It’s been a long wait but after completing extensive testing Canada’s first dedicated military satellite, Sapphire, is ready for service.
Launched almost a year ago on February 25th and conceived of over seven years ago, Sapphire is the fruition of the military’s need to have a dedicated asset in space for ongoing situational awareness.
In an earlier interview DND Communications Advisor Daniel Blouin told SpaceRef “Canada is increasingly reliant on space assets” [Sapphire will] “re-establish the Canadian contribution to surveillance in space.”
The prime contractor for Sapphire is MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates (MDA) of Richmond, B.C., which signed a $65 million contract with DND in October 2007. MDA won another $11.7 million contract from DND in 2011 to operate Sapphire for five years. The Sapphire contractor team also includes COM DEV International of Cambridge, Ontario, and Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. (SSTL) of Surrey, England.
On January 30th MDA announced that Sapphire had completed commissioning and has transitioned Into operations. This was great news, however it left us wondering why it took so long to complete the commissioning phase. After all, when launched we had been told the commissioning phase would last three months.
It turns out that getting Sapphire ready for operational service required more than just MDA completing its initial three month commissioning phase.
According to DND Communications Officer Justine Lafond MDA “executed a very successful 90-day Commissioning Phase which proceeded exactly as planned.”
Lafond added “As should be appreciated, performing full functional checkouts on all sub-systems for something as complicated as a satellite is a complex and extremely thorough process. In addition, the nature of Sapphire’s mission, coupled with stringent mission-level requirements, necessitated the collection of extensive amounts of observational data during Commissioning for the purpose of fully verifying mission requirements in close coordination with the DND project team. These data took time to collect, process, and verify.”
“The culmination of the Commissioning Phase was a formal Commissioning Results Review during which MDA demonstrated compliance with and, in most cases, the surpassing of all Sapphire mission requirements. In summary, a highly successful commissioning was executed by MDA in accordance with the agreed-upon plan and completely on schedule.”
Sapphire will now form the heart of the Canadian Space Surveillance System and will assist the United States Space Surveillance Network.