The launch of a $1 billion Canadian surveillance system that will cover 90 percent of the Earth and identify objects as small as one metre across from orbit, and through cloud cover, has been delayed for a fifth time. The cause of the latest delay, according to the CBC, is Elon Musk’s space exploration company SpaceX.
The RADARSAT Constellation Mission (RCM) will consist of three small satellites working together to surveil the vast majority of the planet in fine-grain detail using synthetic aperture radar, a technique for producing highly accurate images and models. The constellation of satellites will pass over key areas of strategic interest for Canada—like the Arctic—much more often than the existing RADARSAT-2 satellite, which is currently four years past its life expectancy.
The RCM project kicked off in 2004 and has been delayed numerous times, sometimes to due technical failures, and costs have ballooned from its original $600 million budget.
The surveillance satellites were finally slated for a November 2018 launch window but this was pushed back to February 2019 in mid-October. According to the CBC, the cause of the delay is a backlog of scheduled launches on SpaceX’s mighty Falcon 9 rocket after one exploded during a 2015 launch, taking a $200 million satellite with it.
A similar accident with the RCM satellites would result in years of further delays and hundreds of millions of dollars more in costs, the CBC reported, and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) pegs the risk of failure at roughly five percent given SpaceX’s record. CSA spokespeople were not immediately available to comment.
SpaceX has completed 17 rocket flights in 2018 so far, mostly with the Falcon 9 rocket. A SpaceX spokesperson declined to comment on the record for this story.
If the 2019 launch of the RCM satellites succeeds, Canada will have three new sets of eagle eyes in orbit to scan the planet on its behalf.
Get six of our favorite Motherboard stories every day by signing up for our newsletter.