It has been a remarkable year for Canada’s MDA. While a pandemic has slowed many sectors of the Canadian and global economies that hasn’t been the case for this Canadian, then American, now Canadian again corporation.
Last spring, a group of investors including Fonds de solidarité FTQ, Northern Private Capital and Senvest Capital completed a billion-dollar takeover of the company from Colorado’s Maxar Technologies, essentially repatriating a grand old aerospace company to Canada.
Since then, things have been moving quickly. In December, the Canadian Space Agency awarded the company, which is perhaps best known for building NASA’s Canadarm, a $22.8 million contract to develop a new Canadarm 3.
Earlier this year, the company announced plans to develop a replacement for the Radarsat-2 satellite, which Canada uses, for example to monitor offshore activity, among other things. No dollar figures have been attached to that project as yet.
Now comes word of perhaps the most significant project since MDA rediscovered its Canadian roots. MDA has been selected to provide one of the critical technology subsystems on Telesat Lightspeed, the Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellite broadband network recently unveiled by Telesat, one of the world’s largest satellite operators.
The Telesat project will receive $400 million in finding from the government of Quebec, half of which is a loan, while the other half represents an equity stake in the fleet of about 300 LEOs that will eventually be in orbit, with service expected to begin in 2023. This is over and above a $600 million investment from the Federal government announced in November 2020. The fleet has been nicknamed “Lightspeed”, and is projected to be a $5 billion project when all is said and done. The expectation is that the project will create at least 600 high paying jobs in the province.
For its part, MDA anticipates it will invest over $200 million into the project, creating approximately 280 jobs over a period of five years at the company’s facility on the island in Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue. Investissement Québec will provide a loan of $50 million to help sustain and expand MDA’s Quebec-based engineering workforce. By extension, the company expects significant growth in its Montreal-based Satellite Systems business.
The company’s CEO, Mike Greenley, said in a statement “We are very proud to be selected for this critical role on Telesat Lightspeed, and for the opportunity to deepen our world-class expertise in non-GEO satellite constellations as the sector undergoes a transformation. Through developing this next generation antenna technology and expanding our high volume satellite manufacturing, we anticipate major growth in our Montreal-based Satellite Systems business and in our high-tech workforce while engaging our local supply chain. We would like to thank Telesat for its confidence in MDA, and the Government of Quebec for its financial support.”
Rather than using copper cables or fibre networks, satellite broadband operates by sending and receiving signals to low orbit satellites in space. Because of their altitude, these satellites can provide high-quality coverage over a huge area, including remote areas where wired networks do not exist.
Quebec Minister of Economy and Innovation Pierre Fitzgibbon also release a statement proclaiming “The Telesat project will raise the international profile of Québec engineering and our space industry. It gives us a key position in the new, private-sector space race. The industry will boost our aerospace industry, which has suffered over the last year. Québec is already a leader in the field, but with today’s announcement, we show that we will do what it takes to remain a leader into the future.”
MDA Montréal will develop and manufacture phased-array antennas, a key technology for this type of satellite. And, the company is also in advanced discussions regarding the Lightspeed satellites’ final assembly and manufacturing here in Québec.
The company says growth in the satellite broadband market is helping to unlock new business models, making next-generation technology, quality, performance and agility available for less than the cost of traditional solutions. This paves the way for more the affordable satellites of the future. MDA plans to achieve this through integrating additive manufacturing techniques with very large-scale electronics through automated assembly at its high-volume smart manufacturing facility.