Space capabilities

Space is a critical aspect of the global security environment and space-based capabilities are crucial for the day-to-day activities of all humanity. Space capabilities provide the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) with a distinct advantage across all of our operations due to their accessibility, persistence, and global nature.

The Canadian Armed Forces rely on space for a wide-range of capabilities, such as command and control, situational awareness, surveillance, weather information, navigation, communications, mapping, and search and rescue.

Space capabilities that support our military activities include:

Satellite communications

Space systems enable communication over vast distances or remote areas, such as the Arctic or in the case of international deployed operations. Without satellite communications, the efficient passage of information from a higher headquarters to subordinate units would be greatly decreased, preventing the timely execution of military operations around the world.

The CAF’s SATCOM Operations Centre monitors and maintains availability of National Satellite Communication to deployed users using commercial and military satellites. Maintaining and enhancing interoperability in space with key stakeholders, including the private sector, is a critical aspect to assuring the CAF has the capabilities it needs to operate anywhere in the world.

The CAF have partnered with the United States Department of Defence and other allies to provide military SATCOM through two projects.

  1. Protected Military SATCOM project, uses a group of Advanced Extremely-High Frequency satellites to provide resilient and jam-resistant SATCOM.
  2. Mercury Global project, which leverages the United States Wideband Global Satellites Communications satellites to provide high bandwidth communications support to global users. The Mercury Global project has delivered three ground stations (all located in Canada) and agreements with allies to share access to ground stations on foreign soil. These ground stations allow connectivity to our own national networks used by terminals in land, air and maritime environments.

The future of SATCOM

Two future projects to support military operations, are the Tactical Narrowband SATCOM – Geosynchronous (TNS-GEO) and Enhanced Satellite Communications Project – Polar (ESCP-P).

  1. TNS-GEO, in partnership with the United States, will provide global narrowband (UHF) SATCOM from 65°N latitude to 65°S latitude.
  2. ESCP-P will provide satellite communications that will allow for coverage in the Arctic from 65°N - 90°N.

Canadian Space Agency

Surveillance from space

The Canadian Armed Forces use synthetic aperture radar and other data to make informed decisions for operations at home and abroad including maritime and terrestrial surveillance globally and in the approaches to Canada, and change detection to support intelligence for expeditionary operations.

RADARSAT Constellation Mission

The RADARSAT Constellation Mission (RCM), a Canadian Space Agency (CSA) managed project, builds on Canada’s expertise and leadership in Earth observation from space and is critical to Canada. Its primary objective is to respond to the synthetic aperture radar data needs of the federal government. For example, this is used to improve the identification and tracking of threats and improve situational awareness of routine traffic in and through Canadian territory. Over a dozen departments already use RADARSAT-2 data to deliver services to Canadians. The launch of the RCM in 2019, as a follow-on system to RADARSAT-2, provides an even greater global – including Arctic – maritime domain awareness capability, enhanced further by DND’s integrated Automatic Identification System (AIS) on board the satellites.

The three-satellite configuration of RCM will provide latency improvements, as satellites will revisit the same location within four days, versus 24 days for the still active RADARSAT-2.

Coupled with the Polar Epsilon 2 Project (PE2) – the CAF’s data processing and RCM imagery receiving facilities – a strong maritime picture is used by the CAF to support deployed task forces and by a number of other governmental departments through the Maritime Security Operations Centres (MSOCs).

Polar Epsilon and Polar Epsilon 2

Polar Epsilon (PE) was the DND/CAF’s initial project to build two ground stations that would download imagery from RADARSAT-2 and provide enhanced products for use in CAF and maritime operations for Other Government Departments. PE stations are still fully operational and in use today.

Polar Epsilon 2 (PE2) was established to implement two additional ground stations, to order, process and receive RCM data for the Canadian Armed Forces, as well as continued support to the Maritime Security Operation Centres (MSOCs).

As of May 2020, PE2 began limited operations to provide the operational community with imagery to support CAF operations and an immediate capability to provide surveillance of the maritime approaches to Canada. PE2 is intended to become fully operational in 2021.

Department of National Defence

Unclassified Remote Sensing Situational Awareness system

The Unclassified Remote Sensing Situational Awareness (URSA) system is a mobile, deployable system that downloads satellite imagery directly, as they pass over areas of interest, providing up-to-date mapping and surveillance of operational theatres.

The capability supports deployed commanders in mission planning and in making tactical decisions where time is crucial. The Canadian Armed Forces have two URSA systems.

The high-resolution imagery obtained by the URSA Systems is unclassified and can be shared with other agencies to assist in disaster relief, security, or other government activities requiring quick access to information derived from space.

The URSA systems are capable of quickly downloading imagery from an overhead satellite and allow commanders to make decisions and plan operations with the most up-to-date information available.

The future of Surveillance from Space

The Defence Enhanced Surveillance from Space Project (DESSP) will be DND’s follow on to RADARSAT Constellation Mission. It is intended to provide additional capabilities, not currently provided by RCM for Canada’s security requirements.

Surveillance of space

The first step in ensuring our space-based capabilities can be defended and protected from collisions in space with other satellites and/or debris is maintaining a broad situational awareness over the vastness of space. Space domain awareness contributes to a safer and more secure space environment by increasing awareness of where objects are located in space, thereby reducing the risk of loss of critical space capabilities for all.

Sapphire Satellite

The Sapphire Satellite was launched and entered into operations in 2013 and contributes to the US Space Surveillance Network  – a global network of ground and space-based optical and radar sensors. The satellite, its operators, and analysts contribute to the process of identifying and tracking man-made objects in space (including debris) that could threaten Canadian and allied space-based systems.

Near Earth Orbit Surveillance Satellite

The Near Earth Orbit Surveillance Satellite (NEOSSat) microsatellite, launched with Sapphire in 2013, performs space surveillance research and development as a joint DND and Canadian Space Agency (CSA) mission.

NEOSSat performs deep space tracking similar to Sapphire, but also has the capability of performing observations on man-made space objects in other orbits.

The future of Surveillance of Space

Canada’s Defence policy recognized the need to maintain the capability provided by Sapphire. The follow-on Surveillance of Space 2 (SofS2) project team is working to provide a system that will ensure we continue Canada’s contribution to Space domain awareness.

Other capabilities

Positioning, Navigation, and Timing

The Canadian Space Operations Centre is responsible for oversight and assured access to Positioning, Navigation and Timing (PNT) data for the CAF across all domains and throughout the full spectrum of operations. Accurate and reliable PNT data ensures our soldiers, sailors, and aviators know where they are, with pinpoint accuracy and enhances the precision of guided munitions – reducing the risk of civilian casualties in a conflict.

 While PNT enables many applications, should the capability be denied, it could severely impact military operations and the daily lives of Canadians.  In coordination with our allies and other government departments, through the Navigation Warfare (NAVWAR) program, the CAF seeks to provide the tools and training to ensure that operational commanders and forces are capable of operating in peace time and in conflict.

Search and Rescue Satellite‑Aided Tracking

Search and Rescue Satellite-Aided Tracking (SARSAT) consists of payloads or instruments launched on an international system of satellite constellations designated to work together to provide location and data of distress alerts to SAR operations.

Canada is one of the four founding nations, alongside 40 participating nations from across the globe, leading the development and delivery of the international satellite-aided search and rescue system known as COSPAS‑SARSAT.

COSPAS-SARSAT is transitioning from the current Low Earth Orbit Search and Rescue (LEOSAR) system to the new and more capable Medium Earth Orbit Search and Rescue (MEOSAR) system.

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