Richmond-led satellites ready to rocket to space

MDA Corp., alongside the Canadian Space Agency, plans to launch its Radarsat Constellation Mission Wednesday morning

The three RADARSAT Constellation Mission (RCM) satellites are being prepared for their launch aboard a Falcon 9 rocket at the SpaceX facilities at the Vandenberg Air Force Base | Credits: MDA, a Maxar company, Canadian Space Agency

What happened: Advanced satellites from MDA Corp. will be launched into space tomorrow morning (June 12).

Why it matters: The 15-year, $1.2 billion project was managed out of MDA’s facilities in Richmond.

A piece of British Columbia technology is getting ready to rocket to space tomorrow morning.

After 15 years in development, a trio of advanced satellites designed and built by MDA Corp. will be launched from California and into orbit, where they will scan and observe planet earth.

According to MDA president Mike Greenley, the technological constellation formed by three satellites is what sets the Radarsat Constellation Mission (RCM) apart. It has the capacity to scan 90% of the world’s surface at least once a day, and its use of radar allows RCM to make observations regardless of the weather down below.

“That’s a really strong capability,” said Greenley, adding that the technology has proven to be “very effective” for border patrols of Canada’s three coasts and consistent artic surveillance.

“There’s a wide range of environmental and economic benefits that you get from radar satellites to be able to monitor all the ice in the north, for example, to be able to track climate change, to be able to work on agriculture, the environment, transportation, natural resources.”

Greenley estimates all phases of RCM’s development, built under a $1.2 billion federal government contract, took 15 years to complete. It was a cross-Canada effort that – at its peak – had 300 personnel and 50 different companies working on it at once.

The project and associated contracts were managed out of MDA’s Richmond offices, which also contributed radar satellite expertise and led project engineering for the overall mission.

“Over the course of the project, about 125 different companies would have worked on the project across seven provinces, with the project office in B.C. always in the lead,” said Greenley. “They led the charge for MDA.”

MDA will remain involved with the project for about a year and will gradually “hand over the keys” to the federal government, which will own and operate RCM. However, Greenley says the company will pursue future technology support work on the project.

But for now, all eyes are on the launch as RCM undergoes final incremental checks ahead of the event.

MDA’s sub-contractor SpaceX will launch the satellites from Vandenberg Air Force Base on a Falcon 9 rocket. The launch is currently scheduled for 7:17 a.m. on Wednesday (June 12) and can be streamed via SpaceX.

Greenley, who joined MDA as president in January 2018 after the company was acquired by U.S.-based Maxar Technologies Inc., has spent decades in the aerospace industry. It’s his first launch.

“We’re pretty excited about it,” he said.