Space: Project Polar Epsilon
© 2008 FrontLine Defence (Vol 5, No 6)

“First and foremost, the Canadian Forces must ensure the security of our citizens and help exercise Canada’s sovereignty. Specifically, it means that the military provide surveillance of Canadian territory and air and maritime approaches.” – Canada First Defence Strategy

In defending Canada, the Canada First Defence Strategy requires the Canadian Forces to be aware of anything going on in – or approaching – our territory; to deter threats to our security before they reach our shores; and to respond to contingencies anywhere in the country.

In providing a Joint Space-Based Wide Area Surveillance and Support Capability, Project Polar Epsilon will exploit Canada’s RADARSAT 2 to provide the necessary reception and signal-processing infrastructure in support of improved surveillance of Canada’s maritime approaches and Arctic region. Polar Epsilon will address the Government’s priority to improve Canada’s surveillance capabilities in the North, as articulated in the Government of Canada’s Northern strategy, 2007 Speech from the Throne, and Canada First Defence Strategy.

Polar Epsilon-delivered capabilities will permit the Canadian Forces to increase its ability to protect Canadian Arctic security and sovereignty. Two new satellite reception and signal processing sites will be ­constructed on Canada’s West and East coasts at Aldergrove, British Columbia and Masstown, Nova Scotia respectively.

Imagery and information will be shared by the Department of National Defence with other interested government departments by transferring both raw and processed imagery to the Canadian Centre for Remote Sensing. The image archives and product library in Ottawa/Gatineau is run by the Department of Natural Resources Canada.

With the longest coastline in the world (243,772 km), and a marine area of responsibility of over 11 million square kilo­meters, Canada faces a formidable surveillance challenge. Along these shores are 250 ports and, on a typical day, 1700 ships are in our area of responsibility. It is important to know exactly what is happening in the ocean approaches to our borders. The goal in marine security, therefore, is to obtain “domain awareness” so that we can deal with potential threats before they get too close.

Given the vast security challenge of our geography, space-based sensors can make an important contribution. It must be noted that no single sensor is capable of providing complete domain awareness; each capability or sensor has its strengths and weaknesses and the most complete surveillance architecture will combine a multitude of sensors in an optimal manner.

The prime sensor in Project Polar Epsilon will be Canada’s RADARSAT 2. Building on the success of RADARSAT 1, the Canadian Space Agency developed a ­follow-on program in co-operation with the private sector.

RADARSAT 2 will incorporate state-of-the-art technology and will provide the most advanced, commercially available Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) imagery in the world. SAR systems are very powerful tools for Earth Observation as they can acquire images independently of weather and solar illumination. This is particularly useful in Canada’s climate and location, especially for the Arctic that is under cloud cover or darkness for significant periods.

Furthermore, as a polar orbiter, RADARSAT 2 passes closest to the poles and is ideally suited for Arctic surveillance. RADARSAT 2 will visit Canada’s Arctic approximately every 4 hours and will be able to detect uncooperative vessels regardless of whether or not they are emitting.

An all weather, day/night, global reach, polar orbiter, RADARSAT 2 is ideally suited for northern latitudes. Some important changes from RADARSAT 1 include: spatial resolution from 1 to 100 meters; right or left hand imaging capability, improving the ability to meet imaging requirements; and multiple polarization modes enabling better discrimination and recognition of objects on the ground.

Polar Epsilon will deliver four main capabilities, maritime domain awareness, Arctic land surveillance, environmental sensing, and maritime satellite surveillance radar. Specific deliverables will include:

  • All-weather, day and night surveillance of Canada’s Arctic and maritime approaches and global areas of interest exploiting Canada’s RADARSAT 2;
  • Two new ground reception and signal processing sites to receive and process RADARSAT 2 data at Aldergrove, British Columbia and Masstown, Nova Scotia;
  • Newly designed RADARSAT 2 imaging beams in support of maritime surveillance requirements both from the Department of National Defence and Other Government Departments;
  • Communications connectivity will ­dis­seminate RADARSAT 2 imagery from the Polar Epsilon satellite reception and processing site at Aldergrove, British Columbia to Natural Resources Canada’s Canadian Centre for Remote Sensing in Gatineau, Quebec, for use by other government departments;
  • Communications connectivity to forward RADARSAT 2 imagery and products to the Regional Joint Operations Centres Atlantic and Pacific at Halifax, Nova Scotia and Victoria, British Columbia for Canada Command;
  • Hardware and software for imagery exploitation;
  • Department of National Defence RADARSAT 2 Order Desk; and
  • Contracted personnel at Aldergrove, BC facilities to support the capability.

Polar Epsilon will be constructing new RADARSAT 2 satellite reception sites and processors on Canada’s east and west coasts to support maritime domain awareness. The near real-time ship detection capability will include local RADARSAT 2 satellite reception, processing and applications in support of the Regional Joint Operations Centres (RJOCs) Atlantic and Pacific.

