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Satellite industry sees growth explosion
Landsat group might adopt small-sat approach private industry has taken

Stewart Burnett
Northern News Services
Thursday, June 15, 2017

For a town a lot of people couldn't place on a map, Inuvik sure is strategically located.

NNSL photograph

Steve Labhan, Landsat international ground station network manager, says the satellite industry isn't just growing, but "exploding." Now that the Mackenzie Valley Fibre Link is online, Inuvik's ability to manage data has increased substantially. - Stewart Burnett/NNSL photo

Last week, 30 scientists from 15 different countries were in town for the Landsat Technical Working Group, the group of people who operate and monitor the Landsat satellite observation program.

The Inuvik ground station is one of three facilities in Canada with the capability to track Landsat satellites. There are two Landsat missions currently underway, with another satellite being prepped to launch in 2020.

Steve Labhan, Landsat international ground station network manager, definitely agreed that the industry seems to be growing rapidly.

"I would say it's probably exploding in the use," he said after the Landsat meetings wrapped up last week.

All of Landsat's data has been free to access since 2008. Before then, the organization charged a fee and only a small community of scientists was using the earth imagery information, but now it's available to all.

"We're working quite urgently on a product line called analysis-ready data, and basically this is an enhancement to these ground stations to produce a higher-level Landsat product that will enable them to use the data right from our website and not have to process the data all by themselves," said Labhan about some of the things discussed during the meeting.

The group also brought in students from Aurora College to talk to them about the industry and opportunities in it.

The Mackenzie Valley Fibre Link will speed up the delivery of data collected at the Inuvik ground stations.

"It'll be a tremendous benefit," said Labhan. "Instead of some very slow data transfers coming from the ground station here, it will be tremendously faster, which means the community will be served quicker and the images that are being collected at the satellite dishes there will get to the customers that much faster."

Landsat's satellites have traditionally been quite large, but the group is considering trying the small-sat approach sometime in the future. Planet Labs, which has dishes at the private ground station in Inuvik, recently launched 88 small satellites, only about two or three feet wide, from a single rocket.

Because Landsat's satellites have been quite large, the regulatory approval process hasn't been much of a barrier for the group so far.

"We start in the U.S. and then it gets elevated up through an international body that does that licensing," explained Labhan. "I would say it's not difficult but it's time consuming. One of the things we started working with the ground stations at this meeting is to get the information we need from them to initiate that licensing process. It's 2017, so were still three and a half years ahead of the launch date for Landsat 9, but we're starting that process early."

Bobbie Jo Greenland-Morgan, president of the Gwich'in Tribal Council, attended part of the Landsat meeting.

"As it's a billion-dollar global industry and data and observation is important for so many reasons globally, I believe this industry presents opportunity for economic growth as well as opportunity for us to see training opportunities for our people, especially the youth, who are so inclined with technology," she said.

"It's also sustainable and environmentally responsible. We need to think outside the box and engage in other opportunities out there and be engaged and take more ownership to what's taking place in and around our home lands."

Following up to the Inuvik Drum story last week, a media relations officer from Innovation, Science and Economic Development stated that the organization strives to evaluate and application and respond to the applicant within seven weeks of receipt of a complete application.

"The operation of fixed earth stations in Canada is authorized through radio licences, issued by the Department of Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada," stated Derek Mellon in an e-mail. "Where an earth station is part of a remote sensing space system, the station would additionally require a licence issued by Global Affairs Canada. ISED evaluates applications to ensure compliance with Canadian spectrum allocation and utilization policies, technical requirements, and use of an approved satellite. Additional domestic and/or international coordination may be required."

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