Interview article

Colonel André Dupuis

Surveillance of Space
CHRIS MacLEAN  |  Jan 15, 2014

How important is “space” to Canada? The answer obviously impacts how space programs are prioritized by the Department of National Defence. FrontLine editor Chris MacLean recently put that question to Colonel André Dupuis at DND’s Director General Space.

As Canada recognizes the multi-faceted need for space-based assets to fulfill a range of requirements from military intelligence to weather prediction and pollution monitoring, the Department of National Defence has been busily developing a very broad and robust plan for delivering space programs.

ISR of Space
Exponential progress has been made on the ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance) aspects of these various programs over the last four years, and has been epitomized, in many ways, by the success of the Sapphire program.

“From a space-based intelligence and reconnaissance perspective, Sapphire was launched in February 2013, and I am very pleased to announce that, as of 30 January 2014, the system has reached full operational capability with the United States Air Force and we are accepting taskings from the U.S. Joint Space Operations Center on a daily basis, collecting information, observations on satellites and feeding them back into the space operations center. The system is work­ing at least as well as we designed, and frankly the payload has much better sensitivity than we had hoped for,” says Dupuis.

What does that really mean for Canada? By adding Sapphire’s capability to the U.S. surveillance network, Canada has been able to gain “privileged access” to that information (referred to as the “catalogue” by the space community).

“We get a level of detail on that data that is much higher than the average user.” And this is useful not just for the safety of space flight, but in understanding space as an environment, explains Dupuis. Being aware and understanding what’s going on in space is important for all sorts of reasons, such as determining intent. “Things move around in space,” explains Colonel Dupuis, “and it’s not always obvious to us why that’s happening, so being able to have access to the best quality of information possible allows us to do an analysis, to understand why certain countries would be moving satellites around.”

There is no question that government departments need highly reliable data to work with. From that perspective, it is clear that if the Government of Canada considers space to be an important asset, it must be protected like any other environment (land, air or sea).

“Understanding what’s going on in space is extremely important,” Dupuis agrees wholeheartedly. “Canada is highly reliant on space, and being able to understand the space environment is probably ‘mission number 1’, and Sapphire is an important asset to those ends.”

The ‘average user’, on the other hand, would be companies that make predictions based on the catalogue (data) that’s available to the general public from satellite ­surveillance. One method of gaining such information is a public website called (which the U.S. Air Force feeds). Through this site, companies can gain a “pretty good estimation on where everything is”, says Dupuis, but if they need a higher level of detail, they would have to ask their government for additional assistance. Also interested in the general catalogue of satellite data are universities, especially those with micro or nano satellite programs; they need to understand where their satellites are so they can accurately point their antennas to communicate with their satellites.

Colonel Dupuis explains that federal departments such as National Defence “collect a high fidelity catalogue that is not easily shared with the general public ... we can do a much better job with the data we get from the classified data set.”

DG Space is “very happy with the success of Sapphire, and we are hopeful it will have a long life like most of the Canadian small satellite programs. Of course, it will stop operating one day, and so we have to plan for that.”

According to the engineering guidelines, Sapphire’s design life is at least 5 years. The reliability of its components will become more evident as the years progress, however, by comparison, a similar type of satellite that was designed by the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) was supposed to last 4 years and it’s still operating in its 12th year. Similarly, Radarsat-1 was designed for 5 years and was used for 16.

The very high engineering demands and rigorous testing and analysis translates to very robust spacecraft, which tend to last longer than expected. Therefore, “it is not inconceivable that Sapphire would last 7 or 8 years but, all things being equal, we would like to replace that capability on or about the 5 year mark,” says Dupuis.

Sapphire’s replacement project, The Surveillance of Space II, is well into its Options and Analysis phase. “We hope to make suggestions to the government on replacement capability for Sapphire, probably in the next year or two.”

Another key program, Polar Epsilon, uses Radarsat-2 for many types of missions such as arctic and maritime domain awareness, and support to expeditionary forces. Polar Epsilon was designed to detect and track ships 25m or greater in Sea State 5 (very intense weather with high winds). At lower sea states, it can detect much smaller ships (about half that size).

This successful program is also working out “significantly better” than expected. For example, the original goal of less than 30 minutes to turnaround Radarsat-2 ocean images to ground operators, has been far surpassed – Col Dupuis says the process is averaging a speedy 8-minute processing time. The availability of such dependable near-real time data is “providing the Canadian Navy a level of maritime awareness that no other country in the world is able to match. We’re able to do it on an unclassified level, so it makes data sharing with other governments extremely easy.”

