Photo courtesy Government of Canada
Richmond’s MDA was awarded defence contracts totalling $3.8 million for four projects that will, among other things, help with maritime surveillance and enable the monitoring of land and sea changes from space.
Steveston-Richmond East MP Joe Peschisolido announced the contracts Friday.
The four projects in the announcement include:
-adding to Canada’s maritime surveillance capabilities.
-monitoring changes in our land and sea from space
-using existing satellite information better
-combining different kinds of detectors on our new tandem satellites to get clearer pictures of the same thing, like combining an MRI and an X-ray.
Maritime surveillance from orbiting satellites allows Canadians to know where ships are, both when they are in trouble or when they are violating Canadian fisheries boundaries or defense borders.
When we monitor change using two kinds of satellites—those that can see with light, and those that see through clouds and darkness with radar—it means people on the ground can quickly see what has changed, be it a landslide in an area that once was home to many, or a flood that blocks escape routes or aid trucks.
It is a bird’s eye view of disasters that can combine all the information available to guide search-and-rescue operations or supplies to devastated areas.
Satellites don’t send photos. They send data in computerized form. People on the ground then take the computer dots and dashes, and mine them for information. Some of it is turned into pictures. Some of it is useful to compare year over year; for example, changes in forestation or wild fire damage.
If you think of a four-drawer filing cabinet full of documents, the amount of satellite information salted away would fill 20 million of those filing cabinets. Some of the new funds will allow for new uses of old information.
To see change over time, engineers and computer scientists need to figure out ways to go back in time, find the files they are looking for, and combine them to give answers to questions, to show past trends, and to suggest where things are going. This takes powerful computers and powerful thinkers to use this treasure-trove of information from earth orbit. It’s a little like having all your financial records since you were born then trying to not only recreate tax returns but to make charts of how your income has changed, so you can look for patterns. Graphs let us see patterns that simple numbers don’t show.
With the launch of the RADARSAT Constellation satellites coming up in the new year, Canada will have three new satellites in orbit. The triplets are upgraded, higher-tech versions of the single RADARSAT satellite currently in orbit that still works fine, long after its designed life-span. Just as that old Chevy will still get you there but you yearn for a newer, higher-tech vehicle, so do scientists.
This new tag team of satellites will cover more of the earth each orbit and allow for clearer information over a wider span of territory, night or day regardless of cloud or fog.
Saying Canada is a “world leader,” Peschisolido says this is part of a joint ventures program with Canadian industry, 50:50 funding with high tech industries kicking in matching funds across the country involving a $13.4 million investment nationwide. He says, of the 12 projects funded by the federal government in this program, three are at MDA.
Peschisolido says this will benefit millions of Canadians by “offering good solid middle class jobs in this search for new, cutting edge technology.”
Originally called MacDonald Dettwiler and Associates, MDA was started by John MacDonald and Vern Dettwiler to give Canadian scientists, technicians, computer scientists and engineers jobs right here in Canada rather than their having to leave the country to find jobs in their fields. With thousands working in their Richmond facility alone, MDA is well on its way to achieving its original goal.
Chris Pogue, MDA’s president of governmental affairs said of his fifty-year-old firm: “MDA has innovation in it DNA.”
Calling MDA Maxar, “truly a pan-Canadian innovator,” he spoke of the use of satellite information in civil aviation which means pilots have the most up-to-date, constantly-updated charts to map their routes and their landings. In some countries, a tall building can suddenly loom on a plane’s final approach where none was a month earlier.
Pogue also spoke of MDA LaunchPad, an endeavour to reach out to other small- and medium-sized companies in Canada to partner with them, which will result in even more high tech jobs. Pogue continued to talk of the multiple spin-off programs this federal seed money can lead to. He said the internet of things has also benefitted by the space program.
Canada’s space industry prods engineers and scientists to stretch the state of the art in computers, technology and science. Once these new tools are developed, those same principles can be applied in a variety of situations on the ground.
Pogue spoke of remote handling capabilities in use right here on earth because of MDA’s work to develop the Canadarms. This same technology can now be used in an operating theatre to allow surgeons to work with even more finesse and to perhaps, someday, allow a surgeon in Vancouver to perform life-saving surgery on someone in a remote Northern community.
“Are we doing it today?” Pogues asks, “No, but it’s certainly possible.”
When it comes to the technology developed for the space program, Pogue said emphatically, “There is a definite cross-over here on earth.”