Coastline surveillance to get a boost
Radarsat-2 will be able to track day or night, rain or shine
Canada’s ability to watch over its coastlines and the Arctic will get a boost early next year when an orbiting satellite is upgraded, allowing it to better conduct surveillance of vessels.
The Defence Department has long had plans to use Radarsat-2 for maritime surveillance and last week, the satellite’s owner, MacDonald Dettwiler and Associates of Richmond, B.C., was awarded a $25-million contract to proceed with what is being called project Polar Epsilon.
Polar Epsilon involves using the satellite for Arctic and maritime surveillance as well as constructing new ground stations to receive the data from the spacecraft. The Defence Department has bud- geted $64 million for the project.
Radarsat-2 is already capable of detecting ships, but the planned changes to the spacecraft will further refine that, said David Hargreaves, a vice-president at MDA.
“We are going to upgrade the satellite to have some special maritime modes, which are really better at detecting ships over a wider area than the current mode,” he explained. “Essentially, you upload a new program to the satellite that knows how to program the antennae to transmit a different kind of (surveillance) beam.”
Hargreaves described the process as “almost like installing a new program on a personal computer.”
Radarsat-2 is able to view objects day or night and in all kinds of weather. That capability is deemed particularly important, since military officers say much of Canada is in darkness or obscured by clouds about 70 per cent of the time.
Stations to receive data from the satellite, launched in December 2007, will be built on the east and west coasts, said navy Lt.-Cmdr. Robert Quinn, who heads project Polar Epsilon at Defence headquarters.
The ground receiving equipment will be located at Canadian Forces stations at Masstown, N.S., and Aldergrove, B.C.
On an interim basis, the Defence Department will use ground stations already located in Gatineau and Prince Albert, Sask. “But soon as our ground stations are up, we’ll shift reception to Masstown and Aldergrove,” Quinn said.
The initial information from the spacecraft will be processed at the British Columbia site and sent to vari- ous users in the Defence Department.
Quinn said the first job for the project is in providing surveillance data covering the Arctic. After that is received, the military could assign patrol aircraft or ground or naval units to further examine what the spacecraft has picked up.
But Quinn noted the project would also handle other surveillance needs for the Canadian Forces, domestically and internationally.
Other federal departments will use Radarsat-2 for various jobs, such as monitoring pollution or ice movement.
Radarsat-2 was mostly financed by the federal government, but is owned by MDA.
At one point, MDA and Radarsat-2 were up for sale to a U.S. aerospace firm. The Harper government nixed that deal, noting that it was not in the best interests of Canadians.
In the last year, the Conservatives have been highlighting their programs for the Arctic, including the use of Radarsat-2 for surveillance in the North.
Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon recently called Canada an “Arctic superpower.”
He pointed to Radarsat-2’s capabilities in conducting surveillance of the region as proof of the Conservative government’s determination to make its mark in the Arctic.
The government has also promised to build an Arctic military training centre, open a deepwater docking and refuelling station on Baffin Island, and build a new icebreaker, among other projects, to establish a Canadian presence in the region.