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Canada Plans to Use Satellite Technology to Protect Its Arctic Sovereignty

(April 2015) In the face of challenges to its sovereignty in the Far North, Canada is ramping up its claim to the Arctic with four active military exercises aimed at Russia, and, it appears, an upgraded satellite observation program.

Under the the auspices of the Ministry of Natural Resources, the Harper government is requesting bids for $17 million worth of development on the Inuvik satellite station in the Northwest Territories. The current station is used for “mapping, weather, surveillance, and other purposes.”

Established in 2010 in partnership with the German Aerospace Centre and the Swedish Space Corporation (SSC), the northern station was chosen based on its “strategic geographic location” above the Arctic Circle, which is “uniquely positioned to track and receive data in real-time.”

As of late, the SSC has increased its stake in the Inuvik satellite station. The Swedes, also an Arctic player, have had their own dealings and standoffs with Russia in recent months. The SCC upgrade will give the corporation greater access to polar orbiting satellites, providing valuable earth observation intelligence to its clients.

The development and support plan is designed to make the station a leading science and technology centre developing “its full potential as an international, multi-use, science and technology facility, with an emphasis on Earth Observation.”

Above all else, the government states the project is “Exercising our Arctic sovereignty,” “Protecting our environmental heritage” and “Promoting social and economic development” —all pillars of Canada’s greater Northern Strategy, a policy initiative Prime Minister Stephen Harper himself has championed for years.

Besides the need to maintain Arctic sovereignty to protect traditional Canadian borders, receding permafrost promises the advent of new lands for natural resource extraction, a key policy platform for the Alberta-strong Tories since they became the government in 2006.

In the Arctic Ocean corridor alone, there’s potentially 90 million barrels of oil sitting untapped in the North Pole, and close to 1,700 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

Of course, that kind of potential petro-loot piques Russian interest, another country with massive Arctic borders and a stake in the latest rounds of UN talks establishing the northern borders of the world.

With the resurgent Russians invading Ukraine and flying bombers close to Canadian and American airspace in a return to Cold War games, the North Pole is suddenly a major geopolitical point of interest for Harper and President Vladimir Putin alike. Satellite stations and military might are just an extension of that diplomatic climate.