Canadian Manufacturing

University of Toronto to sell micro satellites

The university's Institute of Aerospace Studies is building more small satellites than any other organization in Canada.

TORONTO—The University of Toronto is hoping to cash in on the growing demand for micro-space technology by selling more of the small satellites it makes at its flight laboratory.

Some mini-satellites—the size of a suitcase or even smaller—have already been sold to countries such as Norway, Australia and Poland. They start at $600,000 and can fetch more than $3 million.

Project manager Grant Bonin says the lab at the university’s Institute of Aerospace Studies is building more small satellites than any other organization in Canada.

“They’re cheaper and faster than big spacecraft,” Bonin told about 70 delegates at the annual conference of the Canadian Space Commerce Association.

Bonin said more business opportunities lie ahead and that there are about a dozen spacecraft in various stages of development.

“These are very miniaturized spacecraft whose purposes are everywhere from astronomy to telecommunications to ship tracking.”

He pointed out that the Canadian Space Agency has limited funds and can do only so much.

The agency is currently awaiting government approval of its long-term space plan, but it’s expected to be further delayed if a federal election is called.

Josh Dore, the agency’s technology development manager, says the 10-year space plan is “stuck in Ottawa,” but adds he’s optimistic it will see the light of day.

He told the conference the big word at the agency is “sovereignty”—which translates into keeping an eye on the Canadian North.

Arctic sovereignty was also the main topic of discussion during a video conference with Maj. Marc Fricker, a lecturer at Royal Military College in Kingston, Ont.

“We’re claiming that all of this acreage is ours and yet we’d be very hard-pressed to survey it, let alone protect it,” he said.

Fricker discussed the Canadian military’s space defence program, saying it wanted to have its own access to space and did not want to continue to rely on the Americans or the Russians.

He told the conference that “we are interested in building our own rocket”‘ and even gave a brief glimpse of a concept vehicle during his power-point presentation.

Keynote speaker Joshua Brost, the business development manager for SpaceX, talked about the California-based company’s Falcon 9 rocket.

The rocket blasted into space last December with its “Dragon” capsule on top, making SpaceX the first commercial company in history to have a spacecraft return from orbit.

The Dragon, which was designed to carry humans and small satellites, could eventually lift American astronauts into space.

“We believe with NASA funding we can do it in as little as three years,” Brost said in an interview. “And if we don’t get NASA funding, I think at some point, we’ll do it ourselves.”

Brost also said that to his knowledge, SpaceX had not been talking to other countries that may be interested in using the Dragon capsule for their astronauts. The CSA is using the Falcon rocket to launch one of its satellites.

The Canadian Space Agency’s 2009 annual report on the state of the country’s space sector says it generated more than $3 billion in revenue that year—a slight increase over 2008.

The Canadian space sector involves more than 200 firms which employ about 7,500 people in all.

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