Canada Turns to Russia for Help with Polar Satellite System

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VICTORIA, British Columbia — Canadian Space Agency officials are looking to their Russian counterparts for advice on a polar communications and weather satellite system they hope to launch within a decade.

The Canadian polar mission would see the launch of two optical satellites in a highly elliptical orbit in 2016 or 2017 to provide continuous communication services and weather observation of the country’s northern regions.

The spacecraft are seen as key to Canada’s Arctic sovereignty efforts, both in providing support for military operations as well as for civilian government agencies.

The Russian Federation plans to launch its Arktica mission sometime between 2013 and 2015, a project being jointly developed by the Russian space agency, Roskosmos, and Roshydromet, the federation’s service for hydrometeorology and environmental monitoring. Arktica’s satellite payloads are to include a multispectral scanner providing imagery for meteorological applications and a space weather instrument suite.

Savi Sachdev, the Canadian Space Agency’s director general of space utilization, said the Russian mission, which could use up to six or seven satellites, is more ambitious than what Canada is planning for its polar satellites.

But Sachdev added that the two countries are interested in sharing technical and scientific data and noted that the Russians have expertise in using the highly elliptical Molniya orbit, which will also be used for the Canadian satellites.

“We spoke about obtaining information from the Russians about what they learned about the radiation environment in those orbits, and there are other aspects of controlling satellites and pointing of satellites when they go into these very highly (elliptical) orbits,” Sachdev explained.

At a January meeting in Geneva of the World Meteorological Organization, the potential areas for future cooperation between Russia and Canada were examined.

An official with the Russian embassy in Ottawa said Russia is interested in cooperation with Canada on various scientific endeavors in the Arctic but did not go into details.

The Canadian satellites that form the Polar Communications and Weather (PCW) mission will be in the 1,500-kilogram range, Sachdev added. They will include Ka- and X-band high-data-rate communications, an imaging spectroradiometer and instruments to monitor Arctic weather. A space weather suite of instruments will monitor space radiation

The aim of PCW is to provide high- data-rate communications throughout the north as well as near-real-time weather information for the region.

Sachdev said the Canadian Space Agency should receive the results of a mission study by the end of the year and from there plans to make its proposal to Ottawa. The proposal will include the cost of the mission, although Sachdev said that is not available at this time.

It then will be up to the Canadian government to approve the mission, and if that is done the project would likely get funding starting in the spring. “If we do get approval we’ll go into a full project with a launch in 2016-2017,” Sachdev said.

A July presentation on the Polar Communications and Weather Satellites written by Environment Canada notes that the proposed mission is considered a “high priority” for the space agency, Environment Canada and other Canadian federal departments. Environment Canada monitors Arctic weather and ice conditions among its other duties.

MacDonald Dettwiler and Associates, Richmond, British Columbia, is working on the development of the mission concept for PCW.

Previous Canadian Space Agency studies and consultations with other Canadian government departments have shown there is a need for the PCW satellites.

Sachdev said the Defence Department’s interest in PCW is aimed at putting in place a reliable communications system in the Arctic.

Current geostationary communications satellites have gaps in their coverage over what is known as the high Arctic.

Meteorological data for such high latitudes in the north also are diminished because of the orbit geometry of geostationary satellites.

In addition, PCW would allow Canada to contribute meteorological data to other nations, instead of relying on satellites from other nations such as the United States. Unlike Canada’s Radarsat 1 and Radarsat 2, the PCW satellites would be totally dedicated to covering Canada’s Arctic and the region around the North Pole.

In the last several years, the Conservative Party government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper has put great emphasis on expanding Canada’s presence in the Arctic.

As part of a multibillion-Canadian-dollar program for the country’s north, Harper has promised his government will construct a new fleet of Arctic patrol ships and a new icebreaker, as well as establish an Arctic training base for the Canadian Forces.

Harper has cited the presence of oil, gas and minerals in the country’s Arctic region as one of the reasons for the increased emphasis on a government presence in the north. He said those resources are critical to Canada’s economic growth.