Most ocean-going vessels are at least 25m (approximately 300 tons), and this size of ship is supposed to have automatic identification systems (AIS) onboard and active. With Polar Epsilon, ground operators can very quickly detect ships and their associated automatic identification signals. “We know very quickly which ships are playing by the rules, and whatever is left are ships that may be of interest. The focus is on ships that should be reporting their position but are not.” When this happens, other surveillance and intelligence options come into play such as aerial surveillance.

Sometimes they find a mechanical failure has kept a ship from transmitting, or a fishing fleet doesn’t want to alert competing fleets. “Not every ship that’s supposed to be transmitting AIS is involved in activities that would make them suspicious, but at least it lets us narrow down the search and lets the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) and Air Force (RCAF) focus on those ships in the open ocean that deserve our attention. For example, there are over 6,000 ships between Halifax and the Straits of Gibraltar and of course the standard question from commanders is ‘which of those 6k ships should I be concerned about?’ Polar Epsilon is concerned with answering those questions.”

However, although Polar Epsilon is a great capability and a leap forward in maritime awareness, it does not provide the high refresh rate that is critical to secure those open ocean areas. The government’s recent announcement that the Radarsat Constellation Mission is going forward, will impact a wide range of programs. For instance, DND will now move forward with Polar Epsilon II. An updated capability from Polar Epsilon, it will effectively leverage even more of the information that the Radarsat Constellation can provide and, says Dupuis, “for the first time ever, probably for any country in the world, we will be able to secure our sea lines of communication in the Canadian Maritime area of interest well past 2,000 nautical miles, on all three oceans if desired, to know where every single ship (25m or greater) is.

“I hate to use the term paradigm shift because it’s so overused, but as far as that goes, nobody in the world does this or is capable of doing this, and we will be doing this with the Radarsat Constellation mission and Polar Epsilon II.

DND released a request for information for Polar Epsilon II in November, and DG Space, supported by ADM(Information Management), is “on track to deliver our capability as a whole of government approach, because of course we’re working with the Canadian Space agency and folks from National Resources Canada (for archiving) and Environment Canada’s Canadian Ice Service to make sure that we’re ready to fully exploit that Constellation mission on its first orbit, so we’re very excited for that.”

The success of Polar Epsilon, and the announcement of the Radarsat Constellation mission has not gone unnoticed. “Our allies are now all very interested in what we’re up to and how a country like Canada, which is not seen as a super power, is capable of pulling off such a capable system. We’ve had some great discussions with our allies and there’s some good interest.”

Colonel Dupuis believes Canada’s work in airborne synthetic aperture radar created a perfect springboard to the future. “Canada has always been a leader in synthetic aperture radar from the beginning, and not just space-based,” he says. “Radarsat-1 set us up for a huge success.”

Built to detect icebergs for the Canadian Ice Service, it was a fairly natural progression for those involved in the space program to realize that Radarsat-1 could be utilized for the safety and security of ocean navigation. “Radarsat-1 demonstrated, to many people’s surprise, the incredible power and versatility of synthetic aperture radar in space.”

Although few in number, Canadian space sector companies are renowned for their expertise. Utilizing the engineering know-how of some “brilliant people” – in government, academia and industry – made all the difference. “When you put together Canada’s industrial base with our scientific knowledge in space-based radar to meet the demands of our country, they make for a big deal – that’s how Canada pulled it off.”

With a significant investment in its space program (probably considered modest by global standards), DND has focused on areas “where we’re very good, and as a result we have produced leading edge technology. We don’t do everything, but what we do, we do very well.”

Although DND can take the credit for the visionary exploitation of the Radarsat program for maritime domain awareness, however Dupuis is quick to point out that space has become a whole of government focus. For example, he points to the leadership provided by the Canadian Space Agency, which he says was critical in moving the Radarsat Constellation Mission forward. The mandate of the CSA, a key player in the space sector, is a commitment to “leading the development and application of space knowledge for the benefit of Canadians and humanity.”

DG Space clearly recognizes the value and leverage derived from capabilities gleaned from the whole of government perspective. “We could only [succeed] with the collaboration of our whole of government partners, CSA, National Resources, Environment Canada, and on and on.”

He also praises “the drive and the vision that also exists in industry,” asserting that “it would be inappropriate for anyone to say DND is driving this ship because it’s not true, it really is a whole of Canada approach to our space program.”

As for the collaborative nature of the close-knit space sector in Canada, Dupuis acknowledges the numerous paths that lead to innovative ideas. “When you put government, industrial and academic R&D together to solve the operational needs of the GOC, whether that’s DND, the Coast Guard, Aboriginal and Northern Affairs, the good ideas tend to come up.”

