Ottawa. 30 May 2018 . Space Flight Laboratory (SFL), a provider of complete microspace missions celebrating its 20th year in business, is showcasing breakthroughs in Attitude Control, Modular Power Systems, and Propulsion technologies for small satellites at two international aerospace conferences this month. 

SFL, which was established in 1998 as a self-sustaining specialty lab at the University of Toronto Institute for Aerospace Studies (UTIAS), has developed and refined these and other microspace technologies for 22 nano- and microsatellites launched over the past two decades. SFL is currently developing 11 new satellites at its Toronto facility.

“Our goal is the same today as it was 20 years ago – To develop and adapt technologies that enable smaller satellites to cost-effectively perform the missions once believed only possible with expensive larger satellites,” said SFL Director Dr. Robert Zee.

Attitude Control refers to a satellite’s ability to achieve and maintain a specific orientation in orbit. Difficult for smaller satellites of low mass, attitude control is a necessity for precise pointing of onboard sensors either at the earth or out into space. SFL achieved miniaturization breakthroughs in attitude control performance over its 20-year history which in turn enabled barrier-breaking missions on smaller than expected satellites.

“Accurate attitude control capabilities and precise pointing resulted in SFL being selected to build the upcoming commercial GHGSat-C1 and C2 greenhouse gas monitoring microsatellites for GHGSat Inc.,” said Zee. “These capabilities will also play important roles in the NEMO-HD video imaging microsatellite we are building for Slovenia and the DMSat-1 environmental monitoring microsatellite now under development for Dubai.”

Another microspace breakthrough has been the SFL Modular Power System. From a single architecture, this system can be scaled up or down to meet the power requirements of nano-, micro- and small satellites, ranging in size from 3 kg to 500 kg in size. The ability to scale from 1 watt to 1.5 kilowatts in power output without overhauling the system architecture enables SFL to keep development costs down while accommodating a variety of mission applications.

“The modular power design has allowed us to inexpensively add an experimental sensor to the upcoming NorSat-3 microsatellite without making major changes to the platform,” said Zee. “NorSat-3 is a maritime ship tracking mission we are developing for Norway that carries an experimental navigation radar detector.”

In addition, SFL is developing next-generation Propulsion Systems, including a Cylindrical Hall Thruster and a mono propulsion system based on nitrous oxide. These propulsion systems will be used for station keeping, constellation management and deorbiting of small satellites. The work was initially funded in part by the Canadian Space Agency.