Sunday, September 09, 2012

Will RADARSAT Constellation get "Bridge" funding?

There is a rumor going around the Canadian investment community that BC based MacDonald Dettwiler (MDA), the prime contractor for the RADARSAT Constellation (RCM) program, will soon receive enough "bridge" funding to keep the RCM program active (at least officially) through the end of the year.

RCM, the follow-on to the successful RADARSAT 1 and RADARSAT II missions, is a three-spacecraft fleet of advanced Earth observation satellites, which are officially scheduled for launch in 2016-2017. Government and commercial applications for the RCM include national security, arctic sovereignty, resource/ disaster management and ecosystem monitoring.

However, public reports (including the May 27th, 2012 Commercial Space post "Federal Government Says "Yippee Kai Yay" to MDA") have indicated that the pricing for the RCM project has almost doubled to over $1 billion CDN since the project was announced. As outlined in the March 4th, 2010 article "RADARSAT Constellation Mission gets Funding in Budget," the original government plan was to provide a total of $497 million over five years in order to finish the RCM design work and then move forward with satellite construction.

According to the article, the bulk of the spending was expected to occur "after 2011-2012." The Federal government and MDA are essentially in the midst of negotiating over how these cost overages will be covered now that the money actually needs to be spent.

Any additional funding will likely show up as an amendment to an existing contract and will not be heavily publicized. The project officially ran out of money in August 2012 by which time most of the people working on the project had been either laid off or reassigned.

Its not known how MDA intends to reconstitute the RCM team should funding become available.

The expected formal presentation of the Aerospace Review to the Industry Minister in December 2012 (as outlined in the February 28th, 2012 Commercial Space post "Aerospace (and Space) Policy Review Head Announced") could open the door to further and far more public discussions in this area, which is why the bridge funding is expected to only provide a short term relief.

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