RADARSAT Constellation Mission launch advances situational awareness for operations


National Defence

Led by the Canadian Space Agency, the RADARSAT Constellation Mission (RCM) was launched on June 12, 2019, from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, onboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.

The constellation of three identical synthetic aperture radar Earth observation satellites will have daily access to 90 per cent of the world’s surface and the Arctic up to four times a day. The RCM is also equipped with an Automatic Identification System, allowing improved detection and tracking of ships in near-real time. The RCM will orbit Earth at an altitude of 600 kilometres and each satellite has a life expectancy of seven years.

In 2016, the Royal Canadian Air Force took over functional authority for Joint Space within the Canadian Armed Forces. In this role, the RCAF is focused on enhancing the Canadian Armed Forces’ space capabilities to support joint and combined operations.

“The Canadian Armed Forces’ space-related activities are critical to effective operations both at home and abroad,” said the RCAF’s Brigadier-General Kevin Whale, director general and joint force component commander for space. “The launch of the RADARSAT Constellation Mission enables enhanced maritime domain awareness, global wide area surveillance and a significant contribution to collaboration with Allies.”

The CAF relies on space capabilities for a wide-range of functions including command and control, weather information, navigation, communications, mapping, and search and rescue.

The CAF will use data received from the RCM to make informed decisions for operations at home and abroad, including to detect changes in terrestrial or maritime environments, to support intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance for expeditionary operations, as well as for maritime domain awareness overseas and in the approaches to Canada (including the Arctic).

As outlined in Canada’s Defence Policy, Strong, Secure, Engaged, the launch of the RCM aligns with initiatives to acquire space capabilities to improve situational awareness through space-based earth observation.

More than 12 federal government departments use RADARSAT data. The RCM required the direct collaboration of the Canadian Space Agency, Natural Resources Canada, the Department of National Defence, Environment and Climate Change Canada, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, and Public Safety Canada, among others. The Government of Canada owns and will operate the RCM, ensuring the continued availability of data to deliver services to Canadians.