Esprit de Corps: MDA is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. What have been the highlights of MDA’s achievements in the field of Space and Defence?
In February 1969, MDA began in the basement of John MacDonald, and 50 years later, we are an internationally recognized leader in space robotics and sensors, Earth observation satellites and ground systems, satellite communications technologies, geospatial radar imagery, and defence, intelligence and surveillance systems. I’ve recently had the chance to review the milestones and achievements MDA is recognized for, and while I am sharing a selection, it’s notable how many of these achievements are connected with Canada’s recognized leadership in these areas:
• Space Robotics: Canadarm: this iconic Canadian technology was flown on over 90 missions for NASA’s space shuttle program, along with TriDAR and Laser Camera Systems. Today, Canadarm2 and Dextre continue to support International Space Station missions.
• Space and Airborne Remote Sensing: world’s first image processed digitally from Seasat, RADARSAT-1, RADARSAT-2 and RADARSAT Constellation Mission; first constellation of satellites for insurance industry, and CP-140 Aurora Imaging radar system and exploitation system
• Space Sensors and Exploration Robotics: providing high resolution 3D scans of the Asteroid Bennu on OSIRIS-Rex mission, Advanced Space Vision System used on Dextre, multiple Mars rovers (Sample Fetch Rover, ESA ExoMars, NASA Phoenix and Curiosity)
• Unmanned Aircraft Systems and Services (CU-170, CU-173, CU-175)
• Systems integrator and In-service support for RCN: Significant 25-year heritage in providing support to Royal Canadian Navy’s interests:
• Kingston-Class, Electronic Systems Integrator and in-service support provider
• Victoria-Class Command Team trainers
• Naval Combat Operator trainer
• Naval Operations Software Solutions
(nee Maritime Command Operational Information Network)
• Leading provider of Global Procedure Design for USAF and FAA. Evaluated and selected by the U.S. Air Force for its safety, usability, and productivity, GPD is currently in use by more than 200 design specialists operating at over 100 locations around the world.
• Earth Observation Systems – delivered 100 ground receiving stations in over 25 countries
Esprit de Corps: Can you tell me about MDA’s current work in the Defence sector?
We have had some pivotal awards that use our decades-long expertise in areas we are world leaders.
MDA is in year two of its three-year development of NATO’s new maritime operational command and control system TRITON. TRITON will replace NATO’s existing legacy operations systems in this area. The goal of TRITON is to establish and share a common view of the battle space, improve situational awareness and decision-making processes for all NATO forces. Interoperability is key, TRITON will enable NATO forces by building and disseminating key information such as the NATO Recognized Maritime Picture (RMP) and White Shipping Picture. TRITON will also provide a variety of decision aid and operational support functions. This work is being done primarily in our Halifax location, which we have more than doubled in size in the last year to accomplish this task.
Our leadership in space-based maritime domain awareness continues to deliver capabilities for Canada’s Department of National Defence under the Polar Epsilon projects.
Since 2010, MDA has been providing space-based intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities for the Canadian Armed Forces exploiting MDA’s RADARSAT-2 that were delivered under the Polar Epsilon project. In 2016, MDA was selected as the prime contractor and will deliver short term in-service support that will provide advanced capabilities from the Government of Canada’s RADARSAT Constellation Mission, exploiting space-based synthetic aperture radar and its automatic identification system for derived ship detections for the Canadian Armed Forces global ISR needs. Combining radar and AIS information will enable the CAF to locate ‘dark’ targets in the maritime domain enabling better cueing of reconnaissance platforms such as maritime patrol aircraft. Similarly, MDA delivered and currently supports a mobile ground station, called ‘Unclassified Remote-sensing Situational Awareness’, or URSA, which is accessing multiple satellite missions supporting deployments by the Canadian Joint Operations Command. This system has been deployed since December 2017 in Bahrain co-located with the USN Fifth Fleet Headquarters and part of the Canadian Joint Operations Command Operation Foundation.
MDA also operates for the Canadian Armed Forces the Sapphire satellite providing space situational awareness to the Canada Space Operations Centre and for further input to the US Space Surveillance Network. Sapphire was launched in early 2013 exceeding its 5-year mission design life and performance specifications.
Esprit de Corps: MDA’s RADARSAT Constellation Mission (RCM) will be a major contribution to the Government of Canada and in particular the Canadian Armed Forces. What is the latest status update on RCM?
The satellites are completed and have been shipped. They are currently stored at our sister company SSL in readiness for launch in 2019 by SpaceX.
Esprit de Corps: What are some of the Defence and Space projects that MDA plans to focus on as you head into the next half century?
Overall, we are increasing our role as a Canadian Content Value Proposition partner to international firms that need an engineering, manufacturing, and support partner for programs in Canada.
Most recently, we are proud to be partnered on Canada’s Combat Ship Team lead by Lockheed Martin Canada. MDA will lead the integration and design of the Electronic Warfare system for the Canadian Surface Combatant (CSC) warships. While it may look like a slight departure from space, the CSC EW program and defence products we plan to build will use the innovation and technical expertise of all of our Richmond, Brampton, Halifax and Montreal locations. MDA will leverage our space radar, optical and antenna expertise into the naval arena to provide high quality, Canadian built products to support the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN).
MDA is the only company to deliver UAS systems and services to all three service branches of the Canadian Armed Forces (the RCAF, RCN, and Canadian Army). Through these programs we delivered: highly-reliable and multi-INT airborne ISR platforms, payloads and exploitation systems, and supported both domestic and deployed operations. After building a sovereign in-service support and sustainment capability, we have since leveraged our successes in Canada and expanded internationally. Today, teams of MDA personnel are deployed and operating company-owned UAVs in contested airspace overhead conflict zones, gathering and delivering critical ISR products, and helping our clients by performing first-line analyses on the collected data. Proudly partnered with best-in-class UAS manufacturers (AeroVironment, Schiebel, General Atomics) we will continue honing our capabilities, in order to serve the future needs of the Canadian Armed Forces and the needs of Canada’s Allies.
Going forward, we will continue to support and enhance the NATO TRITON project as it replaces NATO’s existing systems over the next couple of years. The TRITON project is expected to become the standard for maritime command and control for many NATO nations.
And finally, we will be focused on delivering capabilities for the DND Space Program as outlined in Strong Secured and Engaged, highlighted by ISR capabilities for Surveillance from Space under the Defence Enhanced Surveillance from Space Program; Surveillance of Space for the Surveillance of Space 2 project; and satellite communications under the Enhanced Satellite Communications Polar project.
Esprit de Corps would like to thank Wendy Keyzer and Mike Greenley for their assistance in preparing this article.