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Canada in space: Supporting global humanitarian efforts

What you need to know

The International Charter for Space and Major Disasters demonstrates the tremendous value of space cooperation between nations. The Charter is a joint effort to put space technology at the service of rescue and relief efforts in the event of a major disaster. Its members dispatch satellites to capture images of devastated regions that help with disaster management, international relief, and civil protection. In its promotion of the peaceful use of space, Canada contributes space resources like RADARSAT to support the joint efforts of the Charter.

The big picture for disaster management

In late December 2004, India, the United Nations, and France’s Civil Protection Agency activated the call for rapid support from the Charter and a massive deployment of satellites was called into action while the tsunami swept over parts of Southeast Asia. Canada had just assumed the lead in coordinating the space assets of International Charter members.

RADARSAT and other satellites took critical images of the affected regions. Canadian companies contributed by swiftly processing, compiling, and developing the images and assessing the damage. The information was quickly relayed to assist Asian nations in directing rescue and humanitarian efforts and the resources required to begin the long task of rebuilding their communities.

RADARSAT’s critical contribution

When on-the-ground information is unavailable or incomplete, images provided by satellites are powerful tools in accurately evaluating the impact of disasters and supporting rescue efforts and aid that will alleviate the effects of disaster on people in the region.

RADARSAT with its specialized microwave radar proved its worth during the tsunami, providing images day and night, in all weather conditions. This is a key advantage over optical satellites— absolutely critical when time is a factor in saving lives. Canada’s “Eye in the Sky” is also being used during reconstruction. For example, in Indonesia, it has helped establish the extent of damage to agriculture due to salt-water flooding, as well as the destruction of dams, canals, and other coastal infrastructure.

Cooperation for a better future

Key Canadian space industry partners, MDA Geospatial Services of Richmond, B.C., Dendron Resources of Ottawa, and Hatfield Consultants of Vancouver worked as a team, quickly processing and analyzing the data to provide valuable images in support of relief efforts.

International Disaster Charter members include the Argentine Space Agency, the Canadian Space Agency, the European Space Agency, France’s Centre national d'études spatiales, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, the Indian Space Research Organisation, and the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.