Ieceye satellite
Iceye operates a constellation of X-band SAR satellites. Credit: Iceye Credit: Iceye

PARIS — Canada’s MDA is acquiring an X-band synthetic aperture radar (SAR) satellite from Iceye that will be part of its Chorus system intended to replace Radarsat-2.

The companies announced at Euroconsult’s World Satellite Business Week Dec. 15 that Iceye will provide an X-band satellite that will complement a C-band SAR satellite that MDA previously announced it would build as a successor to Radarsat-2. The system will be known as Chorus, a name MDA revealed a day earlier.

Both satellites will operate in the same mid-inclination orbit, with Iceye’s satellite trailing MDA’s satellite. That approach will provide a “tip-and-cue” capability where the C-band satellite will identify targets that can then be observed at higher resolution with the X-band satellite.

Mike Greenley, chief executive of MDA, said in a conference panel Dec. 15 that company continued to see strong demand for C-band SAR data from defense and intelligence customers. “Putting that into a constellation, with C-band and X-band working together, introducing tipping and cueing within the same constellation and providing close to near real-time capabilities to the customers, is creating some expansive conversations in terms of new and additional things that we can do,” he said.

The announcement did not disclose the details about the nature of the partnership between Iceye and MDA, stating only that Iceye would supply the X-band satellite. Greenley said that the MDA will purchase the satellite from Iceye, “and we will operate it and generate the revenue.” The companies did not disclose specific financial terms or a schedule for launching the satellites.

The relationship between the two companies includes a distribution agreement for MDA to sell SAR data from Iceye’s own constellation of satellites to its customers. MDA will also be able to develop value-added products by combining Iceye data with its own.

Partnerships like the one between MDA and Iceye may be a first step toward consolidation in the broader Earth observation market. “The notion of strategic relationships and working across the business to create a new capability is a really strong trend,” he said, adding that it may be too soon for more comprehensive consolidation in the sector.

“We’ll continue to invest in the commitments that we’ve made and work together through strategic collaborations to gain some additional growth while this all settles out,” he said. “It would then set up for future, more systemic merger and acquisition activity.”

Jeff Foust writes about space policy, commercial space, and related topics for SpaceNews. He earned a Ph.D. in planetary sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a bachelor’s degree with honors in geophysics and planetary science...