Inuvik satellite dish installations remain unused, still waiting for final federal approval

Satellite dish installations in Inuvik await final approval more than 18 months after the application process started.

Kongsberg Satellite remains unable to fulfil European Space Agency contract with its Inuvik ground station

Invuk Satellite receivers built almost two years ago sit unused because one federal licence remains to be approved. (Submitted by Rolf Skatteboe)

Five satellite receivers in Inuvik sit dormant despite being ready for service since October 2016.

They were built by Norway's Kongsberg Satellite Services and American satellite company Planet Lab. More than 18 months ago both companies began the application process for federal licensing.

Going into the application process, both companies expected a turnaround of about 180 days.

In an email to CBC, a spokesperson for Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED) — the department responsible for authorizing radio licences needed to operate fixed Earth stations in Canada — said the licence applications were approved last week, on Feb. 27.

But this doesn't mean either company can begin using the receivers. What remains is approval from Global Affairs Canada, and a second licence under the Canada's Remote Sensing Space Systems Act.

Approval from this second federal agency is required because the installations are part of a remote sensing space system.

'The most frustrating part'

Rolf Skatteboe, president and CEO of Kongsberg Satellite Services, said his company is losing money because the licence delays make him unable to fulfil a contract with the European Space Agency. (Submitted by Rolf Skatteboe)

Rolf Skatteboe, president and CEO of Kongsberg Satellite Services, said he's received calls of support after news came out that licensing had been approved. But he says any congratulations are pre-emptive.

"I've got the message … hey you've gotten the approvals now you can get started, which unfortunately isn't true," he said.

Skatteboe said Kongsberg has heard from Global Affairs Canada that the minister has cleared the department to "proceed in evaluating our application."

"We still don't know ... when we will potentially get a licence or not," he said. 

"That's the most frustrating part."

Kongsberg and Planet Lab have spent millions to build the Inuvik installations. Skatteboe puts the value of its single large antenna installation at about $6 million, and four smaller Planet installations at about $8 million in total. There is a sixth antenna, but Skatteboe says that one has received the licensing it needs because its use did not require a review under the Remote Sensing Space Systems Act.

Early build necessary

Skatteboe said Kongsberg built its installations in Inuvik before receiving a licence because the short building season in the North doesn't allow for flexible timelines, and the company didn't anticipate the kind of delays it's faced in Canada.

He added Kongsberg has a contract with the European Space Agency to use the Inuvik ground station as part of a European Space Agency (ESA) environmental Earth monitoring project called the Copernicus program.

This Kongsberg Satellite Services satellite station in Svalbard, Norway is one of 21 stations around the world company president and CEO Rolf Skatteboe says has proceeded without the red tape he's seen in Canada. (Submitted by Rolf Skatteboe)

"[Kongsberg Satellite] has 21 ground stations around the world and they have all been licensed without any problems," he said.

"So [Kongsberg] did not expect any problems related to approval to receive … data from an ESA satellite, an organization where Canada also is an associated member."

The Canadian Space Agency has a co-operation agreement with the European Space Agency.

Skatteboe said Kongsberg's contract with the European Space Agency needed the antenna operational by January 2017.

Kongsberg losing revenue

"[Kongsberg Satellite] applied more than a year before the system was planned to be operational," said Skatteboe. 

"We had about six months slack to resolve any [unexpected] issues, but the main problem is that we never got any feedback from [Global Affairs Canada] on the process and estimated timelines ... We are losing revenues from the ESA since we cannot deliver what we were supposed to deliver."

Skatteboe said the lost revenue isn't the main concern; it's the uncertainty surrounding when, or if, Kongsberg's installations will ever be approved for use.

"If Canada decided what we're doing is a threat to national security, fine, I accept that," he said.

"The frustrating part is that we haven't gotten any feedback on the timescale for them to rule on this one."

In the meantime, Skatteboe said Kongsberg has had to divert projects to other ground stations.

"We've moved another project to Chile because we were able to get a licence there," he said. 

"We didn't even try to get it in Canada. We just moved it because we couldn't wait."

In an email statement from Global Affairs Canada, department spokesperson Brittany Venhola-Fletcher said "Global Affairs Canada continues to work closely" with Kongsberg and Planet Labs to finalize their licensing application.

With files from Mackenzie Scott


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