Mercury Global: Satellite ground terminals enhance communication

Satellite Ground Terminals

Peter Mallett, Staff Writer ~

Two large Satellite Ground Terminals (SGTs) will soon be perched on a rocky outcrop on Signal Hill.

The stage for installation will be set following the completion of foundational and electrical work in December. At that time, the two 13.2-metre satellite dishes will be brought in and assembled.

“They will be the most prominent structures on Signal Hill and will stand out from any infrastructure located there, but will be located slightly lower down [the hillside] than the current SGTs,” said LCdr Mike Erwin, Senior Staff Officer Computer and Information Systems Operations (N61), while noting the project at Esquimalt has been in the works since 2013.

The SGTs are part of the Mercury Global Project, and they will increase access to the Wideband Global Satellite (WGS) communications system and its constellation of nine satellites. Signal Hill is one of the project’s three primary locations for SGTs in Canada, in addition to those in Great Village, NS, and Ottawa, ON.

The new communications network will enhance the ability of Canadian deployed forces to exchange large amounts of information and improve operational capability. Current military satellite communication consists of a number of temporary Canadian ground stations that communicate with the WGS constellation, including the domed antenna that can be seen on Signal Hill. The new SGTs will greatly enhance the volume of information transferred.

“Mercury Global will expand the number of high-speed digital channels for deployed military units from seven to 50 channels, with the ability to expand to 125 channels, and greatly enhance communications capabilities,” explained LCdr Erwin. “As our operations become ever more network-centric, the increased capacity the new anchor stations provide will certainly have a positive impact.”

Increased access to the WGS system will allow the flow of greater amounts of data, text, video and audio transmission for critical communications, such as tactical command and control, communications, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, battle management and combat support information, across more platforms.

It will also have the added benefit of improving the morale of deployed personnel by making private communications – such as e-mail and Facebook – accessible to more users.

Before construction could begin on Signal Hill, the Mercury Global project team fulfilled a number of regulatory requirements to identify any potential environmental and health effects. In 2016, an environmental assessment on the site determined the transmitters were not likely to cause any significant adverse environmental effects.

Similarly, in 2014, DND’s Quality Engineering Test Establishment issued an assessment of the health and safety risk of the new SGTs and determined the antennas do not pose a risk to personnel as spelled out by Health Canada Safety Code six standards.

With those concerns addressed, construction in Esquimalt was set to begin in March, but faced an unexpected delay when an eagle’s nest was found in a tree on the project site. As eagles are protected by both federal and provincial legislation, the project dedicated resources to ensure the eagles’ habitat would be protected throughout construction and avoided any activity that could disturb the nesting eagles.

With the path clear for the project to move forward, construction of the Signal Hill SGT began in November, with the site expected to be fully operational by November 2017.

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