Doug Sinclair’s Customers Get Custom Made Reaction Wheels, Torque Rods from His
— In an era of company mergers and standardization in the space industry, there is the occasional engineer or scientist who finds it possible to survive by making one satellite part at a time without the help of a large staff.
Doug Sinclair is one of them.
From his basement in Toronto Sinclair has been building magnetic torque rods since 2001 and over time has added digital sun sensors and reaction wheels to his portfolio.
Most recently, CanX-2, the second nanosatellite in the Canadian Advanced NanospaceeXperiment led by the
‘s Institute for Aerospace Studies, Space Flight Laboratory, was launched in April with one of his reaction wheels.
“I don’t often build the same thing twice,” Sinclair said, noting a trend toward mass produced torque rods and sun sensors as large constellations of tiny satellites are built. “I’m basically doing [research and development] on my own nickel.”
Freedom is worth the price to Sinclair, who enjoys working at home and even sneaking in an occasional afternoon nap, while managing to deliver components to customers in about nine months.
“One of the benefits of working for myself is you don’t have to justify spending money. The downside is [research and development] comes out of my rent money,” he said.
Sinclair earned his bachelor of science in aerospace engineering from the
and his masters in satellite engineering from the
. Before striking out on his own, he spent three years at Dynacon Inc. of
, where he worked on
‘s first space telescope called MOST for Microvariability and Oscillations of Stars, the microwheels for
‘s Federation Satellite research microsatellite and NASA’s Cosmic Hot Interstellar Plasma Spectrometer.
He launched his business, Sinclair Interplanetary, at the 2001 Small Satellite Conference in
, which he attends annually in August. It is the only conference his tight travel budget will allow.
After winning his first study contract from the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) in 2001, Sinclair sold his first three torque rods.
“It didn’t bring me to greatness but brought me to people’s attention,” Sinclair said.
Contracts followed, including an order from the
‘s Space Flight Laboratory for a reaction wheel, and another from the Canadian Space Agency for a larger reaction wheel, which Sinclair said he delivered in six months.
With each new order for a satellite component, Sinclair has been able to balance his books. His marketing plan consists of posting data sheets and his research papers on his Web site and displaying as much hardware as he can carry to the annual Small Satellites conference.
Sinclair taps the technological advances tied to tiny, low-power chips used in cell phones and MP3s for his own engineering work. He said his nine-month production schedule allows him to incorporate the latest technology into his sun sensor and reaction wheels.
“My components are unique. Because I’m so fast to market, I’m using the very latest technology,” Sinclair said. “Most other space organizations take five years from concept to market and by then the technology is old.”
The downside to running a one-man operation, building one component at a time, is not being able to participate in a program from start to finish.
“If I was head of a big company I could drive the whole picture,” Sinclair said. “I’m fighting very hard the urge to just grow the company. I like the lifestyle of a small company.”