Some of these “good ideas” come from the bottom up, and some from top down – all activated by a clear vision and put in motion by a relatively small user community to meet GOC requirements. Dupuis acknowledges that understanding and ­capitalizing on value propositions put forth by industry leaders in the space sector are vitally important for growing capability and Canada’s reputation of top-notch expertise in space-related engineering.

Space Support
URSA (Unclassified Remote-sensing Situational Awareness) is a new project that will allow commanders to download high-resolution satellite imagery of local terrain while they are in theatre. A contract (estimated at $11.4 million) was awarded in May 2013 for in-service support to the URSA capability of the Joint Space Support Project. In November, URSA was undergoing final testing in Kingston, where a ground station would collect unclassified space-based satellite imagery to support current operations in the field. The trials were “successful beyond my hopes,” confirms the Colonel, explaining that the con ops developed for URSA has proven to be quite robust, allowing access to (unclassified) data in near real time. Because it is unclassified data, it is very easy to share. It is worth noting that 15 years ago this type of information would have been top secret, but it is now unclassified due to the quality of earth observations data that is now available from commercial providers of satellite imagery. “URSA became fully operational in December 2013, and we are now working to develop a series of operational demonstrations that will fully demonstrate its value to the in theatre commanders. As a new tool in the Commander’s toolbox, we are planning to showcase this capability during a variety of land-based training events over the next 12 months, to integrate the capability into the normal ops and planning cycle of the Chief of Joint Operations.”

Satellite Communication
DG Space has defined three broad areas of interest for satellite communication. The first is Protected Communications, which supports low to medium bandwidth applications. The Protected Military Satcom program will guarantee getting a message anywhere, regardless of the military environment (even with extensive jamming technologies at play). This system was designed to be inherently secure, allowing for classified military communications anywhere, anytime, especially for contingency operations.

In 1999, Canada partnered with the United States Air Force in a program called Advanced Extreme High Frequency Satellite Communication. The third satellite in the constellation is now completing its on-orbit check-out, and the system is already providing geographic coverage and capacity that will bring significant communications capability to the Canadian military. According to Colonel Dupuis, these satellites “are the most sophisticated and most capable satellites for command and control ever designed.” To complete the constellation, the fourth and last satellite is expected to launch in 2017.

The U.S. Air Force’s AEHF (Advanced Extremely High Frequency) system, built by Lockheed Martin, is composed of three segments: space (satellites), ground (mission control and communications links), and terminals (operators). “Canada spends about $230 million to access the space segment,” says Dupuis, explaining that such access is actually worth more than $13 billion. “Canada got a great return on investment because we clearly could not have afforded that.” It’s another example of how we are benefitting from international partnerships, notes Dupuis, “we can leverage significant investment by allies through the very real capabilities we bring to the table.”

The second key area involves the mass movement of information (media news feeds, for example) to anywhere in the world and uses the wideband spectrum. Often referred to as “big pipes in the sky”, the wideband ­spectrum is also used by the military for everything from supporting intelligence operations to logistics, and even morale require­ments. “Today’s generation expects access to Internet banking regardless of where they are in the world; they expect to be able to post to Facebook and maybe even Skype back home, so we need those big pipes,” says the Colonel.

A competitive bid from the United States Air Force was chosen as the best business deal for Canada’s Wideband Global Satcom (WGS) requirement, saving Canada a very significant $600 million over the 20+ years of that contract.

That space segment investment of about $333 million, paid incrementally, includes all life cycle management costs, and DG Space was very pleased with the outcome of the competition. “We got what can only be described as an order of magnitude increase of Satcom capability, which is important because we’re moving towards UAVs, and the army is very interested in satcom on the move, and all of those high bandwidth requirements for modern military operations can be fully accommodated within the WGS project.”

Through this contract with the USAF, Canada’s various space programs have access to “well over $10 billion worth of infrastructure,” confirms Dupuis. In fact, this particular satellite constellation will eventually number at least nine satellites, providing not just high capacity, but a very robust asset.

According to the Industry Canada web site, the Mercury Global project will be able to fulfill the military’s wideband satcom requirement via two segments, space and ground. The space segment will provide geostationary coverage and the ground segment will provide ground terminals (both stationary and transportable). The Canadian military is already accessing the satellites and ground terminals and a Request for Proposal call to industry is expected to close very soon.

Completing the three-part portfolio of satcom requirements is tactical narrow-band satcom – the radios, walkie-talkies, line-of-sight, and UHF systems that are used by Army, Navy and Air Force for communication during tactical operations. As Dupuis explains it, “it’s how soldiers talk to soldiers, how airplanes talk to airplanes, how ships talk to ships, but more importantly it’s how soldiers can talk to airplanes and ships at the tactical level – it is the warfighter’s means of communication.”

