Dulles, Va., and United Launch Alliance of Denver both use Russian engines for their Antares and Atlas 5 rockets, respectively, and these vehicles are now used mainly to launch U.S. government payloads.

The chief executives of Orbital and ULA have said in recent weeks that they are confident their engine supply will not be interrupted.

 

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