Credit: AEB

PARIS — Satellite hardware builder Com Dev of Canada, having been excluded from providing search-and-rescue payloads for Europe’s Galileo navigation satellite constellation for security reasons, has set its sights on the U.S. GPS 3 program for the same work, Com Dev Chief Executive John Keating said April 7.

The Canadian government has offered to finance construction of 20 to 30 search-and-rescue payloads for GPS 3 and has received initial indications of approval from the U.S. Defense Department, Keating said in an interview. Discussions with GPS 3 prime contractor Lockheed Martin Space Systems of Denver have started, he said.

The irony of possibly being able to leverage millions of dollars of Canadian investment in search-and-rescue payloads through work on GPS 3 while being denied access to Galileo is not lost on Com Dev. Galileo backers for years have sought to distinguish the European constellation from the Pentagon-financed GPS by stressing Galileo’s civil-only funding and its civil control.

Given Canada’s long experience in search-and-rescue satellite payloads for the international Cospas-Sarsat program, and Canada’s status as an associate member of the 18-nation European Space Agency (ESA), the Canadian government and Com Dev together invested about 10 million Canadian dollars ($10 million) in research on a payload suitable for Galileo.

But earlier this year, the commission of the 27-nation European Union, which has taken over full financing of Galileo, informed Com Dev that it would not be permitted to bid on the work because Canada does not have a security agreement with the European Union.

“We had been encouraged by ESA for quite a long time to bid for this work and we invested quite a lot of money into it,” Keating said. “We got a lot of help from the Canadian government in trying to see whether a security treaty could be established, but that apparently takes too long. Then we tried to structure our bid so that it came from our European subsidiary, but the commission said no to that too. It’s certainly disappointing, as I don’t think Canada can be considered a threat to Europe or anybody else.”

The same security concerns at the European Union may force the builders of the first four Galileo in-orbit validation satellites, now in final testing, to remove search-and-rescue gear provided by China and replace the units with dead weight, European industry officials said. The Chinese work is a hold-over from a time when Europe was seeking international financial participation in Galileo.

As it awaits confirmation of a U.S-Canadian agreement for GPS 3, Com Dev is focusing on a continued strong market for its satellite-electronics products, which find their way on most of the world’s commercial telecommunications satellites.

Keating said Com Dev research has concluded that more satellite transponders will be ordered in 2010 than in 2009 — a boom year by historical standards — even if the number of satellites ordered is lower.

“We believe 2010 will be another year of record orders” for satellite transponders, Keating told investors in a March 11 conference call. “These satellites will be bigger and have more transponders. Our analysis tells us there will be more transponders ordered this year than last year.”

Among the large satellites expected to be ordered in 2010 are the DirecTV 14 and DirecTV 15 television-broadcast satellites for DirecTV Group of El Segundo, Calif., each of which is expected to carry 80 transponders; Paris-based Eutelsat’s W5A, with 70 transponders; and the SES World Skies NSS 806R for SES of Luxembourg.

Meanwhile, Com Dev’s exactEarth Ltd. subsidiary, created in 2009, is developing a small constellation of satellites equipped with Automatic Identification System (AIS) payloads for maritime traffic monitoring.

Com Dev launched a small AIS test satellite in 2008 and believes its technology has now proved itself in orbit. Two more payloads are scheduled for launch by September, one a full satellite to be launched as a secondary payload on Russia’s Soyuz rocket in July, and the other aboard an Indian government satellite set for launch aboard India’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle in September.

Both launches had been expected earlier, meaning exactEarth will be delayed in starting its commercial service. But the company received an initial contract from the Canadian government.

Keating said he expects exactEarth to sign up customers — mainly government agencies seeking better surveillance of maritime traffic on their coasts — for AIS trials lasting from three months to six months. Following each trial, the prospective government customer would then begin its formal procurement process. Com Dev expects no significant revenue from exactEarth until 2011.

Peter B. de Selding was the Paris bureau chief for SpaceNews.