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Closure of Ottawa space agency lab sad for workers but sign of changing times, experts say

Closure of Ottawa space agency lab sad for workers but sign of changing times, experts say
Closure of Ottawa space agency lab sad for workers but sign of changing times, experts say

The closure of a decades-old aerospace lab in Ottawa is a shock to workers but also a reflection of a changing industry, experts say.

On Friday, the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) confirmed that it will close the David Florida Laboratory (DFL) at the end of March 2025.

The laboratory was officially opened in 1972 in the Shirley’s Bay complex on Carling Avenue, on the city’s west side.

Work here included the Canadarm, known as Canada’s most famous technological achievement in robotics, and the guidance sensor for the James Webb Space Telescope.

Tyler Chamberlin, an associate professor at the University of Ottawa and a researcher in technology and innovation management, said the news of the closure is very disappointing.

“This facility has been a very important facility in the Canadian space sector for (more than) 50 years,” he said.

A lab like DFL is valuable because it provides space that can be rented to other companies and organizations, allowing ambitious companies to enter the expensive space industry, he said.

The space sector may sound futuristic, abstract and irrelevant, but the sector is closely linked to other important sectors, such as communications and defense, Chamberlin said.

A backup robotic hand for Canadarm2 was tested at the David Florida Laboratory in Ottawa in 2015. According to the Canadian Space Agency, the lab can conduct tests in temperatures ranging from –25 to 60 C.

The lab was working on the Canadarm, known as Canada’s most famous technological achievement in robotics. (Canadian Space Agency)

A laboratory for a bygone era, says expert

Michael Graham, founder and CEO of Space Simulation Services of Canada, which provides environmental simulation services to the satellite and space industries, said it’s “obviously sad” that people are losing their jobs.

However, he said, DFL was designed for an older era of space exploration with large, long-term projects.

Graham, who used to work at DFL, says the space sector has become increasingly commercial today, with private companies like his entering the industry and building their own facilities.

Michael Graham, a former DFL employee, is now the founder and CEO of Space Simulation Services of Canada. He says the lab was designed for an older era of space exploration, and now private companies like his are making their own facilities.

Michael Graham is a former DFL employee who is now the founder and CEO of Space Simulation Services of Canada. He says DFL was designed for an older era of space exploration. (Submitted by Michael Graham)

“I applaud CSA for making that decision,” he said. “That infrastructure was always designed for the old space program and it’s just changed, and I think it’s up to the industry to step up.”

Despite the looming closure, Chamberlin said the space industry “always needs government involvement (and) support by its very nature. It’s an expensive place to operate.”

As an example, Chamberlin cited one of the most successful private space entrepreneurs, Elon Musk, whose company SpaceX has a contract with the US government.

According to the union, the lab has been busy

The closure of DFL comes despite continued operations at the lab and is perceived as unfair by workers, said Richard Thibert, local president of the Union of Canadian Transportation Employees, which represents DFL workers.

“They don’t understand why the lab would close. They turned down work,” Thibert said. “I’m sure CSA could have found other ways to cut (costs) than by cutting a facility,”

The union hopes that its members will find new work with the government.

Other options for affected employees include a severance payment, Thibert added.