Deals promise better satellite components

Cambridge, Ont.-based COM DEV Space, a subsidiary of COM DEV International Ltd., signed four contracts with Saint-Hubert, Que.-based Canadian Space Agency (CSA) in February to further develop various satellite technologies.

Valued at $1.4 million, the contracts are part of the CSA’s Space Technology Development Program (STDP) that was created to support Canadian-made space technologies. The four COM DEV contracts all share a common theme – making satellite technologies smaller and lighter.

“The Canadian Space Agency is absolutely vital for the future of the space industry in this country,” said Sunil Shavda, vice-president of advanced systems at COM DEV. “We would prefer them to be even stronger and play even a bigger role. When compared to other countries like the U.S., they don’t spend as much.” The amount of money available to the CSA depends on the federal government.

Each contract with the CSA focuses on a different technology related to satellites. The first contract will aid COM DEV in developing smaller and lighter Ka band dielectric microwave filters, which are mainly used for onboard filtering of Internet data traffic.

“Ka band is really the next generation in (communications) satellites that are going to be coming up,” Shavda said. Ka band is the next frequency up from those used for direct-to-home satellite television and television gained from having a satellite dish. A satellite has only a finite amount of space, and the more equipment that can be put on board, the more capacity it has for broadcasting. COM DEV plans to make filters smaller and lighter to reduce the overall cost of a communications satellite.

The second contract will assist COM DEV in developing solid state switch matrices that are smaller, less costly and have less mass. The matrices allow for full broadband connectivity that push higher into the frequencies, and will decrease the amount of hardware needed on a satellite for up- and down-converting of frequencies onboard, Shavda said.

Under the third contract, COM DEV continues the development MEMS (micro electro mechanical systems) RF switches with its two subcontractors. The MEMS RF switches are microtechnology switches used on a satellite that act like a switchboard in the sky.

The last contract is a new project that will enable COM DEV to develop space-qualified small cell lithium-ion batteries.

“Right now, they use nickel cadmium batteries … and basically, about a third of the mass of the satellite is batteries,” Shavda said. “Lithium ion is a much lighter battery. For the same output power (as nickel cadmium), the mass is smaller. They’re the same sort of batteries that you use in camcorders.”

COM DEV’s goal is to get lithium ion batteries approved for flight. Batteries are used to power the satellite itself during the phase when the satellite is hidden from the sun and cannot use solar power.

This is not the first time COM DEV and the CSA have worked together. According to Shavda, COM DEV has worked closely with the CSA since its inception.

According to Pierre Maltais, manager, telecommunications and GNSS cable technology in the technology management office of the CSA, two major areas were identified last year as technology industries relevant to the space industry. One is in the area of communications satellite technology, which COM DEV’s developments fall under, and the other is in the area of multimedia being sent through satellite communications systems with very high bandwidth.

To do its job, the CSA works with space technology companies and seeks support from other government agencies for funding and cooperative initiatives, Maltais said.

“We want to be able to generate export product and create wealth through participation in technology high-tech programs that have the potential of a huge pay-off,” Maltais said. He also noted that Canada has been a leader in space technology by targeting various technology sectors in the space industry.

For more information on COM DEV International Ltd., visit www.comdev.cc. The Canadian Space Agency can be found on the Web at www.space.gc.ca.