Satellite company sets licence deadline to pull out of Inuvik

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San Francisco-based satellite company Planet will remove its Inuvik ground station if it does not receive a remote sensing licence from Global Affairs Canada (GAC) by June 1, 2018.

Planet submitted its application for a remote sensing license from GAC in 2015. Photo courtesy of Planet

Mike Safyan, senior director of launch and ground stations for Planet announced the deadline at the Canadian SmallSat Symposium in Toronto Tuesday, Feb. 13.

“We’ve been working actively with GAC to try and get some movement in our application but what we’ve been forced to do is set a deadline for June 1 of this year, which will mark two years of us waiting to get a response on our licence,” Safyan said in an interview with the Inuvik Drum. “If we can’t get a licence approval by June 1, we’re going to start deconstructing those antennas and moving them elsewhere.”

Planet identified Inuvik as an ideal location for its satellite in 2015, and submitted paperwork to get its antennae approved in 2016, Safyan said. Construction of the antennae began shortly after.

Safyan said Planet needs two licences to operate its ground station in Inuvik: a radio-frequency spectrum licence from Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED), and a remote sensing licence from GAC.

“The antennas have been built in Inuvik, and we’ve received all of the necessary grants and approvals from ISED. We’ve coordinated with the other satellite operators that are also using their own antennas in the area so we’re mitigating any interference,” Safyan said. “Unfortunately, we’re still waiting for our licence approval from GAC, which has created quite a number of challenges for us.”

Typically, it takes 180 days or fewer for GAC to process a remote sensing licence application.

“Today, we’re at about a year-and-a-half under review,” Safyan said. “While we’re waiting for these antennas to begin operation, we’ve had to put in several back-up options because we have satellites flying and we need to get the data down.”

Safyan said when they ask when the licence application will be accepted or declined, GAC tells Planet the licence is coming soon, and that they’re waiting for responses from other departments.

GAC is aware of Planet’s June 1 deadline for receiving the licence, Safyan said.

“Everyone’s preferred solution is for us to get the licence and stay in Inuvik. We want to be in Inuvik, that’s why we installed the infrastructure there in the first place,” Safyan said. “We really like the local community, we really like the geography of the site, and all of that drives us to do the best we can to find a solution here. Hopefully we will get the licence and we won’t have to remove those antennas.”

Safyan said Planet needs a back-up plan should GAC not grant the licence by the deadline. The company is considering Norway and Alaska as alternative locations for the ground station.

One of the issues, according to Safyan, is GAC’s “outdated” licensing regulations, which have not been updated since 2005.

“GAC’s hands are tied to some extent because they can only operate within the framework of the regulations, and the regulations haven’t been updated for a long time,” Safyan said.

He emphasized the preferred solution is for GAC to grant the remote sensing licence and for Planet to stay in Inuvik.

“We’re really hopeful that we can get the licence in time,” Safyan said. “If we can get the licence, it will show that Inuvik really is a good place for these types of infrastructure investments, and then I think we’ll start to see more and more other satellite operators pop up there.”

GAC did not provide comment in time for publication.

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