SpaceX to Launch Canadian Science & Telecom Satellite

9 November 2012 by Troy McConaghy, posted in Spaceflight


In my recent posts, I asked which SpaceX launch was the first to successfully carry a science-oriented payload into space. (It took them a while. Read the posts for details.) Now that SpaceX is launching regular resupply missions to the International Space Station (a big orbiting lab), they're launching science-oriented payloads all the time. (There are at least twelve ISS resupply missions in the current SpaceX contract with NASA, which goes to 2015.)

If we ignore the ISS missions, what other science-related payloads are in the near future for SpaceX?


As I write this, the SpaceX Launch Manifest (on the SpaceX website) says that a Falcon 9 will be launching something for "MDA Corp. (Canada)" in 2013. MDA is the brand name of MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd., a big Canadian company. Most of what they do is "information systems" but they're probably best-known for doing space-related stuff. For example, they designed, developed, and built the Canadarm for the Space Shuttle.

What is SpaceX launching for MDA?

The answer is CASSIOPE, a Canadian satellite with a split personality. It has both a commercial payload and a science payload. MDA is the prime contractor.


The commercial payload of CASSIOPE (called Cascade) will test a "data courier" service for MDA. Think FedEx for big data files: you upload the data to a satellite as it passes, then someone else (in a different location) downloads the data as the satellite passes near them. The idea is to be faster and cheaper than using the Internet, or sending a CD via FedEx. MDA plans to launch a whole fleet of satellites providing data courier services, under the name Cascade Data Services. Such a service might even be useful for scientists. For example, CERN generates reams of data in its colliders. A data courier might be the best way to distribute that data to scientists in other parts of the world.

CASSIOPE's science payload consists of eight instruments to "collect new data on space storms and associated plasma outflows in the upper atmosphere and their potentially devastating impacts on radio communications, GPS navigation, and other space-based technologies." (quoted from the e-POP website) It has been in the works for over 15 years. It started out as the Polar Outflow Probe (POP), a proposal for a small (70 kg), cheap satellite. It was modified to become the Enhanced Polar Outflow Probe (e-POP), which combines eight scientific instruments with the Cascade (data courier) payload to create a larger (500 kg) satellite: CASSIOPE. According to the e-POP website, the "e-POP Science Team is comprised of members from 11 Canadian and 3 international universities and research organizations. The Team is led by Dr. Andrew Yau of University of Calgary, as Mission Scientist and Project Leader, and by Dr. Gordon James of [the] Communications Research Centre [in Ottawa], as Deputy Mission Scientist." The e-POP Project is funded by the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC).

MDA signed a contract with SpaceX to launch CASSIOPE almost seven years ago. It was originally supposed to launch on a Falcon 1 in 2008, but that never happened. The launch is now scheduled for the first part of 2013, on a Falcon 9. The scientists involved must be very patient!

Canadian satellites with science missions are like flowers in a football stadium: they're rare. I hope SpaceX takes good care of this one. It's been germinating for a long time.

P.S. In case you were wondering, the name CASSIOPE come from "Cascade, Smallsat and Ionospheric Polar Explorer." It must be one of the most tortured acronyms ever.

Photo Credits

All photos are from the e-POP website at the University of Calgary.

About this Blog

Outer Spacing is a blog about space exploration and development. It's written by Troy McConaghy (@TroyMc on Twitter).


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