Canada’s North: The Big Picture – My North My Home



Our Canada - it's all our duty

Alan Thompson

MDA, Richmond, British Columbia

My Job

is satellite systems engineering

My Passion

is gaining a better understanding of the planet using mathematics and imaging

Canada’s North: The Big Picture

We aren’t building satellites just for the sake of building satellites, but rather to meet real-world needs.

Imagine seeing the entire country, from coast to coast to coast, multiple times a day. For MDA’s Chief Systems Engineer for Space Missions, Alan Thompson, it’s a reality. Alan works closely with his team to bring an incredible new satellite mission, the RADARSAT Constellation Mission (RCM), into orbit to capture wide-area imagery of the earth below regardless of cloud cover or time of day.

“We aren’t building satellites just for the sake of building satellites, but rather to meet real-world needs,” says Alan. This mission, which will be launched on a SpaceX rocket later this year, relies on precise mathematics to maintain its orbit and complex algorithms to convert a constant stream of radar data into radar imagery of the earth. This data is collected in an archive to be used by a number of Canadian organizations who rely heavily on accurate and up-to-the-minute data to help monitor and protect Canada.

Alan’s passion culminates in work with clear benefits. He began his career as a mathematician but found himself seeking a practical application of his skills where he could tackle technological challenges. As a systems engineer, Alan is able to deliver frequently updated, and clear visuals of the country to his peers in Canada’s defence and security industry and other government organizations. “It’s the most satisfying part of the job,” says Alan.

One of Alan’s favourite applications of RCM is Geohazard Monitoring. Since the RCM satellites collect multiple images of the same area at varying times, precise measurements of centimetre-scale changes can be made. This data can be used to predict natural disasters by monitoring the movement of land and send warnings to Canadians well in advance of, for example, a landslide to ensure their safety. Alan has big hopes for the future of Geohazard Monitoring and is excited that RCM will be able to offer Canadians peace of mind with early detection warnings.

“With RCM, we can see all of the Canadian land mass as well as large areas off the coasts every day, and Canada’s north several times a day,” says Alan. The system can be used collect long-term data on changes in sea ice and glaciers over time and provide it to Government scientists monitoring climate change. This data can be used to create intricate maps to observe how the ice has changed over months and years.

After many years working on the RCM program, Alan is looking forward to the launch, and being involved in the commissioning and calibration of the satellite system as it orbits the earth.