Mar 27, 2013– Toronto, Canada  (Techreleased) – Canada’s new satellite, Sapphire, was launched into a Low Earth Orbit from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre, Sriharikota, India. The satellite is the first for Canada’s Department of National Defence (DND), and it will help upgrade Canada’s space surveillance capabilities significantly.

Sapphire Satellite
Sapphire Satellite

MDA Systems Ltd. is the prime contractor for the Sapphire program, while Terma as a subcontractor designed and built the part of the ground system referred to as the Sapphire Processing and Scheduling Facility.

This computer system is responsible for scheduling of observations and the subsequent processing of images resulting from these observations. The system implements the algorithms for processing the downloaded Sapphire imagery, establishes the precise attitude of stars and resident space objects (RSOs) in the images, and creates RSO tracking data products.

Terma has extensive experience in this type of image processing applications as we also design and manufacture space flight star trackers. Through leveraging of our domain expertise and access to heritage models and algorithms, we were able to produce a compact and robust data processor for the Sapphire satellitesystem.

In recent years, many states have experienced problems with space junk, as it poses a danger to commercial and military space assets in case of collision. This is best exemplified by an incident in February 2010, where a derelict Russian military satellite collided with a functioning U.S. Iridium commercial satellite in the skies over Siberia. The amount of debris in low Earth orbit was also increased significantly in 2007, when China destroyed one of its own weather satellites using a missile.

In order to support avoidance of such collisions in the future, the Sapphire satellite’s space-based electro-optical sensor will track man-made objects in Earth orbits between 6,000 and 40,000 km altitude as part of Canada’s continued support of Space Situational Awareness.

Data from the Sapphire satellite will contribute to the U.S. Space Surveillance Network (SSN), enhancing the ability of all countries using the SSN catalogue to detect and avoid the collision of critical space platforms with other satellites or pieces of debris.