Monday, February 24, 2014

"Team Canada" Solution for PCW Mission Competing Against US Bid

          by Brian Orlotti

Dan Goldberg. Photo c/o Telesat.
Canada’s top three space companies, Telesat, MacDonald Dettwiler (MDA) and COM DEV International, are teaming up to bid on the Canadian government’s upcoming Polar Communication and Weather satellite mission (PCW), whose development is expected to begin in 2016.

According to the February 10th, 2014 SpaceNews article, "Top Canadian Space Companies Join Forces in Polar Satellite Bid,"  the three companies are pitching their bid as the ‘Team Canada’ solution.

Under this arrangement, Telesat would be prime contractor, with MDA building the spacecraft and Com Dev providing the space weather monitoring payload. According to Telesat President and Chief Executive Dan Goldberg:
It is a made-in-Canada solution that is compatible with how the government has been thinking about how to leverage defense procurement to stimulate innovation and high value jobs in Canada. It’s three world-leading Canadian companies who have a very, very compelling, technical, operational solution to meet the government’s requirements.
But its also quite likely that this Canadian space triumvirate decided to combine efforts to better confront competition from foreign bidders. Among them is US aerospace behemoth Lockheed Martin Space Systems, who also responded to the Federal government’s request for information (RFI) for PCW before it closed on Jan. 31st, 2014.

As part of its bid for the PCW project, Lockheed Martin is dangling some juicy carrots in the Canadian government’s face. The company is offering Canada custom satellites designed for its needs and the possibility of Canadian involvement in the US Navy’s Mobile User Objective System (MUOS), an in-development next-generation tactical satellite communications network that could be used for Arctic communications.

As outlined in the November 4th, 2013 post "Polar Communications and Weather Project Inches Slowly Forward," the RFI was a follow-on to the February 2013 Canadian Space Agency (CSA) announcement that it was seeking partners (including other Canadian government agencies as well as international partners) to help build and finance PCW.

First announced with much fanfare, by the Harper Government in 2009 as part of its plan to bolster Arctic sovereignty, the PCW project would involve the launch of two satellites in a highly elliptical orbit to provide high data-rate civilian and military communications as well as near real-time arctic weather and space weather monitoring. Though first announced in 2009, the project languished for years under a fog of political and fiscal uncertainty until November 2013, when the federal government issued its RFI.

Brian Orlotti.
Although awarding the PCW contract to ‘Team Canada’ would likely benefit the domestic space sector more than awarding it to a foreign firm, it may also do Canada a disservice in other ways. The PCW project had an initial cost estimate of $600Mln CAD, but with fewer competitors in the bidding process, and thus less downward pressure on bids, the project’s final price tag may be much higher.

The question remains, by rooting for the ‘Team Canada" solution, will Canada get the most bang for its buck?

Brian Orlotti is a Toronto-based IT professional and the treasurer of the Canadian Space Commerce Association (CSCA).

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