DRDC RFP Sets Sight on Hyper-Spectral Imaging Satellites and a Multi-Purpose SSA Microsatellite

The Sapphire satellite is a contributing sensor to the U.S. SSN, supporting resiliency of the network, and providing additional capability that is used to maintain space situational awareness as part of the U.S.-Canada defense space partnership. Credit: MDA.

The advent of small satellite use by Canada’s Department of National Defence in earnest is upon us as demonstrated by the latest request for proposals (RFP) by Defence Research and Development Canada (DRDC).

Earlier this year the Department of National Defence awarded a contract to Toronto’s Space Flight Laboratory to build three microsatellites at a cost of $15M for arctic surveillance. That program is known as Project Grey Jay.

Last Friday, DRDC issued a new RFP as part of its innovative science and technology (S&T) challenge proposals program. The S&T are divided into two streams; Stream A: Public Safety and Security; Stream B: Support to Canada’s Defence Policy “Strong, Secure, Engaged”.

Specific to the space domain, and in Stream B are two of the 16 challenges.

Challenge 15 – Hyper-Spectral Imaging Satellites

At this time this challenge is for studies, concepts and/or research and development. DRDC characterizes this challenge as;


Over the years, hyper-spectral sensing technology has been mostly demonstrated from airborne platforms. DND/CAF require a better understanding of how hyper-spectral imagery (HSI) technology deployed from space could provide novel and significant solutions to ISR problems such as: counter IEDs; Search and Rescue; chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, high yield explosive; Arctic IS; and, Intelligence Preparation of the Operational Environment.

S&T Challenge:

This challenge is seeking proposals to assist DND/CAF in shaping future space-based hyper- spectral technology demonstration missions. For that purpose, the proposed work will define the main components of the system (spectrometer, telescope, computers, attitude sensors, communications, satellite bus, etc.) and their basic performance (signal to noise ratio, spatial and spectral resolution, downlink capability, etc.) and include a tentative schedule and broad cost projection for the proposed mission (including launch). Systems with different spatial resolution or operating spectral regions can be proposed (known to influence mission size and cost as well as the type of military applications – to be assessed by DRDC). Only proposals for studies, concepts and/or R&D centred on compact imaging spectrometers that can be carried aboard nanosatellites to medium-sized satellites will be considered. The design of new imaging spectrometers is excluded so proposals are to only be based on existing sensors (commercial off the shelf (COTS) or previously built) that can best exploit the visible and near infrared (VNIR), the short-wave infrared (SWIR) or their combined ranges, in order to provide imagery with sufficient quality (signal-to-noise-ratio (SNR), ground sample distance (GSD), etc.) to support various DND/CAF applications. The proposals can also include preliminary work phases such as components and system concept validation and design (excluding the spectrometer), as well as build and/or tests.

Challenge 16 – Demonstration of a Multi-Purpose Space Situational Awareness (SSA) Microsatellite

This challenge is a technology demonstration with a resulting contract valued at upwards of $18 million for one satellite. DRDC characterizes this challenge as;


Space assets are playing an increasingly important role for DND/CAF and allied operations. The increasingly complex and dynamic nature of the space environment requires timely and accurate SSA to ensure the safety of space assets – and their associated effects on CAF capabilities – in the face of natural, man-made, and potentially hostile threats.

S&T Challenge:

This call requests proposals for the development and flight test of a SSA R&D microsatellite for DND/CAF to perform advanced SSA experimentation. Proposals must detail a technical approach for the space segment, ground segment and R&D operations for both the baseline and technology demonstration capabilities. In addition, the proposal must identify the decision points for the design, build, launch (optional), commissioning in space, and operation for up to one year. DND/DRDC will own the satellite system.

A space systems data security approach for satellite command, telemetry and payload data must be identified. Spectrum and regulatory filings pertaining to this mission will be performed by the bidder. The bidder will be responsible for a flight test demonstration phase by responding to experimental spacecraft taskings issued by DND/CAF. The bidder will perform R&D operations and end-of-life procedures for the space segment adhering to best practices for the mitigation of space debris.

One of the R&D mission objectives has particular orbit requirements. With regard to launch, bidders will structure their proposals addressing these options:

  1. Development and flight testing of the SSA microsatellite, with Canada obtaining launch services as an option.
  2. Development and flight testing of the SSA microsatellite, with launch services included within the bidder’s proposal.

The Government of Canada may, at its discretion, obtain the services of a Launch Provider through a Rideshare. If the launch option is not exercised, the overall funding amount will be reduced by the cost of the launch option. The proposal will be evaluated as a single overall project including the proposal for launch.

Mission Objectives: The proposal must describe a solution meeting the mandatory baseline capabilities and R&D capabilities as follows:

Baseline capability: The SSA microsatellite system must perform deep space object tracking and metric imaging of Resident Space Objects (RSOs) to magnitude 16 or fainter with angular precision better than 2.0 arcseconds. Deep space objects are space objects with orbital periods higher than 225 minutes. The system must be capable of collecting more than 300 tracks (1 track = 6 images) per day by executing a series of time-tagged pointing and payload commands issued by DND. The microsatellite must have orbital position knowledge better than 10 meters and payload imaging timestamp accuracy better than 1 millisecond. The system must deliver Flexible Image Transport System (FITS) formatted imagery stamped with precise time of exposure and J2000 position, velocity of the microsatellite. The imagery must be suitable for precision astrometric and photometric measurements of deep space RSOs and will be processed by DND. The system must be capable of receiving a task and responding with imagery data within 8 hours. The imager must be able to acquire metrics imagery at a rate of 1 image in less than 10 seconds, but be capable of acquiring high rate photometry faster than 1 image per second for durations up to 2 minutes.

In addition to the mandatory baseline capability, the SSA microsatellite must incorporate the following R&D technology demonstration capabilities:

  1. Monitor and assess the state of Canadian space objects on orbit – Using a non-interfering orbit offset from the Radarsat Constellation Mission (RCM) satellites; propose a payload and concept of operations to perform resolved imaging of RCM’s exterior surfaces to better than 10cm resolution. All three RCM satellites must be routinely observable in this mode of operation. The choice of orbit must enable resolved imaging opportunities of one of the three RCM satellites at a rate of at least one RCM satellite per day, but not exceeding one RCM satellite every five days.
  2. New high-performance capabilities to track space objects – Canada’s current space-based SSA sensors track space objects using open-loop control assuming constant angular rates of RSO relative motion. This is not representative of actual object motion during tracking. A high performance attitude control system which can slew and track space objects either in open-loop or closed-loop control modes at higher angular rates and accelerations continuously or in a piecewise manner is desired. This technical challenge must test autonomous closed-loop tracking of RSOs using guiding corrections from the baseline payload or another microsatellite subsystem that enables this functionality.
  3. Task, obtain data from, and monitor telemetry of a Canadian SSA satellite asset in near real-time – Inter-satellite transceivers using existing on-orbit satellite communications infrastructure are becoming available for small satellites enabling low data rate connectivity nearly anywhere in Low Earth Orbit (LEO). This R&D challenge is to test these technologies’ viability to task the SSA microsatellite with high priority tasking nearly anywhere in LEO within 5 minutes of command and provide reduced ‘lit-pixel’ imagery for high-responsiveness baseline SSA tracking. The system should test continuous real-time low data rate telemetry from the SSA microsatellite for health and status monitoring.
  4. Maintain awareness of space objects in the orbital proximity around a Canadian satellite – New technologies are enabling the hemispheric proximity sensing of objects around spacecraft. Propose a payload to detect and track a 20cm diameter space object in LEO within a 250km radius sphere of the host microsatellite.

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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