Canadian Space Agency’s Radarsat Constellation Mission (RCM) was launched into orbit aboard a reused SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, US.

The first stage, which was previously used in March for a demonstration flight of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule, separated a few minutes after launch and set down on a landing zone at the coastal base.

About an hour after lift-off, its three RCM Earth-monitoring satellites were deployed a few minutes apart from the upper stage. They will operate in the same orbital plane at an altitude of 600km, 14,600km from each other while circling the Earth in 96 minutes.

Each satellite is expected to have a life expectancy of seven years.

The three identical satellites will provide daily images of Canada’s territory and maritime approaches, as well as images of the Arctic, four times a day.

Equipped with an automatic identification system (AIS), the satellites will also be used for detecting and tracking of ships, including those conducting illegal fishing.

The satellites will also be used for several other purposes, including tracking of sea ice, surface winds and oil pollution, disaster management, particularly flooding, and monitoring of agriculture, forestry and land changes.

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Businesses, researchers and the public will be able to use the data and imagery to produce products and services.

The three spacecraft have been assembled in Montreal by prime contractor MDA, a Maxar company.

Canada’s Radarsat satellites have been providing crucial data for a wide variety of uses for more than two decades and the RCM is expected to provide a new capability to develop solutions to help better understand the planet and deliver improved and reliable services to Canadians.

Launched in 1995, the programme’s first orbiter, Radarsat-1, is inactive. Even though the second orbiter Radarsat-2, which was launched in 2007, is still operational, the new three-satellite constellation has been designed to increase coverage, the space agency said.

Primary control of the satellites will be from the space agency’s headquarters in Saint-Hubert, Quebec.