This week in space for Canada is all about an American, Michael Swartwout, an Assistant Professor of Aerospace & Mechanical Engineering at Parks College, St. Louis University who recently wrote a fascinating article on “The promise of innovation from university space systems: Are we meeting it?” for the October 12th, 2009 issue of the Space Review where he talks about university faculties launching space satellites. At least one of those faculties is Canadian.
In his article, Swartwout unequivocally claims the following:
“The first university-class spacecraft was launched in 1981; satellite number 119 was launched in September 2009. At present, an average of 12 university-class spacecraft are launched each year.”
Just off the top of my head, those numbers seem to be more than the CSA (or even maybe NASA) has launched lately and Swartwout traces the genesis of these prolific little spacecraft to one specific location:
“Faculty and students in the Electrical Engineering Department at the University of Surrey developed the first two university-class spacecraft: UoSAT 1 (1981) and UoSAT 2 (1984). After those successes, they spun off a new company, Surrey Satellite Technology Limited (SSTL).”
This new firm almost immediately became among the very first and most successful of a number of small satellite companies. After a long and varied independent history portions of the firm were sold to SpaceX in January 2005 and then a controlling interest was brought by EADS Astrium in April 2008. The company still functions today as a subsidiary of EADS Astrium and has recently opened a US office.
Swartwout believes that this specific small satellite company is a case study for future space focused ventures and even makes some observations on where the next breakout organizations will come from:
“…we now speak of the “Surrey Model”, whereby a university (a) develops an in-house spacecraft capability, (b) advances to more-capable missions, and (c) spins off the program into a profit-making entity. This approach has been adopted by several other programs, including: the University of Toronto Institute of Aerospace Studies (UTIAS) Space Flight Laboratory, the Satellite Technology Research Center in Korea, the Technical University of Berlin, and the King Abdul Aziz City for Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia. All are actively building highly capable space systems for national governments, and several have international customers.”
Why is the UTIAS Space Flight Laboratory (SFL) included with this list? According to Wikipedia the institute has seen a number of firsts:
“…world’s first microwave-powered aircraft, the world’s first engine-powered ornithopter (both inventions of James DeLaurier), and Canada’s first space telescope MOST. The major expertise areas represented are aircraft design, particularly at subsonic speeds, flight simulation, space robotics, microsatellite technology, computational fluid dynamics and nuclear fusion.”
The SFL, like the other organizations highlighted by Swartwout, focuses on less expensive missions using commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) technologies wrapped around aggressive, early prototyping and multiple testing opportunities to create ongoing, incremental improvements according to Grant Bonin, a UTIAS SFL employee in his article “Microspace and Human Spaceflight.” A listing of SFL project is posted on the UTIAS/SFL News site and includes a various micro satellite projects, the Can-X nanosat program and quite a few other special projects.
The SFL isn’t even really all that unique for Canada. A few other examples of Canadian Universities with departments and facilities focused on aspects of space include the following
1. The Carlton University Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering which came in third in the 2008 NASA Great Moon Buggy Race.
2. The Ryerson University Engineering Graduate Program which focuses on aerodynamics and propulsion, aerospace structures and manufacturing, avionics and aerospace systems.
3. The York University Faculty of Science and Engineering which has contributed the Phoenix Scout Mission; SCISAT, the Canadian Space Agency mission to research the ozone layer; the Canadian WINDII instrument on NASA’s Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite; and the Canadian OSIRIS instrument on Sweden’s Odin satellite.
Essentially, there is a very good chance that the next Surrey Satellite will be Canadian.
That’s all for this week in space for Canada.