Canada’s first dedicated operational military satellite, Sapphire, was launched this week by the Indian Space Research Organization.

Sapphire, a space-based electro-optical sensor developed by Richmond, BC-based MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates, will track objects in Earth’s orbit between 6,000 and 40,000 km in altitude, part of Canada’s contribution to Space Situational Awareness. Data from the satellite will be added to the U.S. Space Surveillance Network, helping both countries detect and avoid the collision of critical space platforms with other satellites or pieces of debris.

According to MDA, the satellite was launched out of the Satish Dhawan Space Centre, Sriharikota, India. Communication with the satellite was established, and it has reached its proper orbit.

“This is MDA’s first solution for the growing space surveillance market,” said president and CEO Daniel Friedmann. “Studies have shown that with increases in space debris, and the threat to the systems and services growing, space-based space surveillance will become more and more crucial to provide collision avoidance capabilities and prevent system and service loss.”

MDA will operate and maintain the Sapphire System for five years following system commissioning, expected approximately three months from deployment. That will include relaying assigned taskings from DND to the satellite, processing the collected information, and sending the data to the Sensor System Operations Centre (SSOC) operated by DND at 22 Wing in North Bay, Ontario. The SSOC will correlate, identify, archive and transmit the information to the United States’ Joint Space Operations Center (JSpOC). Sapphire is expected to be ready to begin contributing to the network by July, 2013.

MDA is has assembled a support team that includes Terma A/S of Herlev, Denmark, COM DEV International of Cambridge, Ontario, and Surrey Satellite Technology of Surrey, England.