Toronto’s Space Flight Laboratory Celebrates 20 Years of Excellence

NEMO-HD integration at SFL. Credit: Space Flight Laboratory.

The Space Flight Laboratory (SFL) of the University of Toronto Institute for Aerospace Studies is celebrating 20 years of excellence in the nanosatellite and microsatellite market.

During those years SFL has had one director, Dr. Robert Zee, who along with others, has guided the Laboratory from a small lab working on one satellite, to developing a world class facility and taking new ideas and turning them into industry leading innovative products.

It all started with the Microvariability and Oscillation of Stars (MOST) telescope built on a new microsatellite platform. According to SFL, it “designed and built entirely new hardware and software technologies customized to the unique requirements of smaller satellites. These breakthroughs include advanced attitude control for precise pointing and tracking, modular power systems for multiple spacecraft sizes, and cold/warm gas propulsion systems tailored to sub-100kg platforms.”

SFL has developed and launched 22 nano and micro-class satellites in the past 20 years and currently have 11 new satellites under development.

The satellites built by the Space Flight Laboratory over the last 20 years
Some of the satellites built by the Space Flight Laboratory over the last 20 years. Credit: Space Flight Laboratory.

Other small satellite milestones highlighted by SFL include:

  • NorSat-1 and -2 microsatellites launched by Norway achieved significant improvements in maritime ship monitoring shortly after their 2017 launch, resulting in SFL being awarded the development contract for NorSat-3 in 2018.
  • CanX-7 nanosatellite, launched in 2016, successfully demonstrated aircraft tracking followed by drag sail deployment for orbital debris mitigation.
  • GHGSat-D microsatellite launched in 2017 by GHGSat Inc. to demonstrate that point sources of greenhouse gas emissions on Earth could be detected from orbit, leading to SFL being contracted to develop GHGSat-C1 and -C2 for commercial operations.
  • CanX-4 and -5 nanosatellites launched by Canada in 2014 became the first satellites of their size and ultra-low cost to achieve precise, autonomous formation flight with centimeter-level knowledge and sub-meter level control accuracy in low Earth orbit.

In a press release, Dr. Zee said “for two decades, SFL has been delivering big returns for our clients by developing smaller satellites on tight schedules at a fraction of the cost of larger satellites. Our missions have successfully carried out Earth observation, RF communications, atmospheric sensing and other applications traditionally performed by larger satellites.”

Next month at the Canadian Space Commerce Association’s Canadian SmallSat Symposium in Toronto, Zee will present a “Perspective on 20 Years of Small Mission Breakthroughs at SFL.”

Last November SpaceQ interviewed Zee. In a wide ranging interview you’ll learn a little of SFL’s history, their innovations, future plans and some of the challenges they face as small satellites go beyond low earth orbit.


About Marc Boucher

Boucher is an entrepreneur, writer, editor & publisher. He is the founder of SpaceQ Media Inc. and CEO and co-founder of SpaceRef Interactive LLC. Boucher has 20+ years working in various roles in the space industry and a total of 30 years as a technology entrepreneur including creating Maple Square, Canada's first internet directory and search engine.

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