Nfld. & Labrador

Europe's space agency needs a transponder. This N.L. group is going to build it

Its involvement in a space satellite project really is the final frontier for C-CORE based in St. John's, N.L.

C-CORE leading team to build new hardware to measure carbon in forests

Paul Griffin, president and CEO of C-CORE, says it's exciting to be involved in this kind of project. (Ted Dillon/CBC)

A St. John's-based research and development non-profit has inked an almost $10-million deal to help build a transponder to help the European Space Agency with its work.

"Our biomass transponder will include a number of firsts in terms of software and design that we believe will make it the most precise transponder on the planet," says Paul Griffin, president and CEO of C-CORE.

C-CORE is the prime contractor on the transponder and is working with three other groups — based in Italy, Ireland, and Luxembourg — for the project, called the Earth Explorer Biomass.

The purpose is to measure carbon stored in, and released by, forests, and what happens to it over time.

"The biomass mission addresses one of the most fundamental components in the Earth system: the status and dynamics of tropical forests. Eighty per cent of the world's biomass is located in the tropical forests," according to a media release from C-CORE.

This is a transponder C-CORE built for another project several years ago. The new one will have significant upgrades. (Ted Dillon/CBC)

So, what exactly would this new Earth-based transponder do?

"When the satellite passes overhead, it's up several hundred kilometres, our transponder communicates with the satellite to make sure the satellites are doing OK, the instruments are working, it's healthy, it's oriented properly," said Griffin.

"What we do is we take the imagery, we take the data from those satellites and turn it into useful information."

Griffin says, for example, the oil and gas industry relies on the information between satellites and transponders to help predict where icebergs will drift.

New jobs for new deal

Griffin said the location of the transponder, which will have an eight-metre dish, is still to be determined, but it will be located somewhere "on the Earth's geomagnetic equator."

"When we do find out, our folks from right here, from C-CORE in St. John's, will be travelling to that site, installing that transponder and making sure everything works," he added.

The project, over several years, will see four new full-time employees join C-CORE, but there are other local advantages to the contract, Griffin added.

This is the Biomass satellite orbiting around the earth. (C-CORE)

"It's also going to allow us to retain some of the expertise that Memorial University has built up in these areas over the years," he said.

Griffin admits many people likely don't know the work of C-CORE — which is a non-profit corporation that funds its operations by landing research projects — but that it has worked "on every continent and … on most oceans" — and of course, space, too.

"This win represents the largest industrial contract in C-CORE's 44-year history, which is incredible," Griffin said. "We're really, really proud of our people."

​The contract was awarded under a cooperation agreement between Canada and the European Space Agency, which allows Canadian organizations to bid on tenders for contracts related to ESA activities and programs in which Canada participates, according to C-CORE.

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