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MDA, the maker of the Canadarm, says it has begun designing a replacement for its Radarsat-2 satellite, which is used by government agencies and corporations to monitor everything from illegal fishing to ice in the north.Courtesy of MDA

Canadarm maker MDA Corp. (formerly MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates) has begun working on a replacement for its Radarsat-2 satellite, which is used by government agencies and corporations to monitor everything from illegal fishing to ice in the north.

Although Radarsat-2 has exceeded its planned life expectancy, the satellite is still operating well and should continue to do so for several years, according to MDA chief executive officer Mike Greenley.

Tuesday’s announcement guarantees continuity for customers, including defence departments and intelligence agencies, that rely on imaging provided by Radarsat-2, Mr. Greenley said.

“That continuity will bring a number of advanced features that will expand the Radarsat-2 capability compared to what our customers are used to today,” Mr. Greenley said in an interview.

The company did not provide details on how much the project would cost or when the replacement system will launch.

“These projects tend to be multiyear projects,” Mr. Greenley said, noting that the company would announce a target launch date at a later time. “We’re absolutely going at a fast pace on this project,” he added.

MDA returned to Canadian ownership last year when a group of investors, led by John Risley’s Northern Private Capital and including former BlackBerry Ltd. chairman and co-CEO Jim Balsillie, bought it for $1-billion from heavily indebted owner Maxar Technologies Inc. The investors have said they plan to eventually take the company public.

“This project will be developed and built in Canada, operated from Canada, with a Canadian supply chain,” Mr. Greenley said, adding that the space industry generates a “large number of high-quality jobs.”

“We think that space is a key industrial area to drive economic recovery” coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic, he said.

Radarsat-2 is an Earth observation system that uses radar technology, which is able to penetrate through all kinds of weather. The system can track ships in the ocean, including so-called dark vessels that are trying to evade detection, the progress of climate change and shifts in elevation that are useful for mining operations and the construction industry. MDA also sells analytics services that use its imaging technology.

The new system that MDA has already begun designing will leverage advances in artificial intelligence, including machine learning and deep learning, to manage larger volumes of data and provide enhanced analytics services.

Last December, MDA was awarded a $22.8-million contract by the Canadian Space Agency to develop Canadarm3. The AI-based robotic system will service Lunar Gateway, the U.S.-led space station that will orbit the moon.

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