Monday, October 14, 2013

SCISAT-1 is Ten Years Old

SCISAT badge listing collaborative institutions. Badge c/o CSA .

          by Sarah Manea

After the successful completion of its initial mission eight years ago, the Canadian built Scientific Satellite 1 (SCISAT-1) remains operational and recently celebrated its 10th year of service. The small satellite is used as a means of studying ozone depletion and general atmospheric composition.

On board, SCISAT-1 has many important atmospheric analyzing components, the most important being an optical Fourier transform infrared spectrometer (ACE-FTS Instrument) and an ultraviolet spectrophotometer (MAESTRO). Analysis of the chemical elements in the atmosphere can be done through recording the spectra of the sun as sunlight passes through the atmosphere.

This relatively small, drum shaped satellite, weighing 150kg, with a diameter and depth of 5 feet, was designed, built, and operated by the Canadian Space Agency (CSA). SCISAT was sent into lower Earth orbit by a Pegasus rocket, on August 12, 2003, from Vandenberg Air Force Base. The total estimated cost of the development of SCISAT was approximately $60Mln CDN.

Stratospheric ozone is destroyed by many industrial activities on Earth, particularly above the Antarctic, every year. Average ozone levels have dropped by 6% above Canada, with 20-40% depletion over the Artic. SCISAT observations have helped with many scientific studies and have led to a greater understanding of the effects of these industrial human activities (such as aerosol particles) on the overall climate of the Earth. Its frequent path over the Artic helps with the close monitoring of the ozone holes, and allows scientists to get a closer than ever look at the reason behind the ozone depletion.
Originally expected to run between 2-5 years, it has long surpassed the mission requirements, and is still one of the more important remote-sensing missions in understanding Earth’s lower atmosphere. It has proven to be effective in comparison to other methods of research and data capturing, in places too high to be reached with the average weather balloon, and too low to be reached by orbiting satellites. Because it is continuing to function extremely well, SCISAT is now moving past its original task of gathering ozone related data, to also aid in the studies of the effects of climate change due to pollution.

The design, testing and experimentation of this revolutionary satellite were due to the collaborations of several Canadian universities and scientific institutions, such as The University of Toronto, the University of Waterloo, and York University, which will be celebrating the 10th anniversary of the first data download from the satellite this month.

Sarah Manea is an aspiring astrophysicist, currently completing a specialist in physics and astronomy at the University of Toronto.


  1. Sarah --- thanks for taking note of SciSat reaching 10 years operating successfully in space. Definitely a noteworthy achievement!

    However, when you wrote that SciSat "was designed, built, and operated by the Canadian Space Agency (CSA)," you weren't being accurate. SciSat is indeed operated by CSA, and CSA did act as prime contractor for the overall SciSat system, and was involved in the design of the satellite at the instrument-definition and system level; Glen Rumbold and Vic Wehrle at CSA were the program manager and FTS instrument and science managers.

    However, note that the satellite bus was designed and built by Bristol Aerospace (now part of Magellan Aerospace), led by Ian Walkty. The ACE-FTS instrument was designed and built by an ABB team led by Marc-Andre Soucy, under the guidance of University of Waterloo Principal Investigator Peter Bernath. And the MAESTRO instrument was built by a team led by Tom McElroy at Environment Canada. The kudos for the longevity of the equipment belong largely with them.

    A nice recognition of that team's achievements was their being awarded CASI's Alouette in 2009. The award citation ( provides further details.

    Another name that should be recognized in this regard is Barry Payne, who was the director of Bristol's Space Business Unit in the years leading up to the start of the SciSat program. Barry campaigned tirelessly for years in the 1990s to convince the CSA to start flying small satellites; while he retired from Bristol just before the SciSat project finally got underway, I believe that it's largely because of his efforts that SciSat became a reality.

    - Kieran A. Carroll

  2. Hi Kieran and Sarah,

    Excellent summary. The team did great work. I'd also like to note the CALTRAC(TM) star tracker that was designed and built by EMS Technologies (now COM DEV Ltd.), also the prime contractors on the MAESTRO instrument.

    Al Scott.


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