Astrophysics and Heliophysics with CubeSats and SmallSats
(first rough draft workshop proposal)

Workshop (to be proposed) for the 237th meeting of the American Astronomical Society
Phoenix, Arizona, Saturday/Sunday, January 2/3, 2021, 8:00 am – 5:00 PM

Russell Genet, Office of Research, California Polytechnic State Univ.,


Astrophysics: Michael Garcia, Astrophysics Division, Science Mission Directorate, NASA Headquarters
Heliophysics: Heliophysics person to be determined
Ultraviolet: Evgenya Shkolnik, School of Earth and Space Exploration, Arizona State University
Infrared: Duncan Farrah, Dept. of Physics and Astronomy, University of Hawaii


CubeSat Astronomy in the 2020s workshop, American Astronomical Society,

Honolulu, Hawaii, January 4, 2020

Given the success of the Honolulu AAS workshop, a follow-on workshop is being proposed for the Phoenix AAS meeting on Saturday/Sunday, January 2/3, 2021. The first day will describe dedicated astronomical “niche” CubeSats and SmallSats that are already in orbit or under development as well as pertinent space telescope technology advancement programs. The workshop will then take what we learned during the first day to inform the second day which will explore the design and operation of future fleets of modest aperture, general-purpose telescopes that could be used by a broad spectrum of users for a wide range of astronomical research (both imaging and spectroscopy) in the UV and IR.

What science could be accomplished with such space telescope fleets? How could we meet the three prerequisites for achieving low cost: (1) reusable launch vehicles, (2) volume production of space telescopes fleets, and (3) total automation of both the telescopes and entire observational process? If all three of these prerequisites could be met, then—similar to observations currently being made with networks of ground-based robotic telescopes—observing time costs could be so low that access would be available to all researchers: professional astronomers and their graduate students, undergraduate and high school students, and citizen scientists.

Networks of ground-based, modest aperture, general purpose, totally automated, robotic optical wavelength telescopes, such as the Las Cumbres Observatory (LCO) global network, can be a guide to what we might expect to gain from fleets of somewhat similar UV and IR telescopes in space. LCO specializes in time series photometric and spectroscopic follow up observations of interesting objects identified by larger ground and space survey telescopes. The few (and expensive) survey telescopes take discovery “snapshots” while the numerous (and low cost) networks or fleets of smaller telescope make follow-up “movies” of interesting objects. Future fleets of small UV and IR space telescopes would complement and could be integrated with the growing robotic networks of visible ground telescopes.

Second day sessions will include: lessons from ground networks, scientific research programs, fleet launches and orbits, standard buses, production telescope optics, standard instrumentation for UV and IR, total automation, and developing both provider and user communities of practice.