It is important to note that ship detection information needs to be made available as fast as possible to produce a useful recognized maritime picture (RMP) at the RJOCs. This ship detection information will be fused with data from other sensors, contributing even more to the completeness of the RMP. Furthermore, this will permit subsequent tasking or cross-cueing of other sensors to classify, clarify and identify tracks of interest.

The overall requirement in domain awareness is to detect, classify, identify, track and determine intent. For this, all available surveillance sensors are used in a compli­mentary manner.

RADARSAT 2 is ideally suited as a sensor in remote areas, in all weather conditions and where other sensors do not exist or are unable to operate, therefore, it is likely to be the first sensor of detection. Able to generate area surveillance over 500 km wide swaths, at 7.5 km per second, RADARSAT 2 will downlink information to the satellite infrastructure provided by Polar Epsilon in support of the RJOCs. With local reception and pro­cessing, the information will be automatically formatted into the required messages available for integration to the RMP in 15 minutes. This information can then be available for fusion within the RMP or for cueing to other surveillance sensors or reconnaissance assets such as aircraft, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or ships.

Local satellite reception facilities in support of the RJOCs will provide surveillance information to the RMP as fast as possible, and extend the RADARSAT 2 visibility masks out to 1000 nm from the coastline, covering the targeted area of interest. Outside these local visibility masks, global ­surveillance of areas of interest will be achieved by either downlinking the information stored onboard the ­satellite when it is within connectivity of the local station or through other national reception sites.

Canada’s Arctic region is approximately the size of continental Europe and represents 40 percent of Canada’s land mass. The size and sensitive ecosystem of this territory present significant surveillance challenges. With continued climate change, marine traffic in the Arctic is predicted to increase. Valuable resources also play a part in raised activity levels in Canada’s North.

RADARSAT 2 is ideally suited for Arctic land surveillance due to its polar orbit and its radar characteristics of all weather, day or night sensor capability. Polar Epsilon will assist with Arctic surveillance by exploiting RADARSAT 2 and monitoring such activity or changes. This will be a major contribution to Arctic ­surveillance, given the remoteness of the territory and scarce resources or sensors available for surveillance. Once aware, other sensors or assets can then be dispatched for further investigation, according to the maritime concept of operations.

Knowledge of the environment is required to optimally operate reconnaissance assets, such as ships, submarines or aircraft, and predict or monitor radar or sonar sensor performance. Project Polar Epsilon will deliver space-based environmental sensing information from RADARSAT 2 and the United States National Oceanic Atmospheric Agency satellites carrying Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) and Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) sensors. The provision of ocean colour information from these sensors will assist the RJOCs with the selection and use of maritime patrol ­aircraft, ships, submarines and sonar ­performance predictions.

The maritime satellite surveillance radar component of Polar Epsilon will design new RADARSAT 2 imaging beams, optimizing them for marine domain awareness applications. A high assurance rate of target detection is necessary before tasking ­limited reconnaissance assets to detected tracks of interest; therefore, sensors must achieve the highest possible performance levels. Two new RADARSAT 2 beams will be uploaded to the satellite: multi-purpose; and ship optimized maritime surveillance beams. The multi-purpose beam has the advantage to meet multiple marine requirements from other government departments, including ice, oil and ship detection. Consequently, this will help to deconflict orders among the multiple departments and agencies responsible for marine safety and security.

Space-based sensors, with their unique advantages, contribute significantly to domain awareness. RADARSAT 2’s particular ability to provide surveillance information – regardless of target cooperation or environmental conditions – will greatly improve the potential of Canada’s surveillance architecture.

Project Polar Epsilon is a transformational initiative, in that it introduces space-based wide area surveillance to Canadian Government marine surveillance. It will use Canada’s RADARSAT 2 as a major contributing sensor for all-weather, day/night, persistent surveillance, providing superior wide area domain awareness of Canada’s ocean approaches and Arctic region.
Lieutenant Commander R.J. Quinn is Project Director of Polar Epsilon in the Directorate of Joint Capability Production at National Defence Headquarters.
© Frontline Defence 2008



1180-Space:-Project-Polar-Epsilon| FrontLine Defence


The website encountered an unexpected error. Please try again later.

Error message

  • Warning: Cannot modify header information - headers already sent by (output started at /home/frontlineroot/public_html/includes/ in drupal_send_headers() (line 1501 of /home/frontlineroot/public_html/includes/
  • PDOException: SQLSTATE[HY000]: General error: 1032 Can't find record in 'semaphore': SELECT expire, value FROM {semaphore} WHERE name = :name; Array ( [:name] => cron ) in lock_may_be_available() (line 167 of /home/frontlineroot/public_html/includes/