Maritime Monitoring and Messaging Microsatellite (M3MSat)

Maritime Monitoring and Messaging Microsatellite

Launch: 2016

Canada is currently building the M3MSat (Maritime Monitoring and Messaging Microsatellite), a technology demonstration satellite that will be used to assess the utility of having in space an Automatic Identification System (AIS) for reading signals from vessels to better manage marine transport in Canadian waters. The system will be supported by an instrument called a Low Data Rate Service (LDRS), which transmits AIS messages to ground sensors. M3MSat will also contribute to the testing of an instrument called a Dielectric Deep Charge Monitor (DDCM), which will measure electrostatic charge accumulation in the satellite's non-conductive materials.

Scheduled to be launched in 2016, M3MSat will be able to process data from the marine self-configuring network implemented by the International Maritime Organization through the United Nations.


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M3MSat is a tele-detection satellite, and its mission is to demonstrate and test the technology of three instruments. (Credit: Canadian Space Agency)

Mission overview

The M3MSat satellite, which is as big as a medium-sized moving box, will use a new type of generic satellite platform. It will orbit at an altitude of approximately 650 kilometres above Earth.

The M3MSat microsatellite will be used to receive and locate digital signals transmitted by vessels. This data will be sent to ground stations to then be relayed to operators for Defence Research and Development Canada (DRDC). This will make it possible to identify and record marine traffic, know vessels' direction and cruising speed and ensure that they navigate legally and safely in Canadian waters.

M3MSat will be able to work simultaneously with RADARSAT-2 and combine AIS information with Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) images. It will therefore be possible to compare the radar images with data from the maritime self-configuring network captured by M3MSat. The estimated lifespan of the satellite is two years.

Mission objectives

M3MSat is a tele-detection satellite, and its mission is to demonstrate and test the technology of three instruments.

M3MSat will orbit around Earth at an altitude of approximately 650 kilometres and travel over all Canadian waters approximately ten times a day. The satellite is an advance in the monitoring of Canadian waters, as its position above Earth will allow it to cover a much larger area than ground sensors to capture AIS signals.

The first instrument, built to meet the needs of the Department of National Defence, aims to improve safety at sea, to ensure our sovereignty, and to identify and locate our assets. All vessels over 300 tonnes continuously broadcast information related to their position on Very High Frequencies (VHF). AIS will make it possible to detect signals from ships and thus know the locations of ships travelling in Canadian waters.

The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) is responsible for the other two secondary payloads. The first of these, the LDRS instrument, is a project related to AIS, which will be used to record the passage of boats. The LDRS will receive low-speed data from isolated stations across Canada and retransmit that data to control centers located in the east and west of the country, ensuring coordination and retransmission of information collected on marine traffic. This will enable the collection of data on marine traffic in remote areas where there is no data streaming infrastructure.

The second, the DDCM, will be used to measure accumulated charge in satellites' dielectric material and gain insight on their level of functionality. This information will help extend the lifetime of Earth-orbiting satellites.


M3MSat is a project jointly funded by the CSA and DRDC. The CSA is responsible for the LDRS and DDCM, and DRDC is responsible for the AIS. The AIS instrument comes from DRDC Ottawa's Space Systems group.

The satellite is being built by Ontario company COM DEV Ltd., with support from the University of Toronto Institute for Aerospace Studies.

Technical Information

The M3MSat satellite will be positioned on a sun-synchronous orbit. Thus, it will move from the North Pole towards the South Pole across every region on Earth at the same time each day. This type of orbit following the Earth's rotation facilitates data exchange between space and Earth stations and allows information to be collected in targeted areas over long periods of time.

Below is a diagram identifying the location of various components of the M3MSat satellite: