Canadian NEOSSat Satellite Takes Picture of Healthy RADARSAT Constellation Mission

The Canadian NEOSSat satellite captured this image of the RADARSAT Constellation Mission (RCM) three satellites on June 15 just three days after their launch. NEOSSat was flying over northern Ontario while RCM was above Florida. Credit: Canadian Space Agency.

LAVAL, QUE. – Just three days after the launch of the RADARSAT Satellite Constellation (RCM) mission, another Canadian satellite, NEOSSat, a near Earth surveillance satellite, took a picture of a healthy RCM.

NEOSSat image of the three RCM satellites, RCM-1, RCM-2, RCM-3
NEOSSat image of the three RCM satellites, RCM-1, RCM-2, RCM-3. Taken June 15, 2019. Credit: Canadian Space Agency

The image of the three RCM satellites in orbit, taken by another satellite in orbit, and released publicly, is not a common occurrence.

Typically there’s little interest from the public for these kinds of images. That can changes when something has happened to a satellite, say, when it is hit by a piece of debris.

The image was publicly released at the CASI ASTRO 2019 conference by Scott McLelland of Defense Research and Development Canada during a Defence Space plenary panel on Wednesday, June 19.

RCM health status

One of the satellite receiving dishes at the Inuvik Satellite Station Facility in Inuvik, Northwest Territories which receive data from the RCM
One of the satellite receiving dishes at the Inuvik Satellite Station Facility in Inuvik, Northwest Territories which receive data from the RCM. Credit: Natural Resources Canada.

During a technical session on Tuesday, June 18 about the RCM, Guennadi Kroupnik, Director, Space Exploitation at the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), provided an update on the health of the satellites. The three RCM satellites, now known as RCM-1, RCM-2 and RCM-3, are all healthy after their initial checks.

The satellites are oriented as expected, the solar arrays are deployed and functioning, and all startup systems are working nominally. Kroupnik also stated that as of 9:45 a.m. EDT on Tuesday, June 18, less than a week after the satellites had been launched, they were ready for commissioning.

The commissioning of the satellites is expected to take anywhere from three to six months. However, it is expected that routine data collection from the satellites should begin between October and December of this year.

MDA, the prime contractor is working with the Canadian Space Agency to get the satellites commissioned. Mission control for the RCM mission is at CSA headquarters in Saint-Hubert, Quebec. MDA will assist the CSA for a year in commissioning and at mission control at which point CSA personnel will solely be in control of the mission.

Much of the data that will be collected will go though the Inuvik Satellite Station Facility in Inuvik, Northwest Territories. Because of its geographic location in Canada’s high north and the polar orbit of the satellites, the Natural Resources Canada ground station facility can “see” the RCM satellites during 11 of its 15 daily orbits.

RCM will produce a 1.8 terabytes of data per day!

RCM Data usage
RCM Data usage. Credit: Canadian Space Agency.

Once commissioned the RCM will generate 1.8 terabytes of data a day. That translates into 4.6 petabytes of data over its expected seven year lifespan. To put that into perspective, the older RADARSAT-2 satellite generated anywhere from 10,000 to 40,000 images in a given year. Beginning in year two, RCM will generate on average 250,000 images per year.

In the evolution of Synthetic Aperture Radar usage, and in particular Canada’s RADARSAT-1, RADARSAT-2 and now RCM, the importance of the data collected has grown in significance. So much so that 14 government departments will use 100% capacity of the satellites. The satellites also have Automatic Identification System (AIS) sensors that the Department of National Defence will use to track maritime traffic, including in the arctic.

Data policy

The governments data policy focuses on the needs of the government first. Some of the data will be made available to the public through the Open Data government initiative. However, it won’t be in a real time, and there will be security restrictions on some of the data for security reasons, read defence implications.

This is an animated video capture using CelesTrak of the RADARSAT Constellation Mission orbital track taken on June 21, 2019. The track shows approximately 1 1/2 orbits at 30 times normal speed. It provides the viewer an idea of an orbital track illustrating passes over Canada. The separation between the three satellites is slowly growing. Eventually, once the satellites are in their final position, they will provide 45 minutes of Synthetic Aperture Radar data for every orbit.

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 20 years working in various roles in the space industry and a total of 27 years as a technology entrepreneur including creating Maple Square, Canada's first internet directory and search engine.