Less than a week after announcing its intention to develop small satellites, Com Dev International Ltd. has landed an $8.6-million contract to design, build and launch a micro-satellite for the federal government.

The Maritime Monitoring and Messaging Micro-satellite — M3MSat — is described as a "technology demonstration mission" jointly funded by the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Space Agency.

"The spacecraft will support Canadian sovereignty, security, safety and communications needs within the territorial and maritime regions of Canada and beyond," Com Dev stated Monday.

The Ontario-based company, an established provider of subsystems to makers of larger satellites, had announced last Tuesday it was starting an internally funded program to develop micro-satellites.

M3MSat will exploit automatic identification system technology developed by Com Dev. AIS signals are broadcast from large ships for navigation and identification purposes, but currently are limited to a surface-based range of 50 nautical miles (92.6 kilometres).

"Collection of the signals from space using Com Dev's unique AIS technology, which exceeds the performance of any other known system, would enable an unprecedented global view of the world's shipping traffic," Com Dev said Monday.

The satellite is expected to be launched in 2010.

Micro-satellites, weighing under 150 kilograms, "will prove to be a very useful platform for meeting some of the fundamental national priorities of a country like Canada, where geography dictates that many applications are more effectively undertaken from space than they can be from the ground," stated Com Dev CEO John Keating.