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.

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