January 6, 2022
START-UP COMPANY’S IDEaS TAKE FLIGHT WITH MDA’S LAUNCHPAD
Vincent Lachance is energized. Part of the vision that inspired him to launch his company — the idea of using atmospheric balloons as high-altitude platforms for Earth observation — will soon be trialled off Canada’s beautiful West Coast. The Montréal-based entrepreneur is co-founder and CEO of Lux Aerobot, a space-robotics company specialized in the design, manufacturing and operation of these high-altitude platforms.
The upcoming trial is part of a collaboration with MDA, Canada’s leading space company, through the company’s LaunchPad program. LaunchPad is designed to help innovative small and medium-sized Canadian companies grow in the fast-paced space and defence industries.
The trial will see Lux Aerobot’s high altitude platforms at work, crossing over from Vancouver Island to Vancouver mainland, observing and mapping vessels. “It’s about improving maritime domain awareness, explains Lachance. “MDA has built software that can model different data inputs — high altitude platforms; satellites; vessels, — combining it and simulating data from a larger number of platforms.” Lux Aerobot is working with MDA to integrate data from stratospheric balloons so as to offer a multi-layer remote sensing system, which will eventually be applied to monitor the Arctic and ensure Canadian sovereignty in the region.
The idea is to figure out the right mix of surveillance methodologies. “What is the most effective way to monitor a 500 km radius? Is it two balloons, one satellite, two vessels? Is it 100 balloons? This is what our work with MDA will help to determine,” continues Lachance. “I like to use the analogy of the transportation cocktail: is it Uber, Lyft, taxis? A mix of all is likely optimal.”
The project is part of a larger contract under Innovation for Defence Excellence and Security (IDEaS), a Government of Canada program that aims to accelerate innovations in defence and security. Lachance highlights the urgency of the project: “Canada knows it has to invest in figuring out how we keep sovereignty in the Arctic, because the Russians are already doing it.”
Lachance is excited to see the trial results. He is already looking through the doors the collaboration with MDA is opening for his company. “The collaboration with MDA has brought credibility to our company. We’ve built a strong relationship.” He reports that there are a few more projects with MDA coming, which will likely be kickstarted over the coming months, and that the two companies may soon close a sale together overseas.
When asked for advice for other companies that might want to collaborate with MDA, Lachance stresses the importance of having a differentiated product that aligns with company priorities. He suggests that interested companies might want to reach out through LaunchPad and keep MDA apprised of R&D progress, and new product features.
“I honestly can’t say enough about this program. Introducing small companies into bigger projects so they can be showcased to important stakeholders like DND [the Department of National Defence], the Canadian Space Agency, and others, has a lot of impact! In Canada, we speak so much about the lack of cooperation between large corporations and small companies to create innovation and economic growth. It’s very remarkable what MDA is doing. We should see more of this kind of collaboration in this country. This is how Canada gets to be competitive with other countries. It’s when you work as a team that you get the wins.”