Thursday, May 31, 2018

Inuvik Mayor Calls Feds "Not Forthcoming" Regarding Private Sector Commercial Ground Station Application

         By Chuck Black

According to Inuvik Mayor Jim McDonald, "while the city is not directly involved with the ongoing efforts to license the commercial ground station built by Inuvik, NWT based New North Networks  (NNN) for San Francisco, CA based Planet and Tromsø, Norway based Kongsberg Satellite Services (KSAT), we have been talking to both sides in an effort to get this thing up and running."

Inuvik Mayor McDonald in front of a local warehouse slated for demolition due to melting permafrost, which has shifted the building's foundation. As outlined in the April 7th, 2015 CBC News post, "Inuvik economy struggling, says new report commissioned by town," the local economy, heavily dependent on the oil and gas sector, has struggled as it attempts to diversify into tourism, emerging technologies and other areas, while at the same time dealing with a warming climate. Photo c/o CBC.

"And while some of the problems do seem to be regulatory, the Federal authorities involved with this process have simply not been forthcoming with their requirements and concerns," he said during a recent interview with this blog.   

As outlined most recently in the March 5th, 2018 post, "That Commercial Ground Station Built by New North Networks in Inuvik Still Can't be Used," the privately operated ground-station has still not received the second of two sets of Federal government approvals needed to operate under Canadian law.

The Federal department of Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED), which is responsible for authorizing the radio licences needed to operate fixed Earth stations in Canada, approved their portion of the ground station application in March 2018, after a twenty-two month review.

Global Affairs Canada must still issue a second license under Canada's Remote Sensing Space Systems Act, for the facility to open. Planet and KSAT have both previously indicated that they will withdraw their application to use the facility and relocate to another jurisdiction if the second license isn't issued by June 1st, 2018.

Decisions to build satellite tracking stations are not taken lightly, nor in a vacuum. Above is a photo of the construction of the MacKenzie Valley Fibre Link (MVFL), a state-of-the-art fibre optic telecommunications link connecting communities in the Mackenzie Valley and Beaufort Delta regions. As outlined in the June 11th, 2017 CBC News post, "Mackenzie Valley Fibre Link brings opportunities, challenges to NWT," the new link, completed in 2017, involved the installation of 1,154km (717 miles) of high-speed fiber optic telecommunications cable from McGill Lake in the south to Inuvik in the North. One of the selling points of the $110Mln CDN link, according to Mayor McDonald, was that the new capacity could be used to attract more satellite tracking stations to the region. The NWT government has also committed up to $7Mln CDN per year for up to the next twenty years to support MVFL operating costs if the line is unable to find paying users in the satellite industry or from other sources. Photo c/o MVFL.

"License applications always have a process," said McDonald, who's used to working with oil and gas companies subject to regional and Federal regulations and licensing requirements:
But on this project, there has simply been no direction on how to move forward. Other licenses have been issued and my personal feeling is that KSAT and Planet have made real efforts to resolve any impasses.  
There is the real possibility that KSAT and Planet could simply end up walking away...
According to NNN CEO Tom Zubko, while Planet and KSAT are currently optimistic that the second required license to operate the Inuvik facility will be issued in a timely manner, both companies are "evaluating options" and the appropriate people at the US Department of Commerce have been informed of the situation. 

KSAT, which is hoping to use the Inuvik facility to fulfill a contract for the European Space Agency (ESA), has likely also informed the ESA of their situation.

Given the previously announced June 1st, 2018 deadline to resolve the issue, this story will continue to be updated as new information becomes available. Stay tuned.
Editors Note: In a June 4th, 2018 e-mail exchange with Trevor Hammond, Planet's director of corporate communications, he stated that, "Negotiations are healthy and ongoing with Global Affairs Canada regarding operational conditions of the Inuvik site. We’ll share more information when we have an update." 
So nothing has been terminated but nothing has also been concluded. 
As mentioned above, "stay tuned."
Chuck Black.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

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