Telesat to set up satellite operations campus in Gatineau as part of $400M deal

Dan Goldberg
Dan Goldberg

After reaching a deal with a European manufacturer to build a multibillion-dollar fleet of satellites that will deliver high-speed internet around the world, Ottawa-based Telesat plans to build a major campus in Gatineau to oversee the network’s operations as part of a $400-million investment from the province.

Under the terms of the deal, which is expected to be finalized in the next few months, the Quebec government will receive a $200-million equity stake in the cutting-edge satellite network, dubbed Lightspeed. The province will also provide Telesat with a $200-million loan.

In a statement Thursday, the Quebec government said the Lightspeed program is expected to inject up to $1.8 billion into the provincial economy and create as many as 600 jobs. 

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It said a “significant portion” of the satellite manufacturing process is expected to take place in Montreal, while Telesat also plans to set up a campus in Gatineau that will house technical operations such as the network operating centre, a satellite control centre, a cybersecurity operations centre, an engineering lab and an advanced landing station with secure communication links to the Lightspeed constellation.

The new operations hub is expected to employ up to 280 people. 

In a statement, Telesat CEO Dan Goldberg called the Lightspeed project the “most ambitious and consequential program” in the company’s 50-plus-year history. 

“The vast aerospace expertise resident in Quebec, coupled with the government’s leadership and vision for the fast-growing New Space Economy, provides an overwhelmingly compelling rationale for Telesat to make substantial investments in the province, including the manufacture of the Lightspeed satellites and the establishment of our extensive technical operations,” he said.

The prime contractor on the project, French-Italian firm Thales Alenia Space, is now in discussions with Canadian aerospace firm MDA to assemble and test the satellites at MDA’s Montreal facility. The plant will use “next-generation manufacturing capabilities” to deliver an average of one Lightspeed satellite per day, the statement said.

In addition, MDA will manufacture the cutting-edge antennas for the satellites using 3D printing technology. The Montreal venture is expected to create up to 320 jobs.

Telesat’s ambitious project will eventually see nearly 300 low-Earth-orbit satellites circling the globe. Earlier this month, the company agreed to a US$3-billion deal that will see Thales Alenia Space manufacture the constellation, with the first satellites expected to launch in 2023.

Stationed between 1,000 and 1,300 kilometres above Earth, the satellites are designed to deliver broadband internet speeds comparable to those offered by fibre-optic networks. 

Unlike some of its competitors, Telesat’s satellite network won’t deliver broadband connectivity directly to consumers. Instead, it will provide “backhaul” connections to enterprise customers such as internet service providers, airlines and cruise ship operators, who will then send the signals over their own networks.

Goldberg recently told OBJ Telesat has been “ramping up” its local operations in preparation for the project. The firm has hired nearly 100 new employees since the beginning of 2020 and is “expecting an even greater number of new hires for this year,” he said, adding most of those new workers will likely be based in Ottawa.

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