I’ll admit until a few months ago I knew relatively little. In fact, I’m not even sure I’d heard of it before. And yet it is a vital component of Canadian Arctic Sovereignty, was 85% paid for by Canadian taxpayer dollars (to the tune of $445 million), and was almost sold to an American Weapons Manufacturer …
It will take several posts to adequately cover this topic. This one will focus on backround information, to be followed with relevant Arctic sovereignty issues and applications, another post on Military uses, and finish with the potential sale to an American company.
RADARSAT-2 is an Earth observation satellite that provides high definition imagery, even at night and through clouds. It can discern hydro lines, ocean currents, and some reports say it can track submarines travelling at shallow depths – as they would be in the Northwest Passage (map). Its ‘left looking’ capability allows the observation satellite to routinely image the Arctic, making it the ideal tool for mapping Arctic sea-ice and tracking ships. In fact the Canadian Ice Service has been the largest domestic user of RADARSAT-1, the less powerful predecessor to RADARSAT-2.
The satellite was developed through a partnership between MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates (MDA) – best known for their involvment in the CANADARM project – and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), with $445 million of taxpayer money spent on the project covering 85% of the total cost. This investment gave the Canadian government access to imagery in value equal to its investment, ‘shutter control’ to restrict the images downloaded from the satellite for reasons of national security, and ‘priority access’ in emergencies, including floods, forest fires, oil spills, or suspect vessels entering Canada’s North.
It was assembled and tested at the David Florida Laboratory near Ottawa and launched into orbit on December 14th of 2007 using a Soyuz FG launch vehicle from Russia’s Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
The Department of National Defence, Public Safety Canada, Natural Resources Canada and the Department of Foreign Affairs have all used this Canadian owned and operated technology.
You can find the official RADARSAT-2 site here.