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Fate Of Canadian Satellite Project Unclear

Industry Minister Christian Paradis says Canada is committed to a project that would see the construction of new satellites, but the company contracted to design the Radarsat Constellation says it's losing engineers and scientists because the government isn't spending the money required to actually build them.

MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates (MDA) built the highly successful Radarsat-2, which launched in 2007. It can see through clouds, bad weather and darkness to scan land and sea. The surveillance technology is considered critical for protecting sovereignty in the high north and for monitoring Canada's expansive territorial waters.

In November 2008, the Canadian Space Agency awarded MDA a $40-million contract to design the successor to Radarsat-2. The new Radarsat Constellation is expected to use three satellites for an even better picture and the constellation could later be scaled up to six satellites, the Canadian Space Agency says.

The design contract was awarded several months after the federal government blocked the $1.3-billion sale of the space technology division of the B.C.-based company to a U.S. company, saying it wasn't convinced the sale would be of a net benefit to Canada.

MDA president and CEO Dan Friedmann said he thinks it will soon be too late to revive the project as skilled scientists and engineers seek work elsewhere.

In March, shortly after the federal budget was released, the company announced it was laying off workers, saying the budget didn't include "funds required to continue the RADARSAT Constellation Mission as currently envisioned."

At the time, the company didn't say how many jobs would be lost, saying only that "given the level of uncertainty, the company is accelerating its steps to restructure its workforce related to this event."

Friedmann said Wednesday that engineers and scientists are losing work because money isn't flowing to the project.

"Yes, those people are losing their jobs, those people are looking for other jobs, some have already left and they will, by and large, leave the country because there is no work like that in the country — this is it," Friedmann said.

'Our people are leaving'

MDA —which designed the technology but does not have a signed contract to build the satellites — said it's shutting down the program and is nearing the point where it won't be able to revive it because all the engineers will be gone.

"All I can tell you is, we are not under contract and our people are leaving," Friedman said.

Ex-astronaut and Liberal MP Marc Garneau, who oversaw the early days of Radarsat when he headed the Canadian Space Agency, said it would be "ridiculous for us to throw it in the garbage."

"If there's no money, there's not going to be any satellites and this will have been a lot of money wasted on an exercise that's not going to go anywhere," Garneau said.

Garneau pressed the government Wednesday to provide more information on whether it intends to proceed with the project.

"We are committed to the Radarsat project and we are working on delivering in a cost-effective way," Paradis said during question period. However, the minister did not provide details on how and when the project might proceed.

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