North

Strike 2? Inuvik may not be ready for second satellite launch

Planet Labs has another satellite launch coming up, but its plans to hook up with a ground station it built in Inuvik may, once again, be stymied by federal delays.

Federal delays mean Planet Labs' Inuvik satellite ground station may miss another missed launch

Planet Labs builds cube or miniature satellites about the size of a microwave. The company will launch 48 more of these satellites later this month, but it's still not clear if the ground station it built in Inuvik for those satellites will make it through federal licensing in time. (David Thurton/CBC)

The countdown is on — again — for one of Inuvik's newest satellite ground stations.

Planet Labs Inc., a partner in a satellite ground station built in Inuvik more than a year ago, is still waiting for a federal licence to operate the facility. Later this month, Planet Labs will launch another 48 small satellites.

But it remains an open question whether or not the company will be able to count on Inuvik for a hook up.

"The Inuvik ground station will be critical to support those satellites," stated Mike Safyan, Planet's director of launch and global ground stations, in an email to CBC.
Mike Safyan, director of launch and global ground station networks, said federal delays have held up their Inuvik project.

"Planet's Inuvik ground station licence is still pending review by Global Affairs Canada ... if we can't get a response in time for the launch, we will be forced to utilize ground station assets in Norway and/or Alaska and leave the Inuvik antennas idle."

This wouldn't be the first time the company was unable to use the facilities. In February, Planet Labs put 88 satellites into space, intended for their Inuvik installation. Instead, the company was forced to find an alternate ground station.

Former N.W.T. premier and Nunavut Senator Dennis Patterson can't make sense of the situation.

The Government of the Northwest Territories invested more than $100 million to build the Mackenzie Valley Fibre Link connecting Inuvik to the South, in part, to encourage investment like this, said Patterson, who added the North may be missing out on a world of opportunity thanks to federal red tape.

"I'm concerned about Canada's reputation for welcoming participation in the leading edge of the new economy," Patterson said.

"They [Planet Labs] have state of the art systems. They're licensed in other countries. What's holding Canada up?"

The complicating factor is that Planet's licence application triggered a review by Global Affairs Canada.

Global Affairs declined to comment on the specifics of Planet's licence application, citing privacy concerns, but the process is not constrained by timelines in the way normal licence applications are.

A typical licence for transmission would be completed within seven weeks. Planet has been waiting for federal approval since last June.

Patterson said the satellite company's licence application "is a very straightforward request that in other countries they would have had a response to by now."

Safyan had previously told CBC that Planet's experience in Canada is unlike anything the company has experienced before, having installed and licensed similar ground stations in Norway, the U.S., Iceland, New Zealand, Australia, the U.K. and Germany.

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