Canada Looking for New Ways to Meet Surging Military Satcom Demand

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PARIS — Canadian defense authorities have begun a two-year study on a global wideband satellite system to provide surge communications capacity to Canadian troops deployed overseas, likely in collaboration with commercial satellite providers using hosted payloads or with allied governments, the director of Canada’s military space program said April 19.

Col. Andre Dupuis, head of the directorate of space development in Canada’s Department of National Defence, said the two-year study, called Mercury Global, will present Canadian defense planners with options for ensuring that they have satellite bandwidth available when and where they need it without being hostage to the spot market for commercial capacity.

“Trying to acquire satcom at the last minute as you are going into a theater of operations is extremely expensive,” Dupuis said. The Mercury Global program study will look at placing small payloads in military bandwidths on commercial satellites, and at partnerships with other governments interested in military bandwidth availability.

Canada is already taking part in the U.S. Advanced EHF satellite system now under development. These satellites, which will replace the current Milstar constellation, will provide protected communications. The first Advanced EHF satellite is scheduled for launch this year.

Dupuis said Canada still needs a way to ensure the availability of bandwidth for communications that do not need such a high level of protection. Reserving capacity on commercial satellites, either directly or through hosted payloads, and pooling resources with other governments will be part of the Mercury Global study.

Dupuis said Canadian defense forces have begun early design of a search-and-rescue payload likely to be provided by Canada for the future U.S. GPS 3 constellation of positioning, navigation and timing satellites. A Canadian proposal to provide similar terminals on Europe’s GPS equivalent, called Galileo, was recently rejected because Canada does not have a security treaty with the European Union.

Lockheed Martin Space Systems of Sunnyvale, Calif., is prime contractor for the GPS 3 satellites for the U.S. Air Force and has begun work to prepare for the Canadian payloads on the second and third batches of GPS 3 satellites, Lockheed Martin spokeswoman Samantha Un said April 21.

“We have been directed by our Air Force customer to begin the planning and integration efforts to include the search and rescue payload on future GPS 3B and 3C satellites,” Un said. “We are currently on contract for the GPS 3A satellites, and are completing the [critical design reviews] for that phase. In parallel, we are planning detailed discussions with our Air Force customer and the appropriate Canadian organizations to ensure that the search and rescue payload can be readily accommodated on those future satellites.”

In addition to increasing its participation in GPS, Canada’s military is launching its own satellite in 2011 to be integrated into the U.S. Space Surveillance Network of sensors that track space debris and other orbital objects.

Canada’s 130-kilogram Sapphire satellite will be a piggyback passenger on a scheduled March 2011 launch aboard a India’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle rocket along with the French-Indian Saral ocean-observation spacecraft. Sapphire will operate from 750 kilometers in altitude and will track objects in orbits of between 6,000 and 40,000 kilometers in altitude.

Canada’s Sapphire ground control team will receive daily tasking requests from the U.S. Air Force Joint Space Operations Center to examine up to several hundred individual orbital objects.

Dupuis said the Dnepr launch will place Sapphire into a less-than-ideal orbit and that it will be difficult to conduct tandem operations with the U.S. Space-Based Surveillance Satellite (SBSS) set for launch into low Earth orbit this summer aboard a Minotaur 4 converted missile. Like Sapphire, SBSS will follow objects in higher orbit, notably on the equatorial geostationary orbit 36,000 kilometers in altitude.