Canadian Radarsat Constellation To Get $374 Million Cash Infusion

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PARIS — Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper on Aug. 25 endorsed Canada’s next-generation radar Earth observation system, suggesting that the budget delays that have slowed the project’s development are a thing of the past.

He said the Canadian Space Agency is receiving a fresh cash infusion for the Radarsat Constellation Mission (RCM), which a Canadian government statement said would total 397 million Canadian dollars ($374 million) over five years. To this will be added 100 million Canadian dollars provided from existing Canadian Space Agency funds, also over five years, the government statement said.

In an address from Resolute Bay in the Canadian Arctic, Harper said the three-satellite Radarsat Constellation Mission, by following on from the single-satellite Radarsat-1 and Radarsat-2 projects, “will ensure Canada maintains its role as a world leader in aerospace technology.”

“The Radarsat project has consistently allowed us to defend our Arctic sovereignty, protect the Arctic ecosystem and develop our resources,” Harper said, according to excerpts of his address provided by his office. “This new phase of Radarsat will ensure that we stay at the forefront of these priorities.”

MDA Corp. of Richmond, British Columbia, is prime contractor for the Radarsat Constellation mission and has received several funding tranches from the Canadian Space Agency to continue design work on the three C-band radar satellites until June. A contract for construction of the system has not yet been awarded.

Canadian government officials have said the first of the three satellites could be launched in mid-2014, with the two others launched in 2015. Under that schedule, the Radarsat Constellation could be in service before the Radarsat-2 satellite, launched in December 2007, is retired. Radarsat-2 has a seven-year design life. But in the absence of a component failure, it is expected to remain operational well beyond 2014. Radarsat-1, launched in 1995 on a five-year mission, continues to function.

The total cost of the Radarsat Constellation Mission has been estimated at 600 million Canadian dollars, including the construction and launch of the satellites, an upgrade of the Radarsat ground infrastructure and initial operations in orbit.

So far, MDA has received 86 million Canadian dollars for early design work on the system. A Canadian government status report dated Aug. 25 said system design would continue to 2012, after which satellite construction would begin. It is unclear whether this schedule is compatible with a first launch in 2014.

The government statement said most of the spending on the satellites “will occur after 2011-12, with the satellite launches planned for 2014-2015.”

The Radarsat Constellation Mission satellites are expected to be owned and operated by the Canadian government, unlike the previous Radarsat satellites, which are operated by MDA Corp. Canadian Space Agency officials have said the government is debating how to position the constellation in the commercial market.

Radarsat Constellation data distribution will be governed by the Canadian Remote Sensing Space Systems Act, which determines what data are available to whom, and under what conditions. Canadian officials have said that most of the mission’s archived data will be available free of charge.

The early designs are for three C-band radar satellites with multiple operating modes. For wide-area coverage, a swath width of 500 kilometers would provide imagery with a ground resolution of 100 meters, meaning objects of that diameter could be detected.

Medium-resolution modes include a swath width of 350 kilometers with 50-meter resolution, and a swath width of 30 kilometers with 16-meter resolution. In very-high-resolution mode, the satellites would be able to detect objects with a 3-meter diameter through images with a swath width of 20 kilometers.

Unlike Radarsat-2, the Radarsat Constellation Mission does not feature a ground moving target identification system, at least in designs presented up to now.

The three 1,300-kilogram satellites, operating 120 degrees apart in a 600-kilometer polar low Earth orbit, will be equipped with an Automatic Identification System (AIS) payload to monitor ship traffic. Com Dev Corp. of Cambridge, Ontario, is developing a commercial satellite AIS service with its own satellites.

The 18-nation European Space Agency (ESA), of which Canada is an associate member, is in negotiations with Canadian officials on providing user interoperability of the three Radarsat Constellation spacecraft with ESA’s Sentinel-1 C-band radar satellite, set for launch in 2012. A twin Sentinel-1 satellite is also under construction, with a launch planned around 2015.

MDA Corp. already has won contracts to provide Radarsat data to Europe’s Global Monitoring for Environment and Security program, being managed by ESA and the 27-nation European Commission.