Canada's CASSIOPE Satellite Nearing Liftoff

The long delayed flight of the Canadian satellite CASSIOPE is one step closer with the successful Merlin 1D engine test firing recently completed by SpaceX.

CASSIOPE, short for Cascade Smallsat and Ionospheric Polar Explorer, is a dual purpose satellite carrying a demonstrator payload for a new communications technology and a second payload consisting of a suite of space environment sensors.

CASSIOPE's scientific payload is known as e-POP for Enhanced Polar Outflow Probe, and includes eight scientific experiments that will collect data on how solar storms interact with electrically charged particles in the upper atmosphere, affecting radio communications and space-based navigation. The data will be collected as the satellite flies in a near polar orbit at altitudes between 300 and 1,500 km.

The large volume of information generated by e-POP will be transmitted back to Earth using CASSIOPE's other main payload, the Cascade digital broadband courier system.
The idea behind Cascade is to deliver very large digital data files, ranging from 50 to 500 gigabytes, to and from anywhere on Earth within a day, which Luc Dub, Porfolio Manager (Space Projects) at the Canadian Space Agency, compared to a "Courier in Space." CASSIOPE would test satellite-based components and ground stations for this system, and the hope is to develop a constellation of Ka-band satellites in low Earth orbit to facilitate timely delivery of these data files. The size of any future constellation will depend on the demand for Cascade's services.

MDA signed the contract with SpaceX almost seven years ago for the launch of CASSIOPE becoming the third SpaceX customer. The price of the launch, though never revealed, was reportedly a sweet deal by today's standards. However, while the price was almost a steal it came at a cost. SpaceX, a fledgling launch provider who has recently put together a string of successful launches, spent several years developing various version of its Falcon rockets which kept pushing off the launch of CASSIOPE.

CASSIOPE was scheduled to launch on a Falcon 1 from Kwajalein Island in the South Pacific, then the launch was moved to the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on a Falcon 9 and now will launch from the new SpaceX launch complex being built and nearing completion at the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

The launch on a Falcon 9 will be the first for SpaceX at Vandenberg and is scheduled for the first half of 2013. The Falcon 9 used for this launch will be using the new Merlin 1D engines which have not flow yet. This new configuration of the Falcon is now designated as Falcon 9 v1.1.

When the Falcon 9 with CASSIOPE launches and reaches its intended orbit, its long awaited mission will finally begin.

SpaceX Testing: Merlin 1D Engine Firing