13 Canadian Commercial Satellite Constellations in Development

Telesat Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellite constellation. Credit: Telesat.

There are 13 Canadian commercial satellite constellations in development with 384 planned satellites and five satellites already on-orbit.

The small satellite evolution is well underway in Canada.

SpaceQ is currently following 13 companies that have either launched, or plan to launch satellite constellations. Additionally, our list also includes the government owned RADARSAT Constellation Mission (RCM) which has yet to publicly announce a data policy, but which may include some data being made available for commercial purposes.

Two of the constellations, Aireon and exactEarth have payloads hosted on the Iridium Next constellation which is nearing completion and has 55 satellites already on-orbit. exactEarth also has nine operational satellites of its own.

Canadian Satellite Constellations late 2018
Canadian Satellite Constellations late 2018. Credit: SpaceQ. (Click for larger version)

384 planned satellites

The 384 planned satellites don’t include Aireon, exactEarth, RCM, the three stealth companies, or the five satellites already launched.

Five of the companies, Telesat, Kepler Communications, NorStar Space Data, UrtheCast, and GHGSat have either publicly announced that they’ve raised funds, or have in the case of Telesat used internal funds for their demonstration missions.

Telesat, Kepler, and GHGSat have all launched demonstration satellites. GHGSat, Kepler and Helios Wire all have satellites launching in the next couple of months.

Most of the satellites to be launched are small satellites. Only NorStar and UrtheCast are planning larger satellites.

The government has contributed to the initial development of some of the planned constellations through the Canadian Space Agency’s Space Technology Development Program and some companies have received funding from the federal government’s Strategic Innovation Fund.

One of the organizations not listed is the Space Flight Laboratory (SFL) in Toronto. While SFL has been innovating in small satellite development for 20 years and has, and likely will be supplier a to some of the companies, it does not have a commercial constellation of its own.

The one caveat that one must keep in mind in discussing new projects and products is that in a commercial marketplace many will fail. How many of these companies will be around in five years is hard to predict.

The impact of the Canadian Satellite Design Challenge

The Canadian Satellite Design Challenge (CSDC) which has been ongoing since 2011 has been an important driver in developing talented students who have either started their own companies or are contributing to some of the startups listed here.

Ironically the CSDC, a private non-profit endeavour, has received little in government funding. In 2017 the Canadian government finally responded to the small satellite evolution by funding the Canadian CubeSat Project managed by the Canadian Space Agency.

The U.S. market

Several of the Canadian companies who want to launch satellite constellations want to service the large U.S. marketplace. This includes companies like Telesat and Kepler Communications. These companies require approval of their spectrum licenses from the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

Telesat has already received approval for their initial spectrum application, while Kepler is waiting for their approval. The good news is that the FCC is meeting this Thursday with the expectation of approving Kepler’s license as well additional spectrum for Telesat.

Not built or launched in Canada

It is clear that Canadian companies are seeing commercial opportunity in building satellite constellations. Aside from the Canadian constellations in development, larger companies like MDA are also participating in the small satellite evolution. MDA is a contractor to OneWeb, building satellite antennas for the foreign owned constellation.

There are however two market segments Canada is missing out on. The small satellite mass manufacturing market and the satellite launch market.

While Toronto’s SFL is building satellites, more than ever, it is known as an innovation centre, not a mass manufacturing centre. There is no company in Canada that is currently positioned for the mass manufacturing of satellites. And the number of Canadian satellites planned is a small percentage of the emerging global marketplace. In other words, there is an opportunity for a Canadian business to enter this market space.

At this time though, nearly all the satellites currently planned for development by Canadian companies will be built by foreign companies.

Once companies have raised sufficient funds to build their constellations, they will eventually need to launch those satellites. Currently Canada has no spaceport or indigenous launch capability. Maritime Launch Services of Halifax is planning a spaceport but isn’t fully funded, nor have they received provincial government approval to move forward with their plan as yet.

Without a spaceport, all of the 384 planned satellites will be launched by a foreign launch services provider.

While Canadian businesses are taking advantage of some opportunities, there are more available.

It would also help if the Canadian government would participate more by updating and modernizing regulatory frameworks to make it easier for Canadian businesses to compete in the global marketplace. It would also help to have a government Long Term Space Plan in place. After all, it’s been 15 years since the last space strategy was unveiled, and 19 years since the last Long Term Space Plan was updated.

Note: We updated this story on November 17, 2018 changing 359 planned satellites to 384 as a results of news from Helios Wire of a constellation of 28 satellites.

About Marc Boucher

Marc Boucher
Boucher is an entrepreneur, writer, editor & publisher. He is the founder of SpaceQ Media Inc. and CEO and co-founder of SpaceRef Interactice Inc. Boucher has 18 years working in various roles in the space industry and a total of 25 years as a technology entrepreneur including creating Maple Square, Canada's first internet directory and search engine.