Monday, July 18, 2016

Arctic Satellites Should Serve Northerners According to Nunatsiaq Online

          By Henry Stewart

Not everyone likes the idea that the Polar Communications and Weather mission (PCW), the long awaited but never funded Canadian Space Agency (CSA) project to provide continuous 24/7 broadband communications services and monitor weather and climate change conditions in the Canadian arctic, is about to be replaced by a Canadian military based program without any weather component or assured civilian access to communications.

Areas of interest in the high arctic for the meteorological and communications components of PCW. As outlined by Brigadier General Rick Pitre, the then Director General for Space in the 2013 Frontline Defence article, "Director General talks about 'Space'," the Canadian military was, even in 2013,"very interested in PCW." Graphic c/o FrontLine Defence.

As outlined in the July 18th, 2016 Nunatsiaq Online post, "Arctic satellites should serve northerners," the latest plans are that the two satellites expected to built will be equipped for communications purposes only, and used primarily by the military. According to the article, "the military will likely operate the satellites in conjunction with a private company, which could perhaps market any unused bandwidth to northern residents and businesses."

But unlike PCW, any "public access (to the replacement satellite constellation) would not be assured," because of the military nature of the program. According to the article;
Under the new plan, the satellites will not be equipped to support weather forecasting, climate change science, or the monitoring of solar flares. 
Environment Minister Catherine McKenna. Photo c/o Wikipedia.
These reductions in capabilities could limit northern economic development, the safety of northern residents and visitors, research on climate change, and Canada’s ability to fulfill its marine weather forecasting commitment.  
The reductions are due to a recent decision by Environment Canada to withhold its portion of the funding for the Polar Communications and Weather Project, which amounted to about $10 million per year over the 15-year projected lifespan of the satellites.  
It was this decision that killed the multi-departmental project and forced the Department of National Defence to move forward on its own.
As outlined in the December 5th, 2012 post, "What the Space Volume of the Aerospace Review Actually Says," the 2012 Emerson Aerospace Review recommended that the Federal government narrow the CSA mandate to the point where it would no longer be a "policy-making body" or "directly involved in designing and manufacturing space assets purchased by the government." Nor would it embark on any new large satellite programs.

Instead, individual government departments (such as DND) would manage their own space projects just so long as they also funded them. This is why DND felt justified in radically revamping the PCW program after the Federal ministry of the Environment and Climate Change withdrew its funding.

The total cost of PCW was estimated to be around $4.5Bln CDN over the life of the project. Environment Canada's amounted to 3% of the 15-year budget.

Of course, all the money is supposedly coming from the same Federal government. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau can essentially reallocate funding between departments at any time.

For more on the cancellation of PCW, check out the July 17th, 2016 post, "The Polar Communications & Weather Satellite (PCW) Mission is Dead; To Revive it, our Military Wants More Money."

Henry Stewart is the pseudonym of a Toronto based aerospace writer.

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