Graduate students design and build satellites for NASA and other clients

For Alexandre Florio (UTIAS MASc candidate), one of the most thrilling aspects of spacecraft design is that the team only has one chance to get the mission right. 

If your car breaks down on a road, you can go to an auto repair shop,” he says. “But if your satellite breaks down in space, you don’t have that option.”  

Florio is part of the Space Flight Laboratory (SFL), a team of graduate researchers and full-time engineers — led by Professor Robert Zee at the University of Toronto Institute for Aerospace Studies (UTIAS). The lab develops innovative, cost-effective small satellites for new and emerging applications worldwide.  

Since its inception in 1998, the team has launched 70 distinct micro- and nano-class satellites, with 26 additional projects currently under development or awaiting launch.    

The laboratory follows a ‘teaching-hospital’ model, where students not only learn through coursework and research, but also by engaging in demanding, real-world missions with critical applications for governments, companies and research institutions.  

“Students at SFL get to work in a tight-knit community with talented engineering professionals who are always supportive, sharing knowledge and providing feedback,” says Florio.  

“We are taught the fundamentals of spacecraft design and requirement definition. By having a great understanding of our spacecraft and the environment it’s going to be in, we can determine the necessary analyses and tests that must be performed to ensure mission success.”  

Read more: In this UTIAS lab, graduate students design and build satellites for NASA and other clients