Canadian satellite delayed by political dispute with Russia to be launched by India

MONTREAL – The launch of a Canadian satellite, postponed amid tensions in the Ukraine, is finally scheduled for liftoff — one year behind schedule.

The M3M communications satellite, which was originally to be launched aboard a Russian rocket, will instead blast into orbit from India next July.

The announcement that a deal has been signed with India was made at the International Astronautical Congress in Toronto, a few days after Canada refused to allow Russian delegates to attend the prestigious symposium which opened on Monday.

The exclusion angered Moscow, which said it flew in the face of international space co-operation. The Russians said it amounts to politicizing space exploration over the conflict in Ukraine, where fighting has raged since Russian troops moved on the Crimea in March.

Canada also denied visas to some Chinese delegates.

COM DEV International Ltd., based in Cambridge, Ont., reached a deal with Antrix Corp., the commercial arm of the Indian Space Research Organization, to launch the satellite.

The Canadian Space Agency says on its website the M3M was built to meet the needs of the Department of National Defence and ensure Canada’s sovereignty.

It was to be launched with a Russian Soyuz rocket in July, but the federal government decided in April not to proceed.

“This was a Canadian government decision based, I would argue, on the political situation that existed,” Michael Pley, the CEO of COM DEV, said Thursday. “Clearly there’s a link to what’s been happening in the Ukraine.”

He said the satellite will now be launched on India’s Polar Satellite launch vehicle.

“We’re thinking that it’s late in our third quarter of 2015, so around the July time frame,” Pley said in an interview from Toronto.

“We’re really excited because this is a good reliable launcher and we were initially worried the delay would take a lot longer and so we’re really pleased that the Canadian Space Agency in particular worked really hard and closely with us to find this launch and actually secure it quickly,” he said.

Pley said the Canadian government would be paying for the new launch, although he did not disclose any figure.

“We’re not anticipating any compensation at all except for the payment in setting up for a new launch,” he said. “Our primary concern was to do that.”

Pley added that the federal government, which he described as a “good anchor customer,” recently expanded a contract it had with COM DEV to provide Earth data services.

COM DEV was selected to built the satellite under a government contract worth $21 million.

M3M stands for Maritime Monitoring and Messaging Micro-Satellite. The Canadian Space Agency says on its website that the satellite, which is as big as a medium-sized moving box, will be used to manage marine transport in Canadian waters.