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Canadian satellite system under budget cloud

Posted on behalf of Hannah Hoag.

Missed deadlines and an underfunded Canada Space Agency (CSA) may scuttle plans to build the next generation of earth observing satellites, according to the Canadian satellite company pegged to build them.

In 2010, the CSA selected MacDonald, Detwillier and Associates Ltd. to design the successor to Radarsat-2, the agency’s current earth observing satellite. The company came up with a three-satellite system that would provide information for maritime surveillance, disaster management and ecosystem monitoring. But Dan Friedman, the company’s president and chief executive officer, says the federal government missed a target deadline for awarding the building contract in January, according to a story in the Globe and Mail and the CSA may not have enough money for the project.

The Radarsat Constellation calls for three satellites (scalable to six) to maintain a polar orbit and provide radar images of nearly all of Canada’s land and waters. The Constellation would monitor ice and icebergs, winds and oil pollution in shipping lanes and coastal zones on a daily basis. It would also provide information on the state of Canada’s forests, changes to vegetation in protected areas and important wildlife habitat, and monitor wetlands and coastal change.  Unlike Radarsat-2, which is owned by MDA, the Canadian government would own Constellation.

Canada’s Earth observing satellites, Radarsat-1 and -2, have been important in mapping natural disasters, such as the 2011 flooding in Queensland, Australia, as well as the Antarctic’s glaciers and ice sheets. including a subsurface view of the ice-covered Lake Vostok.

Industry Minister Christian Paradis said the Canadian government remains committed to the satellite project. “We are taking it seriously and we are going to deliver this project in the most cost-effective way. It is a matter of sound cost management,” he said in the House of Commons on 10 May.

The new satellite system’s price tag may be part of the hold up. Original estimates put the cost of the project at Can$600 million, but revised calculations almost doubled the amount to Can$1 billion, according to the Ottawa Citizen.

MDA expressed concern over the future of the mission after the federal budget was released in March, saying that the budget didn’t “include the funds required to continue RADARSAT Constellation Mission (RCM) as it is currently envisioned.” Canada’s 2012 federal budget reduced  CSA funding from a peak of $443 million in 2011 to $363.2 million this year, with further declines projected in subsequent years. At the time, the company said it would have to restructure its work force. This week, the CEO told the CBC News that the project’s scientists and engineers will lose their jobs and that any further delay in awarding the contract may kill the project entirely.

Image credit: Canadian Space Agency


  1. Report this comment

    Tom Scarff said:

    Wake up Canada ! Together with the USA you control 110 degrees of the Arctic circle ( USSR 160 degrees and Scandinavia 90 degrees), the shortest Northern passage between the Atlantic and Pacific and untold mineral deposits. Your Northern border is predicted to be Summer Ice Free within 20 years and you do not have a fleet of suitable ice breakers and coast guard vessels let alone the all weather bases to support them.
    Perhaps if you ignore the problem it will melt.

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