Canada plans to launch in 2018 a constellation of satellites designed to track ships
around the world and provide surveillance
information about the maritime approaches
to North America.
Royal Canadian Air Force Brig. Gen. Blaise Frawley,
director general of space operations for the Canadian
Armed Forces, said the three radar-imaging satellites,
which can track vessels at night and through cloud
cover, will be used to enhance Canada’s maritime
situational awareness and feed data to the U.S. military through the North American Aerospace Defense
Command, or NORAD, and other organizations.
Construction is under way for the three satellites of
the Radarsat Constellation Mission, or RCM.
Frawley said the RCM will be a significant improvement over the existing surveillance spacecraft,
Radarsat- 2, which was launched in 2007 to conduct
“Radarsat Constellation Mission has three satellites,
as opposed to Radarsat- 2, which is one,” he said. “So
the revisit rate [over locations] will be significantly
higher and the ability to focus in and pinpoint targets
will be improved.”
The RCM project is being coordinated by the
Canadian Space Agency. The three satellites will be
launched together aboard a Space-X Falcon- 9 rocket,
said space agency spokeswoman Julie Desjardins.
“Lift off is currently slated for July 2018 from
Vandenberg, Calif.,” she said.
It has been a long road for the project to come to
Initial work on RCM started in 2005 and, three
years later, MacDonald Dettwiler and Associates
of Richmond, British Columbia, received a 40 million Canadian dollar ($29 million) contract from the
Canadian Space Agency to design the spacecraft.
In 2013, the Canadian government awarded a
706 million Canadian dollar contract to MacDonald
Dettwiler to build, launch and provide initial operations for the RCM.
RCM is a follow-on program to Radarsat- 2, which
was designed to operate until 2014. It is expected that
Radarsat- 2 will continue to provide data until the time
the RCM capability is fielded.
The RCM satellites will be interoperable and equally
spaced in a 600-kilometer low-Earth orbit. With its
synthetic aperture radar, RCM can conduct surveillance
day or night and in all weather conditions. The RCM
satellites will be able to detect ships up to 25 meters in
length or larger.
Frawley said RCM will be a significant improvement
over Radarsat- 2, not only through its ability to cover
more of the Earth by revisiting locations on a regular
basis, but because it will be equipped with Automated
Identification System (AIS) tracking technology to aid
in ship detection.
Ships larger than 300 tons are required by the International Maritime Organization to carry an AIS beacon
for navigational safety, with the information allowing
for the identification of the vessel, its speed and course.
The data is collected by land-based receivers or
by other ships, but only within a 50-nautical-mile
range. There also are commercial spacecraft carrying
AIS detection receivers and the Canadian government
currently uses such data to monitor ship traffic.
That, however, means the Canadian Armed
Forces has to correlate the AIS data from commercial and other sources with the imagery collected by
“There’s delays, there is ambiguity,” Frawley said.
“RCM will embed AIS within the actual satellites so
we’ll have much better situational awareness on our
“AIS is specific to shipping,” he added. “The synthetic aperture radar is great for maritime domain
EYES IN THE SKY
CANADA’S NEW RADARSAT CONSTELLATION MISSION
WILL BOLSTER MARITIME SITUATIONAL AWARENESS
BY DAVID PUGLIESE, SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
WWW.SEAPOWERMAGAZINE.ORG 16 SEAPOWER FEBRUARY/MARCH 2017
SPECIAL REPORT: NETWORK-CENTRIC WARFARE & COMMUNICATIONS