Monday, March 05, 2018

That Commercial Ground Station Built by New North Networks in Inuvik Still Can't be Used

         By Chuck Black

After almost two years, that new, private sector commercial ground station built by Inuvik, NWT based New North Networks in Inuvik for San Francisco, CA based Planet and Norwegian based Kongsberg Satellite Services (KSAT), has still not received the second of two sets of Federal government approvals needed to operate under Canadian law.

That delay is likely not the fault of the commercial players.

The five Inuvik satellite receivers, built almost two years ago, look forlorn and lonely today. After the failure of multiple attempts to fulfill Canadian government licencing requirements, the facility remains unable to open for business. Photo c/o Rolf Skatteboe.

For example, New North Networks CEO Tom Zubko, last profiled in the July 24th, 2017 post, "NWT Businessman "Perturbed" By Response to Private Sector Inuvik Ground Station Proposal," is still more than a little perturbed by the situation.

As noted by Zubko in a Monday interview with this blog, KSAT is even attempting to fulfill a contract for the European Space Agency (ESA), an international organization which includes another Federal government department, the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) as a "co-operating" member.

So you'd think the Federal government would at least be interested in not embarrassing one of its departments on the world stage.

But you'd be wrong.

"We are very patiently attempting to wait for a solution to this situation, so that we can open the facility," Zubko noted. He said it takes longer to licence large satellite ground station infrastructure in Canada than it does almost anywhere else in the world and current Canadian law are so onerous and undefined as to act as barriers to entry into the market for new players.

As outlined in the March 5th, 2018 CBC News post, "Inuvik satellite dish installations remain unused, still waiting for final federal approval," two Federal government departments are required to approve the application:
  • The Federal department of Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED), which is responsible for authorizing radio licences needed to operate fixed Earth stations in Canada, which finally approved their portion of the ground station application last week. 

From a legal standpoint, the existing barriers favor legacy players, such as the Federal government owned Inuvik Satellite Station Facility (ISSF), administered by the Canada Centre for Mapping and Earth Observation and part of Natural Resources Canada (CCMEO/NRCan), which opened in 2010 and is the only other ground station in the region.

Oddly enough, CCMEO/NRCan is "collaborating" with San Francisco, CA based Maxar Technologies subsidiary MDA (until recently, the Richmond BC based MacDonald Dettwiler) in order to "further develop the site and offer common services at the facility" according to the ISSF website.

However, according to Zubko, "Planet and KSAT, had information they felt was proprietary and didn't want to give to MDA," which goes a long way towards explaining why Planet and KSAT don't want to work through the government run facility.

As outlined in the March 5th, 2018 SpaceQ post, "Planet and KSAT Licensing Issue Enters 22nd Month," both companies have threatened to pull their ground station assets out of Canada by June 1st, 2018, if progress "hadn’t been made in approving their licenses."

According to Zubko, Planet plans to pull out of the project by June 1st, 2018 unless the licences are approved. "They're gone without those licences," he said.

Oddly enough, other ground stations proposals have had their applications reviewed and accepted over the last two years. As outlined in the December 14th, 2017 C-Core press release, "C-CORE satellite receiving station operational in Inuvik," the C-Core ground station is " is optimized for use with today’s emerging generation of breadbox-sized nanosats and cubesats. Its innovative self-leveling platform ensures stability during seasonal frost heave, making it ideal for Arctic deployment." The press release also said that the project was supported by "the Government of Canada’s Networks of Centres of Excellence program" which, at least as outlined in the post, has a mandate to "foster innovation and collaboration in Canada’s remote sensing sector and to promote commercial use of remote sensing technologies to support responsible, sustainable development of northern natural resources." That's just what we need; another government department needing to be consulted in order to move forward. Graphic c/o

If the project doesn't move forward, Canada could suffer.

Zubko feels that "Canada has been embargoed when it comes to future international Earth observation and communications missions." He feels that the actions of the Federal government have been "inconsistent" at best and could potentially turn the country into an international pariah, unable to partner with other agencies on future space missions.

"At least Planet has a provisional licence so that they can begin testing," Zubco said. He also noted that, as of this morning, KSAT had only been in contact via e-mail with Global Affairs Canada. 

"And  the government seems to want prior notification of new customers and sales," according to Zubko, which will certainly cause concern given the possibility that the competition from the other Inuvik satellite station facility might also come into possession of the information.

In essence, it's a developing story, waiting for a resolution, which may not happen anytime soon.

Stay tuned...
Chuck Black.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

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