Com Dev Eyes Maritime Market After Successful Satellite Tests

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  Space News Business

Com Dev Eyes Maritime Market After Successful Satellite Tests

By PETER B. de SELDING
Space News Staff Writer
posted: 18 June 2008
01:50 pm ET






PARIS
— Com Dev International Ltd. of
Canada
says early results from an experimental satellite it launched aboard an Indian rocket in April have positioned the company to win a large share of the emerging market in space-based identification of ships at sea – a market Com Dev estimates will soon grow to $100 million per year.

Orbcomm
Inc. of
Ft. Lee
,
, which operates a constellation of low-orbiting satellites to provide machine-to-machine messaging services, is targeting the same market once it gets its first Automatic Identification System (AIS) payload launched for the U.S. Coast Guard. The Orbcomm launch now is scheduled for June 19 aboard a Russian Cosmos 3M rocket.

Cambridge, Ontario-based Com Dev commissioned construction of the 6.5- kilogram CanX-6 satellite from the
University
of
Toronto
Institute for Aerospace Studies Space Flight Laboratory to carry the AIS gear. The satellite was one of several small payloads launched successfully April 28 aboard
India
‘s PSLV- C9 rocket.

National maritime regulations increasingly demand that ships above a certain size carry AIS terminals. Currently the communications are collected by land-based receivers or other ships. Using satellites increases the range of the communications links.

Com Dev is
Canada
‘s second-largest space-hardware manufacturer after MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates (MDA) of
British Columbia
. Com Dev’s principal business is providing electronics components for military, civil governmental and commercial satellites, but the company is adding to its portfolio and does not exclude becoming a prime contractor for small satellites.

During a June 12 conference call with investors, Com Dev officials also raised the possibility of becoming a satellite services provider if the AIS business takes off as expected.

“We are working on AIS and microsat investments at the same time,” said Michael Pley, Com Dev’s chief operating officer. “We definitely are positioning ourselves to be the microsat mission supplier in
Canada
. We can see that, particularly for government programs, microsats are the way to go.”

Com Dev officials had said earlier this year that the planned purchase of MDA’s space division by AlliantTechsystems of the United States would be good for Com Dev insofar as the new U.S. owner would drive U.S. government business to MDA – and thus to Com Dev as a regular MDA subcontractor.

The MDA sale was rejected by the Canadian government. While the reasons have not been clearly spelled out, industry officials say the decision was in part due to a last-minute consciousness- raising exercise in
Canada
as to the strategic importance of a domestic space industry.

Pley
said Com Dev should be able to profit from the new political atmosphere because it should lead to bigger Canadian space budgets in the coming years. Com Dev recently created a new division designed solely to win Canadian government business and hired George Cwynar, former president of Mosaid Technologies and a 13-year veteran of MDA, to head the Ottawa-based division.

“In the past couple of months we’ve seen more political attention paid to the Canadian space industry than at any time I can recall,” Pley said. “By blocking the MDA sale … the federal government explicitly acknowledged that having a viable space sector is in
Canada
‘s interest. Everyone realizes that the only way to maintain and build that sector is by providing adequate funding.”

Space-based programs related to security and environmental monitoring are likely near-term results of the Canadian government’s new emphasis on space, Pley said.

For the moment, Com Dev’s business is still nearly two-thirds commercial. The company has secured long-term relations with most U.S. and European satellite prime contractors, and plans to complete the installation of a new Com Dev USA facility in September.

The company’s $12.2 million acquisition in May of the Passive Microwave Devices division of L-3 Communications of New York will give Com Dev
USA
an established client network. The former L-3 division will contribute about $10 million this year to Com Dev revenue, Chief Financial Officer Gary Calhoun said.

Com Dev’s decision to create a
U.S.
production plant to win
U.S.
government satellite work is one way of getting around the fact that the Canadian government’s annual space spending is insufficient to permit Canada-based companies to grow. MDA’s proposed sale to AlliantTechsystems was another way of addressing the same problem.

Industry
Canada
Minister Jim Prentice, in rejecting the MDA sale, said Canadian space companies should not have to set up shop in the
United States
or be sold to
U.S.
companies to win
U.S.
government business. He did not specify measures
Canada
might take to resolve the issue.