MDA Space Adding Vessel Detection Capabilities to Upcoming CHORUS Constellation

Screenshot from new MDA CHORUS information video. Image credit: MDA.

MDA Space will be making a major change to their upcoming MDA CHORUS satellite constellation adding a vessel detection onboard processing system (VDOP). The system will give the constellation the ability to both track and identify vessels on the satellite itself, then “rapidly deliver geointelligence data and information direct to users at sea.” 

SpaceQ spoke about CHORUS and the new system with Dr. Minda Suchan, MDA Space Vice President, Geointelligence.


MDA CHORUS is the company’s upcoming synthetic aperture radar (SAR) satellite constellation. The company described CHORUS as a “collaborative multi-sensor constellation” that uses a pair of C-band and Iceye developed X-band radar satellites, with CHORUS examining broad areas using the C-band radar sat and performing detailed imaging of small areas using the trailing X-band satellite. 

MDA Space says that this combination allows the satellites to work in concert for “Near Real-Time (NRT) cross-cueing.” The C-band satellite can examine a large area, noticing points of interest—such as unexpected maritime traffic—and then immediately pass them along to the X-band satellite for more detailed examination. 

It will be in an inclined low-earth orbit, which will allow frequent imaging between ±62.5°  day or night and in all weather conditions, and is scheduled to launch late next year on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. 

Vessel Detection

Dr. Suchan explained that, specifically, CHORUS is being changed to add an additional vessel-detection subsystem on board the larger C-band satellite, which will consist of “a signal processor and software to perform ship detection.” Suchan said that this will allow CHORUS’ cross-cueing capabilities to work in a maritime context, where “the leading C-Band satellite will perform broader area maritime domain awareness collection” and where it will immediately “cue the higher resolution X-Band satellite to assist in determining vessel ship classification.” 

Suchan said that this decision resulted from MDA Space recognizing “the need to deliver geointelligence information products to decision makers faster and directly” by adding SAR signal processing to the constellation itself, instead of passing the raw data to terrestrial facilities, getting it analyzed, and then sending it back to decision-makers in the area. Suchan said that the addition of this new subsystem to CHORUS, combined with its cross-cueing multi-band capabilities, will “enable the delivery of actionable intelligence more rapidly to decision makers in deployed operational theatres.” 

A Busy Year

Suchan noted that this was part of what has been “a very busy year” at MDA Space. Part of that is their decision to rebrand to “MDA Space,” which was done “to better reflect our strategic focus, market opportunity and established position as a trusted space mission partner.” Another part, Suchan said, is leveraging “MDA Space’s heritage in radar satellites” and the company’s “ongoing operations enabling maritime domain awareness missions,” which helped lead to the decision to add the new vessel detection system. 

This is aimed primarily at security and defence customers. Suchan said that the company has been “working closely with both government and commercial customers in maritime surveillance,” who have “expressed interest in having a more direct to ship capability.” 

Nevertheless, they’re holding the door open for other customers; Suchan said that “it is directly suitable for all maritime missions, including maritime commercial users.”.Suchan did not, however, provide any specific examples of potential commercial users. 

About Craig Bamford

Craig started writing for SpaceQ in 2017 as their space culture reporter, shifting to Canadian business and startup reporting in 2019. He is a member of the Canadian Association of Journalists, and has a Master's Degree in International Security from the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs. He lives in Toronto.

Leave a Reply