CSA targets Earth observation continuity in new contract

Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) image of Victoria, Canada. Credit: NASA/JPL.

A newly posted notice of potential procurement (NPP) offers a preselected list of possible Canadian Space Agency (CSA) vendors the chance to bid on work for “continuity of space-based Earth observations services for the Government of Canada.”

The government’s buyandsell.gc.ca procurement service posted the Earth Observation Service Continuity (EOSC) initiative – Business Case Support in May, last amending it on May 27 to extend its deadline to June 23.

CSA, the statement of work says, is looking for a consultant “to support the development of business cases, business analysis and decision briefs aimed at informing on alternatives for the continuity of space-based Earth observations services for the Government of Canada.”

The goal is to find program alternatives and spending plans to address federal government needs for Earth observations between 2026 and 2041. Notably, the RADARSAT Constellation Mission (RCM) has a prime design life ending in 2026, but that could be extended if the satellites remain healthy.

A CSA spokesperson told SpaceQ by email that the EOSC project has been planning for a successor to RCM for several years, focusing on finding a “cost-effective solution” to collecting the synthetic aperture radar the RADARSAT series of satellites collects. RADARSAT 2 is the other active member of the MDA-built satellites, and is in good health. It launched in December 2007 and is operating at nearly double its expected 7.5-year lifespan.

CSA is still working on plans for a next generation of Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) – with options such as whether to ask long-running vendor MDA to provide more SAR services on future satellites, to go to other Canadian vendors, to lean on international partnerships or to use private sector Earth constellations.

But this contract is a key step in that decision process. Some options after RCM’s retirement, CSA said, could include “leveraging new space market offerings [and] optimizing international collaboration while ensuring minimal risk of SAR imagery service continuity beyond the RCM.”

This notice is expected to lead to a request for procurement, which the CSA told SpaceQ has already been distributed to pre-qualified suppliers. It has the same closing date as the NPP, which is June 23.

“The services being procured would support the Earth Observation Service Continuity initiative over the next 18 months, with a potential for an additional 18 months’ extension,” the CSA spokesperson continued. “This expertise is required to support the Government of Canada in determining project requirements, analysing trade-offs and refining potential investment scenarios.”

All RFP proposals will be evaluated using a selection of mandatory and rated criteria meant to find a business analyst “experienced in complex projects and space capabilities” that also meets the requirements of a Task and Solutions Professional Services selection, CSA said.

Contractor selection is planned for the late summer, after which the vendor will be tasked with doing a “comprehensive review of the analysis of investigation and work performed to date, a literature review, as well as articulation and determination of the next steps,” CSA said.

In CSA’s words, these are some examples of what the continuity initiative covers:

  • Maritime surveillance: Ice monitoring, ship detection, oil pollution monitoring and marine wind measurement.
  • Disaster management: Mitigation, warning, response and recovery for earthquakes, floods, landslides, volcanoes, and wind storms.
  • Ecosystem monitoring: Forestry, agriculture, protected areas, wildlife habitat, wetlands, and coasts.

This process is fully independent from WildFireSat, which is in development and expected to launch no earlier than 2026 to examine all Canadian active wildfires from space daily.

CSA has one other active Earth observation satellite, which is called SciSat. It launched in 2003 and is likely nearing the end of its operational lifespan, given that most satellites tend to last 15 to 20 years given fuel and ongoing radiation exposure in space.

That said, the agency may leverage its partnerships with other space agencies to gain Earth observation data from other government satellites. CSA is a cooperating state of the European Space Agency and through that relationship, has access to large Earth observation programs like Copernicus.

The agency also has several instruments on operational ESA and NASA missions, with the list of missions on CSA’s Earth observation page including CloudSat (NASA), Odin (Sweden), Soil Moisture and Ocean Salinity (ESA), Swarm (ESA) and Terra (NASA). These aren’t necessarily SAR-focused missions, to be sure, but do illustrate the depth of collaboration that is possible.

Many of these satellites are aging themselves, however; Terra, for example, launched in December 1999. But in January 2022, NASA’s then newly appointed chief scientist (Katherine Calvin) told reporters the agency is examining how to add more satellites to the fleet in the near future.

There are already more NASA satellites in development that include CSA. An example is the Surface Water and Ocean Topography mission, which includes both NASA and the French space agency CNES.

In mid-2021, CSA also said an Aerosol, Cloud, Convection and Precipitation (A-CCP) study is considering designs for atmospheric observations for possible future inclusion in NASA’s Earth System Observatory set of satellites.

About Elizabeth Howell

Is SpaceQ's Associate Editor as well as a business and science reporter, researcher and consultant. She recently received her Ph.D. from the University of North Dakota and is communications Instructor instructor at Algonquin College.

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