Radarsat Constellation
The upcoming launch of the three Radarsat Constellation satellites is an early milestone for the new group president of MDA. Credit: CSA

VICTORIA, British Columbia — The Canadian government will fund upgrades to aging ground-based infrastructure for receiving satellite data as well as provide seed money to begin planning for the country’s next generation of Earth observation satellites.

The commitments were in the 2021 federal government budget tabled in the House of Commons on April 19 by Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland.

The budget was mainly focused on supporting an economic recovery in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, with plans to extend aid programs to businesses and individuals as well as improve health services.

But two initiatives focused on Canada’s space industry and capabilities. A total of 80 million Canadian dollars ($64 million) will be spent over the next 11 years to replace or expand aging ground-based infrastructure to receive satellite data, Freeland noted in the budget. That infrastructure is used by two federal departments, Natural Resources Canada and Environment Canada. Details were not provided by Freeland on the specific locations of the ground infrastructure.

In addition, the finance minister announced 9.9 million Canadian dollars for the Canadian Space Agency to start planning for the next generation of Earth observation satellites.

That project is expected to replace the Radarsat Constellation Mission, or RCM, which was launched June 12, 2019 aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

The RCM constellation of three satellites provides daily images of Canada’s territory and maritime approaches, as well as images of the Arctic, according to the Canadian Space Agency.

“Earth observation satellites support critical services that Canadians rely on,” the 2021 budget noted. “They also create high-quality jobs in Canada and the government will continue to explore opportunities to support Canadian capacity, innovation, and jobs in this sector.”

The Canadian government has not yet decided on how to proceed with such a project. But Last year the CSA asked Canadian firms for their initial ideas on what could come after RCM.

The Canadian Armed Forces has also indicated an interest in having its own next generation earth observation satellite to replace RCM. That system could operate at a top secret level.

While the budget presented by Freeland outlined broad areas of spending for the Canadian government, more detailed information is expected to be released in the coming weeks in the individual planning documents for each federal department or agency. The Canadian Space Agency’s departmental plan would include its new budget and more specific areas it wants to focus on.

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.