Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Telesat, Thales and Maxar Learn to Share Canada's Strategic Innovation Fund

         By Chuck Black

Earlier this month, as outlined in the July 5th, 2018 Space News post, "Canada’s LEO constellation fund draws interest from Telesat, MDA," both Ottawa, ON based Telesat and Brampton ON based MDA Corporation (a subsidiary of Westminster CO based Maxar Technologies) expressed interest in accessing funding from the Canadian government’s new $100Mln CDN  Strategic Innovation Fund to finance low-Earth-orbit satellite systems.

Now, it looks like both companies, in conjunction with Franco-Italian aerospace manufacturer Thales Alenia Space, have decided to play nice instead of compete. The three have entered into a consortium to access the fund for a group project and are working together on Telesat's proposed  117-satellite low Earth orbit (LEO) constellation.

Though not a defined manufacturing contract, the agreement, announced on July 30th, 2018, positions the three companies as the team which could ultimately build the constellation and ground components when Telesat issues the contract to begin the build phase of the program in 2019.

As outlined in the April 18th, 2018 Via Satellite post, "Backed by Government, Telesat to Initiate First Customer LEO Trials This Year," Telesat is hoping to fund the initial stages of their constellation using Federal government contributions from the Strategic Innovation Fund and a $20Mln CDN direct contribution from the government of Ontario.

According to the July 30th, 2018 Telesat press release, "Telesat Signs Consortium of Thales Alenia Space and Maxar Technologies, the Owner of SSL, to Further Develop Designs for Telesat’s Global LEO Satellite Constellation," the new Thales Alenia Space-Maxar consortium, "working in close cooperation with Telesat," has submitted "a highly innovative approach for maximizing the performance and service capabilities of Telesat’s LEO constellation architecture," in order to further develop system designs for Telesat’s proposed constellation.

Telesat has built two demonstration satellites for the LEO constellation.

Telesat's low Earth orbit prototype 2 (LEO-2) built by Palo Alto, CA based SSL (another Maxar subsidiary) with Toronto ON based University of Toronto Institute of Aerospace Studies (UTIAS) Spaceflight Laboratories (SFL) acting as prime contractor, was lost when the Soyuz-2.1b rocket carrying the satellite failed to reach orbit in November 2017. 

LEO-1, built by Guildford UK based Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. (SSTL), a world leader in small satellites and part of the Ottobrunn, Germany based Airbus Defence and Space group, launched successfully in January 2018 and is currently undergoing orbital testing.

As outlined in the July 30th, 2018 Maxar press release, "Thales Alenia Space and Maxar Technologies' SSL Form Consortium to Further Design and Develop Telesat's LEO Satellite Constellation," the consortium could be expected to subcontract work to MDAs Canadian facilities when those contracts are issued, although the press release didn't explicitly say so.

According to the Maxar press release, "the companies have formed fully integrated teams across multiple work streams located in France, the U.S. and Canada in order to apply the consortium's very best talent to every task."

The press release also quoted SSL group president Dario Zamarian, as saying, "participation in the consortium with Thales Alenia Space demonstrates the value of our SSL and MDA businesses working together to bring integrated solutions that drive competitive advantages for satellite operators such as Telesat."

MDA is currently contracted to build antennas for the 882 satellite OneWeb LEO constellation at a Montreal PQ based manufacturing facility.

Other companies have also shown interest in the Strategic Innovation Fund.

As outlined in the Apr 11th, 2018 Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED) press release, "Government investing in space and satellite communications technologies to improve access to broadband in rural and remote areas," Montreal QC based Advantech Satellite Networks received nearly $11.5Mln CDN from the Strategic Innovation Fund earlier this year in order to "develop an advanced satellite broadband network that will improve the performance of satellite communication systems."

The total value of the project was listed in the press release as being is $29Mln CDN. The funding will:
... help create or maintain more than 95 jobs in Quebec and will bring new high-tech skills to the Montréal region, thanks to Advantech's partnership with local post-secondary institutions like Concordia University and Dawson College.
The project will support the development of next-generation terminals and hubs for faster and higher-capacity broadband networks that allow data to be transmitted more efficiently across networks, leading to significantly lower network costs. 
These innovations could also lead to other broadband solutions that will help bring greater Internet access and more reliable service to communities in rural areas of Canada. As the technology can be adapted to any satellite, the project will position Advantech to capture a share of a growing global market.
Chuck Black.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

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