The federal government is ending months of uncertainty with an announcement Wednesday that it will provide more than $700 million to fund the final phase of a major satellite project developed by Richmond, B.C.-based MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates.
Industry Minister Christian Paradis was scheduled to make the announcement at MDA's satellite systems headquarters in Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue, Quebec.
MDA complained after last spring's federal budget that it was cutting staffing levels due to the lack of a commitment from Ottawa to fund the final phase of a project that began in 2005.
The Canadian Space Agency, which a year ago said MDA would launch the three satellites in 2014-15, currently states on its website that the satellites will be launched in 2016-17.
However, Wednesday's news release said the launches have been delayed until 2018.
"Our Government is ensuring we have the tools to assert our sovereignty, monitor and manage our resources, and keep watch over our vast territory and coastal areas," Paradis said in a statement.
"The world-class Radarsat Constellation Mission keeps Canada at the forefront of the design and operation of radar satellites."
There had been media reports that the pricetag for the final phase of the project had soared from $600 million to more than $1 billion, though Wednesday's announcement indicates the government kept the cost closer to the original target.
Critics accused the government last year of abandoning a crucial project, but Paradis insisted in the House of Commons that Ottawa remained committed but was trying to complete the project in a "cost-effective way."
The three satellites will provide "complete" coverage of Canada's land mass and marine approaches, as well as cover 95 per cent of the world, the Canadian Space Agency says on its website.
That will assist in disaster management and aid in security and humanitarian missions, according to a government news release issued Wednesday.
The data will help the Canadian military, the Canadian Coast Guard, and other federal departments in monitoring remote areas of the country and all coasts, according to the government.
The satellites will also support ecosystem and water-quality monitoring, wetlands mapping, and disaster management both in Canada and internationally.
In Canada the data will be "critical for disaster mitigation, warning, response and recovery," the news release said.
"Disaster types supported include flood monitoring and relief, oil spills, changes in the permafrost in northern Canada, volcano and earthquake warning, and hurricane monitoring."
The data will also be marketed to commercial users in sectors such as resource management and environmental consulting.
The RCM satellites will be the successor to MDA's Radarsat-2 satellite, launched in 2007.
The RCM project has been described as a critical strategic asset by its backers.
MDA's co-founder and former president, John MacDonald, argued in The Vancouver Sun last year that the Harper government would jeopardize its ability to assert Canadian Arctic sovereignty if funding wasn't provided.
"Currently, Canada's ability to view the North is handled by the Radarsat-2 satellite, which was never intended to provide either the volume or timeliness of data the Canadian government now needs as it manages sovereignty issues and keeps track of environmental impacts in the North," he argued.
"If Canada fails to complete the Radarsat Constellation Mission project in a timely manner the U.S. and perhaps others will move quickly to launch Arctic surveillance satellites rather than piggyback on the RCM project."