Release delayed again for showcase Canadian satellite system


Canada's $ 1 billion satellite system remains stuck on the floor after cleaning up a planned launch next month.

A package of three satellites, known as the Radarsat Constellation Mission (RCM), was due to enter orbit from a launch pad in California February 18-24.

But a problem with a SpaceX propulsion rocket delayed the launch indefinitely – the sixth delay to hit a project affected by technical and budget problems.

MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates built the Radarsat Constellation Mission (RCM) satellites for $ 705 million. The company has already been absorbed by US-based Maxar Technologies. (Richard Lam / Canadian Press)

On December 5, the Falcon 9 first-stage rocket successfully launched an unmanned cargo capsule from Florida, bound for the International Space Station.

The booster should make a soft landing on the ground at Cape Canaveral eight minutes after launch. But SpaceX founder Elon Musk said a hydraulic pump failed, which affected a fin used to steer the propeller, causing it to land in the sea near the coast.

That first-stage booster had been scheduled to be recycled for the February launch of the RCM satellite package at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

This delay is not expected to increase project costs …– Canadian Space Agency spokesman

"Unfortunately, the rocket landing was not successful, preventing SpaceX from recovering the reusable components for the RCM launch," said Audrey Barbier, a spokeswoman for the Canadian Space Agency responsible for the satellites.

"We continue to work closely with MDA [MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd., the satellite manufacturer] and SpaceX to confirm a release date for the RCM. This delay is not expected to increase project costs for the RCM. "

MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates (MDA) is the Vancouver firm that built the Canadarm and the first Radarsat satellites, which use synthetic aperture radar to capture fine images of the Earth's surface, even through clouds and mist. MDA owns and operates Radarsat 2, but the new Radarsat Constellation Mission will be owned by the Canadian government.

The Radarsat Constellation Mission will use a trio of Radarsats launched together to cover about 90 percent of Earth's surface, providing detailed images to help protect the coasts of Canada and the north.

The MDA was absorbed by the North American company Maxar Technologies, which suffered a setback when its WorldView-4 ground observation satellite failed just over two years after its launch in November 2016. Maxar shares plummeted after the announcement of 7 January as the loss will severely restrict the revenue.

The Radarsat Constellation Mission, Canada's leading space project, missed a number of release dates. The MDA fixed price contract in 2013, for $ 706 million, required the launch on July 17, 2018 by a SpaceX Falcon 9.

Explosive failure

But the explosive failure of a Falcon 9 rocket in June 2015 had a ripple effect on the launch timelines, pushing the dates forward.

And MDA discovered a flaw in one of the three Radarsats at the end of 2017, requiring repairs in Germany and another postponement of the launch.

Elon Musk, founder of SpaceX, tweeted that a hydraulic problem with the Falcon 9 rocket caused the unexpected landing at sea. (Kyle Grillot / Reuters)

In 2008, the Cabinet approved a $ 600 million budget for the project. Costs exceeded $ 1 billion, with the Canadian Space Agency adding $ 300 million in addition to the $ 706 million MDA contract.

The agency has not taken out any insurance to cover a failed launch and estimates that it would cost $ 600 million or more in at least three years to replace the three satellites if they were destroyed or rendered useless in orbit.

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