WildFireSat Mission Concept Could Lead to New Type of Canadian Earth Observation Constellation

File photo: How we monitor wildfires is about to change. Credit: Canadian Space Agency.

The concept of a Canadian Wildland Fire Monitoring System was first proposed in 2012. That concept is now nicknamed WildFireSat, and has moved into Phase A with contract awards of $1.35 million to Honeywell and MDA.

Just before the long weekend holiday, the Canadian Space Agency announced the contracts via Twitter, though Public Works and Government Services Canada had posted it to their website on Monday, August 26.

The WildFireSat concept would first see small demonstration satellite built with the purpose of monitoring wildfires. According to the CSA, the satellite would also “provide Canadians with more precise information on smoke and air quality conditions. It will further enable us to more accurately measure the carbon emitted by wildfires, an important requirement of international agreements on carbon reporting.”

The program is a joint project of the CSA, the Canadian Forest Service, a part of Natural Resources Canada, and Environment and Climate Change Canada.

Should the government move forward with this project beyond Phase A, a resulting contract for Phases B through D, including launch and commissioning, would be capped at $31 million.

A new business model and constellation

Both Honeywell and MDA will now will execute the following two activities for Phase A:

  1. Mission definition of an initial operational capability, referred to as WFS Mission;
  2. Development of a new business model for the delivery of a long-term wildfire monitoring data service.

It is that latter requirement which is quite interesting. The original request for proposals included the following information on the “new business model”;

It is essential that the investment of the Government of Canadian (GoC) in the WFS Phase A will in the end ensure sustainable, long-term availability of wildfire monitoring data to end-users, at the Canadian scale or even global scale.

To this end, the WFS Phase A will investigate new business models for the delivery of a wildfire monitoring data service, either as a follow-on to a first GoC operational capability, or as a solution that replaces this first GoC WFS mission altogether.

Examples of possible (elements of) new business models are:

  • An end-to-end commercial data service, potentially with anchor customers;
  • Other types of government-industrial partnerships;
  • International partnerships;
  • Partnerships at the provincial/territorial level.

In designing a new business model for the WFS mission, both Honeywell and MDA will take into account that a possible end goal as outlined by the CSA and it partners, is to develop a constellation of nine satellites that would be able to scan the whole of Canada every 2-3 hours.

Development of a Canadian Wildland Fire Monitoring Sensor (CWFMS).
Credit: Government of Canada.

The cost of achieving this goal could be quite reasonable. If the cost of each satellite was less than the $31 million including launch, then the complete constellation could come in under $279 million. Likely the cost to build each satellite will be less than the first one, and a group launch of the satellites would bring the price down further. Not including operations, the cost of the WildFireSat constellation would be 1/4 that of the trio of much larger satellites that make up the recently launched RADARSAT Constellation Mission.

Development of a Canadian Wildland Fire Monitoring Sensor Presentation

The following presentation at the CASI ASTRO 2018 conference provides more information on the history of WildFireSat and how it might be developed.

About Marc Boucher

Boucher is an entrepreneur, writer, editor & publisher. He is the founder of SpaceQ Media Inc. and CEO and co-founder of SpaceRef Interactive LLC. Boucher has 20+ years working in various roles in the space industry and a total of 30 years as a technology entrepreneur including creating Maple Square, Canada's first internet directory and search engine.

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