Plans to build and put in orbit a constellation of monitoring satellites mean Canada is set to spend millions on a maritime surveillance program that will include additional tasks of maintaining control on resource development in the arctic region.
Canada has actively pursued defense and security programs to assert its claim on the region after incidents involving Russian navy vessels which Canada considered to be too uncomfortable for Canadian defense interests.
Diplomatic exchanges on arctic naval incidents so far have been couched in political language. In Ottawa, however, officials are in no doubt they want to assert Canadian national authority on the northern territories before Russia or other European countries attempt another challenge.
It will be another five years before a Canadian satellite surveillance program focused on arctic maritime traffic comes into play.
In January Ottawa confirmed it would go ahead with Radarsat Constellation Mission which will see the launch of at least three satellites by 2018.
Before the satellites are launched, however, Canada will need to build capacity for receiving and processing vast amounts of information that the space-based intelligence-gathering operation will produce.
All three satellites will be designed to gather radar-imaging data. At present Canada operates a single radar-imaging satellite, Radarsat-2, which provides maritime surveillance data, Defense News reported.
"One satellite can give you a spotty picture of what's going on," Royal Canadian Air Force Col. Andre Dupuis, the Department of National Defense's director of space requirements, said. "Three satellites will give us a complete picture every single day of every ship in our area of responsibility, all the way out to about 2,000 nautical miles."
A $691 million program involving domestic satellite construction, launch and maintenance is already in place. Improvements to ground stations are also planned but a specific allocation for the base installations wasn't discussed.
MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd. of Richmond, B.C. said it was invited to build, launch and initially operate the RCM.
Canada's Department of National Defense is also funding an Automatic Identification System package for installation on the Radarsat Constellation Mission. For navigational safety, the International Maritime Organization requires ships larger than 300 tons to carry an AIS beacon, which allows other ships or land-based receivers to track a vessel's identity, speed and course.
The Department of National Defense is funding the AIS sensor design and its integration into RCM, currently estimated at $55 million.
Earlier this month, Magellan Aerospace Corp. announced the award of a $110 million MDA contract for the RCM satellite bus manufacture. The RCM is comprised of three low earth orbit spacecraft, each carrying a C-band Synthetic Aperture Radar payload.
"RCM is one of the largest space projects that has been undertaken by Canada to date, and Magellan is proud to be a Tier One subcontractor on the mission," said James Butyniec, president and chief executive officer of Magellan Aerospace.
"Canada is one of the world's first space-faring nations and national programs like RCM are critical for keeping our domestic space technology capabilities relevant as well as providing benefits for Canadians," Butyniec said.
RCM is a Canadian Space Agency mission that will provide twenty-four-hour-a-day C-Band data to augment and extend the data that RADARSAT-2 users currently rely on. The mission will support maritime surveillance -- ship detection, ice monitoring and oil spill detection -- disaster management and ecosystem monitoring.
The primary areas of coverage are Canada and its surrounding arctic, Pacific and Atlantic maritime areas. The launch is planned in 2018.
Magellan Aerospace will manufacture the three spacecraft buses, including the control systems, on-board computers, power generation and distribution systems, electronics, wiring, and on-board communication links with the ground.