Where does space come into the ­tactical picture? “Canada’s experience in Afghanistan has clearly shown that when you have to fight in mountainous areas or across large theatres of operation, or even in urban areas where your normal radios don’t work because you have buildings in the way, so whether you have natural canyons or urban canyons, being able to have those radios access a space segment instead of just line-of-sight allows for very good command and control.”

What’s Next?
Currently, Canada’s military borrows UHF satcom capability (mostly from the U.S.) when needed in a theatre of operation, but has no access for domestic operations. Clearly, such a capability gap impedes training in Canada, so DND has recently initiated a program to examine how to deliver UHF satcom to the Canadian Forces. “This is a study phase only,” cautions Colonel Dupuis, “there is no government authority to acquire, but we are in the early stages of study, and if the department agrees to proceed, we want to be in a position to make recommendations.”

In November, the Government of Canada released a request to industry on the polar communication and weather satellite (PCW) program. Dupuis suggests the tactical narrowband satcom program would be a good fit for a whole of government approach to PCW, providing communications and weather monitoring throughout the arctic. “We’re at the point where if we don’t ask the question then we’re not really paying attention, and approaching the polar component as a whole of government program probably has the best chance of success.” In that respect, Colonel Dupuis is curious about what additional capabilities industry can bring to the table and their respective cost.

DG Space is also working requirements for Search and Rescue (which is a responsibility of Minister Nicholson as the lead Minister for the National SAR Secretariat). Along with ADM(IM), it is the project sponsor for the international Cospas-Sarsat program. DG Space provides payload on the Cospas-Sarsat satellite. “We have a program on low earth orbit search and rescue, and are delivering the last of those payloads some time in 2015 – we’re in the build phase now.”

The Cospas-Sarsat organization would like to move from a low earth orbit (LEO) to a medium earth orbit (MEO) because of the huge improvement in detection and locating time, and DND is going into an Options Analysis Phase to determine what would be required to deliver that option.

Such a change would reduce detection time from one or two hours of a LEO satellite (depending the height of the beacon, the number of payloads on the satellite, and other factors) down to minutes with a MEO satellite constellation, explains Dupuis. As many have commented, MEO takes the search out of SAR.

“These search and rescue repeaters are line of sight radios, so unless you’re in the line of sight of somebody in distress, you won’t know where they are. By putting a receiver in space, we can help determine when someone is in trouble and then, with a couple of satellite passes, triangulate the location and send SAR aircraft to assist. Moving higher, to medium earth orbit, the satellites can ‘see’ more of the earth, plus there are many more of them – they go up in the 10s and 20s – so you have much better coverage. So, instead of maybe minutes to detect and hours to locate, you’re talking about seconds to detect and minutes to locate, and with more precision. With a medium earth orbit, within minutes you’ll know within a couple hundred meters where the rescue needs to occur.”

Dupuis advises that this project is still in the option analysis phase and no decision has been made by the government to move forward. Recommendations should be forthcoming by the fall of 2014.

Transition to Operation
DG Space has long been supporting operation from space through satellite communication or space-based ISR (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance), but now that we understand so much more, we can utilize it more effectively. And this is what is so exciting to those in the space sector.

Initially, the space race was military and intelligence driven, spy satellites if you will, but space is becoming a much more integrated part of many requirements.

“It’s not enough just to use the segment, we need a small but professional cadre of space operators who very much understand how the space environment works and how it can impact the operational commander. So in that context, we’re setting up the Canadian Space Operations cell inside the Joint Command Center operated by the Chief of Joint Operations Command. We’re putting that professional cadre inside normal day to day operations and working very closely with all of the other government departments that have an interest in space – to kind of have a one stop shop (similar to the Maritime Security Operations Centres). We’re having robust discussions with Canadian Space Agency and the rest of our space partners to understand how to do that. It includes not just training and education of personnel in space specialties, but also mission systems to allow us to properly connect not just to the rest of government but also to our closest space allies so we can have quick, efficient, effective movement of information across that entire space community.”

In terms of funding, Dupuis says DND clearly recognizes the future of space and is backing that up with “modest but sufficient” resources to move forward on these very important programs. “Of course we can’t measure ourselves against the U.S., but short of the Americans, in my personal estimation, we will probably have the most capabilities of the Five Eyes community. So we’re very grateful that the Government of Canada and the Department of National Defence recognizes the value of what we bring to operations, and for giving us the opportunity to optimize what we bring in support of the men and women doing the job, defending Canada and Canadian values, every single day.”

Chris MacLean is Editor-in-Chief at FrontLine Defence magazine.
© FrontLine 2014