A RADARSAT synthetic aperture radar (SAR) panel undergoes tests at MDA's planar near-field range room – a controlled antenna test environment (Image source: Canadian Space Agency)

Canada’s RADARSAT constellation satellites receive thermal blankets, ready for launch

The three satellites, now tucked in and awaiting launch on a single SpaceX Falcon 9 launch vehicle, will launch together and introduce a more robust, flexible C-band synthetic aperture radar (SAR) system that can be maintained at lower cost and provide greater near-real time data delivery.
After five years of development and testing, the Canadian Space Agency’s three-satellite RADARSAT Constellation Mission (RCM) is awaiting launch with a tentative date of February 18, 2019. Toronto-based Magellan Aerospace Corporation completed the final hardware delivery of the third and final satellite of the RCM program to MDA, a Westminster, Colorado-based space company. The three satellites will be deployed on a single launch that is scheduled for the week of February 18, 2019. 

Earth-observation satellites, like RADARSAT Constellation, provide essential geologic, oceanic and atmospheric information, enabling scientists to monitor and protect the environment, manage resources, and ensure public safety. RCM is the evolution of the RADARSAT Earth-observation satellite program and was developed to ensure data continuity and improve operational use of C-band synthetic aperture radar (SAR) to provide continuous updates on Canada's vast territory and maritime approaches.

Over the course of the RCM program, Magellan delivered three satellite buses, three payload module structures, associated software, ground support equipment, and launch vehicle adaptors to MDA. Magellan installed the RCM Multi-Layered Insulation (MLI) blankets on the third satellite bus in September, finalizing hardware assembly for all three satellites of the constellation. The thermal blankets will prevent the spacecraft from freezing while in space.

RCM data will be used in a variety of areas, such as maritime surveillance, ecosystem monitoring, agriculture, climate change monitoring, and helping disaster relief efforts. The Canadian Space Agency is currently sharing a .STL file for those interested in printing a sub-scale model of a RCM satellite on a 3D-printer. (Image source: Canadian Space Agency)

The three RCM buses manufactured by Magellan are the largest and most complex satellite buses that the company has designed and manufactured to date. During RCM construction, Magellan developed a new power control unit for use on the satellites that has already been commercialized and sold for another mission for an undisclosed customer.

Once launched, the RCM program will provide C‑band SAR data to support maritime surveillance, disaster management, and ecosystem monitoring for Canada and its surrounding Arctic, Pacific, and Atlantic maritime areas. C-band radar designates radar signal frequencies ranging from 4.0 to 8.0 gigahertz signals in electromagnetic spectrum.
RCM is a paradigm shift from previous Canadian Space Agency RADARSAT missions. Instead of launching a single large, multi-year operations satellite, the capabilities of the system will be distributed across several small satellites, increasing revisit, and introducing a more robust, flexible system that can be maintained at lower cost and launched into orbit using less expensive launch vehicles.

The greatly enhanced temporal revisit combined with accurate orbital control will enable advanced interferometric applications based on the satellites' four-day cycle, allowing for the generation of very accurate coherent change maps. Benefactors of the new satellite constellation data include current users of RADARSAT C-band SAR data like the Canadian Ice Service, one of the largest processors of current RADARSAT-2 satellite data. The Canadian Ice Service provides near-real time observational intelligence to organizations like the Canadian Coast Guard.

The Canadian Coast Guard vessel Louis S. St. Laurent (front) and the United States Coast Guard vessel Healy (back) use C-band SAR data while travelling through frozen waters. (Image source: Natural Resources Canada)

However, there are expected to be a wide range of ad hoc uses of RADARSAT constellation data in many different applications within the public and private sectors, both in Canada and internationally. The increase in revisit frequency introduces a range of applications that are based on regular collection of data and creation of composite images that highlight changes over time. Such applications are particularly useful for monitoring climate change, land use evolution, coastal change, urban subsidence, human impacts on local environments, and disaster warning, response, and recovery.

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William Kucinski is content editor at SAE International, Aerospace Products Group in Warrendale, Pa. Previously, he worked as a writer at the NASA Safety Center in Cleveland, Ohio and was responsible for writing the agency’s System Failure Case Studies. His interests include literally anything that has to do with space, past and present military aircraft, and propulsion technology.

Contact him regarding any article or collaboration ideas by e-mail at william.kucinski@sae.org.
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