Satellite Technology Helps Canada Patrol Waterways
An artist's interpretation of Canada's Radarsat-2 Earth observation satellite in orbit.
Credit: CSA-MDA.

PARIS - The Canadian government has sharply reduced the amount of time it takes to collect evidence of illegal fishing and other infractions in its territorial waters by deploying high-cost aircraft only after Canada?s Radarsat 2 satellite has given an initial alert, according to Col. Francois Malo of Canada?s Department of National Defence.

Malo said Canadian authorities plan to extend their operational maritime surveillance capabilities with the next-generation Radarsat system, called Radarsat Constellation, by adding an Automated Identification System (AIS) terminal to each Radarsat Constellation satellite.

The decision is in parallel with a program by Canada?s Com Dev International?of Cambridge, Ontario, which is using its own funds to build several AIS-equipped small satellites after reporting a success of AIS technology in a satellite Com Dev launched in April 2008.

Malo said using Canada?s CP 140 maritime patrol aircraft to survey Canada?s coastline ? 243,770 kilometers long, with 250 ports and a traffic volume of 1,700 ships per day ? takes up to 180 hours of flight time to collect the necessary evidence.

The cost of operating the aircraft is about 27,000 Canadian dollars ($22,330)?per hour, Malo said here April 28 during a presentation to the Milspace 2009 conference, organized by SMi Group.

In a test program called Operation Drift Net, Canadian authorities took 80 Radarsat 2 scenes to scan the broad coastal area. High-resolution Radarsat 2 imagery was used once a suspicious vessel was spotted to determine whether it was worth an overhead pass by the aircraft. The result, he said, was the aircraft confirmed the activity just six hours after takeoff.

?Deterring illegal fishing would take a huge amount of aircraft time and we now use the satellite to find the vessels in question before cueing the aircraft,? Malo said.

Malo said Canada?s defense forces have begun their own ship-identification pilot program by using Radarsat data combined with AIS signals produced by satellites launched in 2008 by Orbcomm Inc. of Ft. Lee, N.J. Orbcomm is building a second generation of machine-to-machine messaging spacecraft, all of which will include an AIS terminal on board.

Malo said Canadian authorities in March started integrating Orbcomm AIS data into marine images taken by Radarsat as part of a program to monitor Atlantic tuna fishing. The data is promising, he said, but suffers from the fact that the Orbcomm information is not easily correlated with the Radarsat data because the two data sets are coming from two satellites in different orbits.

For this reason, he said, the Radarsat Constellation program, expected to feature between three and six spacecraft, ?will have an AIS capability. Our objective is to have four looks at a given area per day of any area in our zone of interest, with eight minutes of SAR [synthetic aperture radar instrument] per orbit.?

Malo said Canadian officials have begun talks with Canada?s allies, including the NATO alliance, to determine whether other governments might take part in the program.

In another project aimed at ship surveillance, Canada?s defense forces have installed Radarsat 2 ground stations, one on the east and west coast of Canada, to collect data on overall ship traffic. The program, called Polar Epsilon, cost 64.5 million Canadian dollars and is designed to deliver information on a ship?s position, length, speed and heading within 15 minutes of being imaged.

Com Dev officials say they expect to provide Canadian forces with the AIS technology for Radarsat Constellation based on data from the Nanosatellite Tracking of Shipstechnology demonstration satellite placed into low Earth orbit in April 2008.

The 8-kilogram satellite was placed into a 630-kilometer sun-synchronous orbit to determine whether Com Dev?s proprietary AIS technology works as designed. Under contract to the Canadian Space Agency and Canada?s defense forces, Com Dev is building a follow-on Maritime Monitoring and Messaging Microsatellite (M3MSat), to be launched in 2010.

The M3MSat will also inaugurate a Com Dev-developed satellite platform the company hopes will be used for multiple future Canadian government programs, Com Dev Chief Executive John Keating told shareholders April 22. Com Dev is currently seeking strategic partners to help finance the rollout of a commercial AIS system.

?We aren?t going to bet the farm,? Keating said of the AIS and microsatellite development efforts. ?Appropriate backup plans are in place. We do not expect to generate any meaningful revenue from AIS in 2009, but this next year will be crucial in determining the success of the overall program.?