Canada’s military is focusing its near-term space efforts on homeland defense and continental security.

The Canadian Forces has two space-oriented surveillance programs under way, the first of which could be operating as early as next year. That program, Project Epsilon, will use Canada’s commercial Radarsat-2 imaging satellite, which is scheduled for launch in December, to monitor the maritime approaches to North America, in addition to the country’s Arctic territory.

Radarsat-2 will provide general details on ship movements on the Pacific and Atlantic approaches out to 1,000 nautical miles from North America, as well as imagery from the polar regions. In total, the satellite would cover 15 million square kilometers of territory and ocean, Canadian Navy Cmdr. Mark Walker, project director of the Joint Space Project, said from Ottawa .

“It’s going to bolster our continental security and our domain awareness of those areas,” Walker said.

Radarsat-2 will collect imagery with a 3 -meter resolution, meaning it can detect objects as small as three meters across. The satellite, which uses radar rather than optics to produce imagery, is in its final assembly and testing in preparation for the end-of-year launch. MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates, Richmond, British Columbia, built and will operate the satellite.

The Canadian government has spent more than 400 million Canadian dollars ($320 million) on Radarsat-2, while MacDonald Dettwiler’s contribution is about 90 million Canadian dollars, according to a June 2004 Radarsat-2 information sheet produced by the Canadian Space Agency. Canada will recoup its investment by providing Radarsat-2 images for the Canadian Forces and other government agencies, up to an equivalent value of what it spent .

Project Epsilon will cost the military 59.7 million Canadian dollars, a price tag that includes the construction of centers here and in Halifax to process the Radarsat-2 data and imagery. Those centers are expected to be operational in 2006 or 2007 , said Walker.

Epsilon will be followed by the construction of a surveillance-of-space sensor, called Project Sapphire, which will feed data into the U.S. Air Force’s space surveillance network. The projected launch date of that system is 2009 or 2010.

Walker said MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates is in the midst of a study to define the Sapphire mission. Sapphire will cost the Canadian Forces 96.4 million Canadian dollars, which includes the sensor, its launch and two years of operating costs.

The system will use a single electro-optical sensor to provide information on the whereabouts of foreign satellites and orbiting debris that could damage satellites and other spacecraft. Sapphire also will allow Canada to gather data about objects re-entering Earth’s atmosphere. That could prove useful to the North American Aerospace Defense (NORAD) Command’s role to provide missile warning information, since such data could be used to determine that such objects were not incoming ballistic missiles.

Walker said it will be up to MacDonald Detwiller to determine whether it is best to build Sapphire for installation on a dedicated satellite or to piggyback the capability aboard an allied spacecraft.

While Epsilon and Sapphire will provide some contribution to the defense of North America, Canadian participation in the Pentagon’s missile defense system would have been more important to the United States, said Jim Fergusson, director for the Centre for Defence and Security Studies at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg.

The Canadian Liberal Party government rejected participation in the U.S. missile defense system Feb. 24. Future Canadian participation in the missile shield may not be a dead issue. Conservative Party leader Stephen Harper said in a March 18 speech that if his party is elected to form the next government he will re-open negotiations with the United States.

“This country cannot enhance its cherished place in this world by losing its special position on this continent,” Harper said in his speech at the Conservative Party’s policy convention in Montreal. “Our Conservative government will be bringing Canada back to the table — where it belongs.”

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.