2020 CubeSat Astronomy Workshop
CubeSat Astronomy in the 2020s
Sunday, January 5, 2020 / Honolulu, Hawaii
(immediately preceding the American Astronomical Society’s winter meeting)
Research supported by astronomical observations is most efficient when there is a synergistic balance between a few large telescopes and many smaller telescopes. The large telescopes are primarily utilized by professional astronomers and their graduate students, while the smaller telescopes are not only used by the professionals but also by many undergraduate students and citizen scientists. The smaller telescopes make the large telescopes more effective by providing time-series follow-up observations, by aiding in training the next generation of astronomers and instrumentalists, and by serving as test beds for new hardware and software.
The usefulness of small, ground-based research telescopes has, over the past few decades, been revolutionized through full automation and the production-line assembly of robotic telescopes with apertures up to 1.0 meter. Low-cost, easily accessed robotic telescopes are now used by many professional astronomers for numerous research projects. When combined into arrays or networks, robotic telescopes have enabled new approaches to astronomical research.
Robotic telescopes have also enabled the successful one-semester Astronomy Research Seminar that is now taught at a dozen undergraduate schools. Each student team, in a semester or less, writes a proposal, manages their own research, obtains and analyzes original data from a robotic telescope, writes a team paper, obtains an external review, submits their paper for publication, and gives a public PowerPoint presentation. Over the past decade, this seminar has produced 150 team papers with over 500 coauthors. Student research teams are supported by a community of practice that includes professional astronomers, educators, experienced citizen scientists, and the nonprofit Institute for Student Astronomical Research (InStAR). Many seminar graduates have obtained a scholarship as a result of their demonstrated research experience.
Over the coming decade, CubeSat astronomical research telescopes—thanks to likely advances in technology, commercial quantity production, and much lower launch costs—should help provide a synergistic balance between large and small space telescopes similar to what has already been achieved through small ground-based robotic telescopes. Numerous CubeSat telescopes could extend time-series follow-up observations beyond the visible wavelengths available from the ground into the infrared, ultraviolet, and other wavelengths that can only be observed with space telescopes. Not only could numerous CubeSat telescopes enhance research opportunities for professional astronomers and their graduate students, but they could also open up research opportunities to undergraduate students and citizen scientists, hopefully extending the Astronomy Research Seminar into space. Similar to ground robotic telescopes, arrays and networks of CubeSat telescopes could enable new approaches to research.
Thanks to NASA’s support, there are an increasing number of CubeSat astronomical research telescopes in orbit or under development. The CubeSat astronomy’s community of practice is growing. A one-day CubeSat Astronomy Workshop was recently held to provide those with an interest in CubeSat astronomy a convenient forum for talks and discussions (this workshop immediately followed the CubeSat Developer’s Workshop.
To provide another convenient forum for the CubeSat astronomy community, a one-day workshop, CubeSat Astronomy in the 2020s, will be held on Sunday, January 5, 2020, immediately preceding the American Astronomical Society’s annual winter meeting in Honolulu.