Space Flight Laboratory: Microsatellite Systems

Associate Professor R. E. Zee
University of Toronto
Institute for Aerospace Studies
4925 Dufferin St., Ontario, Canada M3H 5T6

Phone: +1-416-667-7864
Fax: +1-416-667-7799
Email: rzee (at_sign)


  • Ph.D. – University of Toronto
  • M.A.Sc. – University of Toronto
  • B.A.Sc. – University of Waterloo

Research Overview

The Space Flight Laboratory (SFL) is Canada’s premier microspace organization. SFL builds low-cost microsatellites and nanosatellites that continually push the performance envelope. Missions are typically developed with stringent attitude control and data requirements that are striking relative to the budget available. SFL’s credits include: MOST, Canada’s first space telescope; CanX-2, a technology demonstrator and atmospheric science satellite; NTS, a ship-tracking satellite developed in only six months and launched in the seventh; and AISSat-1, a three-axis controlled satellite developed to provide ship-tracking for the Norwegian Defense Research Establishment. SFL arranges launches through its Nanosatellite Launch Service (NLS) and provides customizable separation systems called “XPODs” for those launches. As part of its complete end-to-end mission capabilities, SFL maintains a mission control center consisting of multiple ground stations.

In addition to developing next generation missions and conducting research and development in disruptive space technologies, SFL trains graduate students through hands-on, practical experience in developing real space missions. Students are able to obtain experience they wouldn’t otherwise receive this early in their careers, giving them a unique advantage when they graduate and move on to industry or academia. Within the time it takes to complete a Master’s degree, students receive complete development cycle training, from mission conception through to launch and on-orbit operations, working side-by-side with SFL’s professional staff. The experience is multi-disciplinary, resulting in versatile engineering graduates that are always in high demand.

At present, SFL operates three satellites from its mission control center, MOST, CanX-2, and NTS, and supports operations for AISSat-1. Each satellite represents an advance in the field and has broken barriers relative to what small satellites can do. The 53-kilogram MOST satellite was launched in June 2003 and continues to operate well beyond its one year operational requirement. It is a space astronomy satellite that has made numerous scientific discoveries related to solar-type stars and exoplanets. CanX-2 is Canada’s smallest operational satellite and is the size of a milk carton. It is among the smallest scientific satellites in the world and features three-axis attitude stabilization. Nanosatellite Tracking of Ships (NTS), a 6.5-kilogram satellite and an outstanding success, was built in six months and launched together with CanX-2 in April 2008 to demonstrate leading edge ship detection technology from space. . AISSat-1 was launched in July 2010 to provide an unparalleled capability to monitor maritime traffic in Norwegian territorial waters in real time

Many more nanosatellite missions have been built or are under development, and they will be launched by SFL over the next several years.