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GAC's delays threaten Inuvik's satellite business


Planet announced last week that it would be removing its ground station from Inuvik if it does not receive a remote sensing licence from Global Affairs Canada (GAC) by June 1, 2018.

A move like this would be devastating for Inuvik's reputation in the satellite industry.

When I spoke with Mike Safyan, Planet's senior director of launch and ground stations, he told me Planet had (and still hopes they can have) grand plans for Inuvik.

"The original vision was for Inuvik to become a world-class destination for ground station antennas and support services," Safyan said. "There is nothing preventing it from being that other than this licensing process."

If GAC does not grant Planet the remote sensing licence, and Planet ends up moving its ground station to Alaska or Norway, Inuvik will lose an incredible opportunity to solidify its reputation and bring new satellite business to town.

Safyan said other satellite companies are watching GAC's licence decision for Planet closely.

"A lot of people are in a wait-and-see mode. Inuvik could be a place where we see a big explosion of ground station infrastructure because it has so many benefits to it," Safyan said. "But a lot of people are a little scared to go into it because they see how much Planet has struggled in the licensing process."

The licence application is supposed to take 180 days, but it has taken more than three times that long.

This is unacceptable for a federal government body, especially one that represents Canada on an international level.

It is embarrassing for Canada to take so long to process what Safyan called a "straightforward" application that has been approved in several other countries.

Not only is Inuvik's reputation on the line, but so are revenue streams.

"If we move the antenna, we're no longer going to be paying for the services such as the Mackenzie fibre line for hosting our antennas on the Inuvik site," Safyan said. "So removal will prevent that money from flowing in."

There is also the potential for employment opportunities for Inuvik residents should more satellite companies begin setting up in Inuvik.

Inuvik is naturally an attractive location for satellite companies because of its high latitude. The town could be a world-class destination for ground stations, as Safyan said, if only GAC licensing didn't take so long.

GAC must realize that the delays in processing Planet's remote sensing licence are destroying Inuvik's reputation as a suitable and even ideal location for satellite companies to set up shop.

GAC needs to step it up and process Planet's application before the company's deadline.