Friday, September 20, 2013

Was the Magellan Contract for RADARSAT Constellation a "National Policy?"

RCM image c/o MDA.
The September 4th, 2013 announcement that Mississauga, ON based Magellan Aerospace had been awarded the $110Mln CDN contract from MacDonald Dettwiler (MDA) to build the three satellite buses required for RADARSAT Constellation (RCM) has come in for some disparaging American comments, including a statement that the deal "hinged on national industrial policy as much as (on) technical know how."

The SS/L 1300 satellite bus. First available in the 1980's and used for dozens of communications satellites, the current version has a total broadcast power range from 5 to 25 kW, and can accommodate from 12 to 150 transponders. Graphic c/o SS/L.
As outlined in the September 19th, 2013 Space News article "Space Systems/Loral Passed over by Canadian Parent for Radarsat Work," the final deal could easily have  gone to MDA subsidiary Space Systems Loral (SSL), which would have used a smaller, modified version of the 1300 series satellite bus manufactured out of the SSL facility in Palo Alto, CA.

The article also quoted unnamed "MDA officials" who told investors in May, 2013 that the RCM project had been slow moving forward in order to allow time to consider “an alternative approach to manufacturing the spacecraft bus.

Magellan was originally awarded a $6 million contract in 2009 for what was called a "phase B preliminary design" of the RCM satellite bus, and was generally perceived of as being the leading contender for follow-on bus contracts. A spacecraft bus generally consists of the spacecraft structural frame, propulsion systems, power and intra-spacecraft satellite communication equipment.

The CASSIOPE satellite, which also uses a Magellan MAC-200 bus. The existing design will be upgraded to accommodate the large, deployable C band surface aperture radar (SAR) and increased power subsystem capacity as required by RCM, plus new GPS and propulsion subsystems to support the precision orbit maintenance requirements and improved avionics to support the seven year mission lifetime. Image c/o CSA.
The first public indication that MDA was considering alternatives to Magellan was the March 13th, 2013 article "MDA Satellite Contract Move Infuriates Government" which focused on unattributed reports that MDA was considering the possibility of "not subcontracting" a significant piece of RCM to Magellan. According to the SpaceRef article, this suggestion "blindsided the government" which was expecting MDA to subcontract out bus manufacture to Magellan, based on its participation in previous contracts and the possession of domestic satellite manufacturing facilities.

The Magellan MAC-200 small satellite bus finally chosen for RCM on September 4th will be manufactured in the Magellan facility in Winnipeg, MB.

As outlined in the September 4th, 2013 Magellan press release "Magellan Aerospace Awarded $110 Million Contract for RADARSAT Constellation Manufacture" the new bus will be an upgraded (and larger) version of one which has previously only been used for the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) CAscade, SmallSat and IOnospheric Polar Explorer (CASSIOPE) satellite, which is currently awaiting launch on the first flight of the upgraded SpaceX Falcon 9 v1.1 rocket.

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