Graham Warwick/WASHINGTON DC

Orbital Sciences (OSC) has received a US export licence to exchange technical information with Canadian subsidiary McDonald, Detwiler & Associates (MDA), raising hopes that the US company will be allowed to supply the spacecraft for Canada's Radarsat-2 earth observation satellite.

Delays in granting the licence had prompted the Canadian Government to explore the option of acquiring the bus for Radarsat-2 from a non-US source (Flight International, 18-24 August).

The licence granted to OSC is conditional, says Canadian Space Agency (CSA) president Mac Evans. "It is valid only for the design phase. Subsequent export approvals are needed to export the hardware and for the launch."

As a result, the CSA is proceeding into "more formal discussions" with potential European suppliers of the spacecraft bus, he says. The Canadian Government plans to make a decision on which route to follow later this year.

OSC's licence makes it clear that US approval to export and launch the satellite is subject to an agreement with Canada addressing US national security concerns over the 3m-resolution imagery that will be available commercially from the Radarsat-2. "Their concern is what will happen to the data Radarsat generates," Evans says.

Canada has announced a policy to control access to the imagery, but this has yet to be accepted by the USA. "The US approach is to limit the characteristics of the satellite; Canada's approach is to control the end users," Evans says. "We think it is possible to meet the national security concerns and be commercially viable."

Licensing problems have already delayed the C$305 million ($203 million) Radarsat-2 programme by three to four months. Switching to a European bus will incur further delay, Evans says. The CSA is already facing an additional cost of around C$100 million to buy a launch, after NASA withdrew from an agreement to launch the satellite in return for data.

Source: Flight International