Canada – Space hardware manufacturer COM DEV has announced a $7-million program to develop its own micro-satellite platform, a move away from the company’s traditional niche as a supplier of sensors and subsystems for other satellite makers.
The Cambridge, Ont.-based company said Tuesday the new class of micro-satellites will be used “to satisfy a range of emerging national and international requirements in a highly cost-effective manner.”
COM DEV president John Keating said the satellites would allow a broad range of applications, including surveillance, security, environmental monitoring, scientific analysis and communications.
“With a renewed focus in Canada on the strategic significance of the space industry, we believe it is an opportune time to provide several federal departments with novel, space-based solutions,” he said in a statement.
The proposed and later blocked sale of MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd.’s space robotics and satellite operations to an American weapons maker shined the spotlight on the state of Canada’s space industry earlier this spring, raising questions about what direction Canada should be headed.
At the time, Keating made it clear he felt Canada should be in the business of building smaller micro-satellites — that is, satellites that weigh 150 kilograms or less.
“The reason micro-satellites are intriguing to me is if I look at the U.S., it’s going to be difficult for them to do it, because of the nature of the way they do things,” he told CBC News in May. “They spend $40 billion on space annually, and they’ve got these massive organizations with huge budgets. And when you start talking about a 10 to 15 million dollar micro-satellite, it isn’t something that someone like Boeing or Lockheed Martin gets excited about.”
Micro-satellites a niche for Canada
While the blocked MDA sale focused attention on MDA’s Radarsat-2, the enormous 2,200 kg satellite designed to monitor Canada’s Arctic sovereignty, Canada has a more recent history as a builder of smaller satellites, he said.
One of Canada’s more celebrated achievements was the launch of the MOST (Microvariability and Oscillation of STars) telescope, a 60 kg suitcase-sized micro-satellite designed to measure the age of stars in our galaxy.
Built for a modest $10 million, MOST is seen as the template for the next generation of small satellites, including another project currently in development, the Near Earth Orbit Surveillance Satellite (NEOSSAT), which will be able to detect and track Earth-orbiting objects and asteroids and has a modest budget of $9.4 million.
The main body of the 150 kg ozone-observing Scisat-1, which like MOST launched into orbit in 2003, was also built by a Canadian company — Bristol Aerospace Ltd. in Winnipeg, a division of Toronto’s Magellan Aerospace.
The move to building micro-satellites is a shift for COM DEV, which has previously specialized in sensors and instrumentation for larger satellites.
For example, the James Webb telescope, a NASA-funded orbiting telescope set to take over for the Hubble Space Telescope in 2013, uses a fine guidance sensor built by COM DEV.