A marriage of technological convenience will give birth to Canada's first multipurpose satellite.
Government and industry officials in Vancouver recently announced the beginning of construction of the Cassiope satellite. The 350-kilogram spacecraft is expected to be launched in 2007 with a three-part mission.
The first mission is being billed as the world's first courier in the sky. Specifically, the Earth-orbiting satellite will be able to receive vast amounts of information from the ground, store it, and then beam the data down when Cassiope passes over a receiving station at another location on the planet.
Cassiope's courier incarnation has an enormous memory capacity, equivalent to 50 to 500 gigabytes of data. "[Its]memory translates into 500 billion letters or the equivalent of 500 pickup trucks filled with pages on which the letters are printed," said Walter Peruzzini, a manager working on satellite development with the Canadian Space Agency.
The aim is also to have the data transmitted at a very high speed. "It should be about 15 times faster than high-speed Internet today," Mr. Peruzzini said. The CSA and Vancouver-based MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd., the prime contractor for the mission, envision the satellite's first use to be in transmission of gigantic amounts of data that oil exploration ships gather as they map the sea floor.
Delivery time could be 90 minutes, the time it takes Cassiope to orbit the planet.
The satellite's second mission will cost $80-million to $100-million. Called ePOP, for Enhanced Polar Outflow Probe, it will feature eight scientific instruments designed to measure the interaction of the Earth's upper atmosphere with solar wind.
The interaction of solar storms with the atmosphere is not well understood. "In terms of an analogy to Earth weather, we can't tell today whether an event will become a hurricane that will strike North Carolina or turn into a small tropical storm that strikes South Carolina," said Andrew Yau, the University of Calgary physicist who is the chief scientist for the mission.
More accurate space-weather predictions are expected because ePOP should allow scientists to make measures "that are five to 10 times more accurate than anyone in our field has [yet]been able to do," said Prof. Yau.
Eight Canadian universities and research organizations, as well as partners in Japan and the United States, will help build and run this part of Cassiope. Canada will build six of the instruments and the foreign partners one each.
Originally, the science mission was to have flown separately but was judged too small to justify its own satellite. "The two applications turned out to be a perfect match in terms of orbits and payloads, and a marriage of convenience between them made a lot of sense," Mr. Peruzzini said.
Third, the year-long mission will serve as a testing base for the bus, or platform, that the science and courier payloads will rest on. The CSA is hoping to create a kind of generic satellite platform on which other small satellites, with payloads between 350 and 500 kilograms, will fly.