Canadian Space Agency Invests $6.8 Million for New Earth Observation Technologies

First engineering image captured by an RCM satellite with Google Map for reference. Credit: Canadian Space Agency/Google Maps.

The Canadian government has made a $6.8 million investment to develop new Earth Observation technologies in a variety of areas. A total of 10 R&D contracts have been awarded to 10 companies through the Canadian Space Agency’s Space Technology Development Program (STDP).

The announcement on March 2 by François-Philippe Champagne, Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry targets Earth Observation technologies that “will increase the power of the radar, enable higher resolution images and intelligent anomaly detection, improve measurements of sea-ice thickness,” and others.

Canada has been a leader in Earth Observation technologies, in particular synthetic aperture radar used on RADARSAT-1, RADARSAT-2 and the RADARSAT Constellation Mission (RCM).

The following technologies are being funded:

Multi-Aperture Exploitation and Hardware

  • MDA (Vancouver) – Up to $500,000 for: Radar satellite resolution – the capacity to produce clear images – can be improved by dividing the antenna into multiple smaller antennas and using advance-processing techniques to generate high-quality images. This technique has been proven through satellites that use an antenna divided into two sub-apertures, such as RADARSAT-2. The exact achievable performance as well as potential pitfalls for the use of more than two sub-aperture antennas are being investigated.
  • MDA (Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue) – Up to $1 million for: The multi-aperture approach enables higher resolution images but requires more power from the antenna to obtain the required image quality. The company is looking into developing gallium nitrate transmitters that will produce the required power at a higher efficiency than the current gallium arsenate panels used on both RADARSAT-2 and the RCM.

Commercial Satellite Relay

  • AstroCom (Ottawa) – Up to $300,000 for: An important requirement for the next generation of Canadian satellites is to be able to quickly download data. A constraint for this rapid download is that the satellite needs to be in range of a ground station. The company is evaluating a mitigation method that consists in using laser crosslinks to transfer data to a satellite within reach of a ground station, using it as a relay. The CSA (Canadian Space Agency) is looking at the feasibility of integrating its next-generation satellites with communications constellations, using that technology.

New Technology Concepts Proposed by Canadian Industry to Address Users Needs

  • AstroCom (Ottawa) – Up to $238.000 for: A technology to investigate the use of two satellites to better distinguish open water from new sea ice by observing the same scene within a very short delay. It could assist navigation in Canadian ice-infested waters.
  • C-CORE (St. John’s) – Up to $238.000 for: A new satellite instrument to improve the ability to measure sea ice thickness, providing more accurate information on the effects of climate change and enhancing weather prediction, among other applications.

Multi-Mission Ordering Planning Tool

  • MDA (Vancouver) – Up to $1.5 million for: Currently the CSA manages a single source of data: its own satellite system, the RCM. As we plan to diversify the sources of data in the future, users’ requests will require much more coordination. This tool aims to help identify and prioritize which task is assigned to which system to optimize their use and provide the quickest response to each request.

Autonomous Synthetic Aperture Radar Image Quality Validation Tools

  • EarthDaily Analytics (Vancouver) and MDA (Vancouver) – Up to $750,000 each for: Unlike pictures taken with an optic satellite system, synthetic aperture radar images are generated by interpreting an electromagnetic signal measured by the satellite instrument. Quality control is currently ensured through verification of small subsets of images as well as through users’ feedback. As the quantity of data is expected to increase, the CSA is looking at developing a tool that will automatically control their quality and report to users any potential issue.

Intelligent Early Anomaly Detection and Failure Prediction Support Tools

  • Calian (Multiple locations) and C-CORE (St. John’s) – Up to $750,000 each for: Tools will be developed to help monitor the satellite telemetry and detect trends or patterns that could generate anomalies or lead to failures so we can better anticipate them. The CSA will detect anomalies and apply correction swiftly so that the satellite remains available for its mission.

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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