Space company MDA supplies Ukraine with satellite imagery, announces new global headquarters

Kelsey Rolfe
March 16, 2022

Canadian space technology developer MDA Ltd. will supply the Ukrainian government with satellite imagery to help it protect its citizens during Russia’s invasion.

The company announced March 8 it had received special authorization from the Canadian government to use its Radarsat-2 satellite to collect synthetic aperture radar (SAR) satellite imagery over restricted areas in Ukraine.

MDA said the imagery from its SAR technology will be merged and analyzed with other imagery sources from commercial Earth observation companies to give Ukraine close to real-time intelligence reports.

“We’re excited to be working with other data providers. I think SAR is great in combination with other types of data and sensors out there that can really provide the intelligence piece that Ukraine is looking for,” said Minda Suchan, the company’s vice-president of geointelligence, in an interview with Research Money. She said the company has been asked not to name companies it’s working with.

SAR technology is a type of satellite imagery created by a sensor producing its own microwave signals and recording signals reflected back by the earth; the technology stitches together a series of smaller image captures to form a higher spatial resolution image. It can see through nightfall, poor weather and cloud cover, something Suchan said is important in Ukraine, which has almost 80 percent cloud cover in certain locations.

She said the special authorization was necessary because Radarsat-2 is a public-private partnership between the company and the Canadian government, which comes with operating license restrictions around where the company can image.

It’s been a big week for MDA: after announcing its involvement in Ukraine, the company reported it had been awarded a $269-million contract for the next phase of the Canadarm3 project, and announced a new global headquarters and Space Robotics Centre of Excellence in Brampton, Ont.

MDA will complete the preliminary design of the Canadarm3 artificial intelligence-based robotics system, following on its previous work establishing the technical requirements needed to design and manufacture it.

“We’re in a growth mode,” said Suchan. “We are building a lot of backlog through our three major flagship programs, and that’s just positioning us really well to accelerate our revenue in the next couple of years.”

Numerous tech companies have found ways to help Ukraine in the wake of Russia’s invasion on Feb. 24. Elon Musk’s SpaceX sent a shipment of Starlink terminals to Ukraine in late February to address severe internet disruptions in the county, after vice prime minister Mykhailo Federov tweeted at the billionaire imploring him to help. The company has since sent another shipment of terminals.

Airbnb announced a goal to provide up to 100,000 people fleeing Ukraine with free temporary housing.

Microsoft president and vice-chair Brad Smith said in a Feb. 28 blog post that the company’s Threat Intelligence Centre detected a new round of “offensive and destructive cyberattacks” targeting Ukraine’s digital infrastructure hours before Russia invaded, and coordinated with the country’s government to counter it. It has continued to provide threat intelligence and “defensive suggestions” to Ukrainian officials, according to Smith.

Companies have also rushed to hire Ukrainian tech talent: a website called Remote Ukraine, set up to help displaced skilled professionals, had more than 500 job postings from primarily European companies, and some from the United States and Canada, according to CNBC.


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