Monday, February 04, 2019

UTIAS-SFL and Raytheon Canada Building Military Funded Spy Sats

          By Brian Orlotti

The University of Toronto’s Institute for Aerospace Studies (UTIAS) Space Flight Laboratory (SFL) has announced that it will develop three microsatellites to demonstrate ‘new’ air and maritime surveillance technology for Canada’s North.

As outlined in the February 1st, 2019 University of Toronto Engineering News post, "U of T Engineering researchers to design microsatellites for Arctic monitoring," the project, dubbed Gray Jay Pathfinder (GJP), is a partnership between UTIAS SFL, Woodbridge ON based Raytheon Canada and the Department of National Defence (DND).

Under the partnership, UTIAS SFL will build the GJP microsats while Raytheon Canada develops the onboard electronics.

The program is being funded as part of the DND’s All Domain Situational Awareness Science & Technology (ADSA S&T) program at a total of $46.2Mln CDN, with UTIAS SFL receiving $15Mln and Raytheon Canada getting $31.2Mln. The funding was allocated as part of 2018 Canadian Defence Budget, which provided a 70% increase in funding for Canada's military.

Raytheon Canada’s electronics will demonstrate a distinctly Canadian version of what most modern military knows as over-the-horizon radar (OTH). The Raytheon name for it is "Skywave radar technology" and many of the concepts surrounding it were discussed in the October 2006 Defence R&D Canada Technical Memorandum (TM 2006-285) titled, "A Canadian Perspective on High-Frequency Over-the-Horizon Radar," although the program was active in the 1980's.

Traditional radar systems are line-of-sight, meaning that they cannot detect objects beyond their horizon (typically a few hundred kilometres). Skywave radar overcomes this limitation by bouncing its signals off the ionosphere, increasing range to thousthe ands of kilometres.

OTH radar, first developed in the 1960’s, has been in use for decades by the major powers as well as smaller nations, including the US, Russia, France, China, Australia and Iran.

As outlined in the February 2nd, 2019 Canadian Defence Review post, "Canada Awards Contracts In Support of Arctic Surveillance," the Skywave/OTH radar technology will enable rapid detection and identification of surface and airborne targets, greatly enhancing the Canadian Forces’ situational awareness in the North.

In addition and as outlined in the post, "solutions achieved under the ADSA program will contribute to joint efforts between Canada and the United States to modernize elements of the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD)."

The need to beef up Canada’s surveillance capabilities has been made more urgent in recent years by several factors;
  • Increased challenges to Canadian sovereignty as Arctic sea lanes see greater international traffic due to climate change-induced melting of polar ice.
  • The increasingly hostile geopolitical environment, including renewed Cold War tensions following the US’ withdrawal from a key nuclear weapons treaty, the US/China trade war, and US belligerence towards Canada during the recent NAFTA renegotiation
Canada must overcome its peaceful complacency if it is to survive in an increasingly unstable world.
Brian Orlotti.

Brian Orlotti is a network operator at the Ontario Research and Innovation Optical Network (ORION), a not-for-profit network service provider to the education and research sectors.

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