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With Macdonald Dettwiler’s help, Canada launches first military satellite

Christopher Olsen, Assistant System Engineer (right) and Al Thiessen, Assembly, Integration, and Test Lead Engineer (left), both from MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd (MDA), conduct tests on Sapphire spacecraft kept in a N2 purge controlled environment. The Department of National Defense today announced it was celebrating the “send off” of the Sapphire spacecraft. The satellite, Canada’s first dedicated strictly for military purposes, is scheduled to be launched by the Indian Space Research Organization in a few months.

Richmond, BC’s MacDonald Dettwiler (TSX:MDA), was the primary contractor on Sapphire, which it built for less than under $66 million.

Peter MacKay, Canada’s Minister of National Defence commented on the deal. “As space continues to be an important part of the global security environment, the observational data from the Sapphire satellite will be integral to increasing our ability to protect Canadian and allies’ assets and interests in space,” he said, adding: “Our government believes that this satellite is an essential component of our robust defence for Canada and North America, through NORAD.”


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Today’s announcement, which detailed that “Sapphire employed an average of 45 Canadians in skilled space sector jobs”, follows some tension earlier this year between Macdonald Dettwiler and the Feds.

On March 30th, a day after the Canadian federal budget was released, Macdonald Dettwiler issued a press release, plaintively stating the company “has concluded that the budget does not include the funds required to continue the RADARSAT constellation mission (RCM) as currently envisioned.”

In that budget, it was revealed that The Canadian Space Agency will need to cut its funding by $7.9-million in 2012-13 and $24.7-million in 2013-2014. Macdonald Dettwiler said it was forced to layoff a hundred employees because of the cuts.

The back and forth between the Canadian government and the BC company is not new. In 2008, the Feds blocked the proposed sale of Macdonald Dettwiler’s space division to US-based Alliant Techsystems. The move was the first time in the twenty-three year history of the Investment Canada Act that the federal government blocked a foreign takeover because of a failure of the “net benefit” test.



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About The Author /

Cantech Letter founder and editor Nick Waddell has lived in five Canadian provinces and is proud of his country's often overlooked contributions to the world of science and technology. Waddell takes a regular shift on the Canadian media circuit, making appearances on CTV, CBC and BNN, and contributing to publications such as Canadian Business and Business Insider.
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