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CubeSat Astronomy in the 2020s


Workshop during the 235th meeting of the American Astronomical Society
Honolulu, Hawaii, Saturday, January 4, 2020, 8:30 am – 5:00 pm
Room 301B, Hawaii Convention Center


Russell Genet, California Polytechnic State University, 805.438.3305,
Mary Knapp, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 617.715.5563,

Workshop Synopsis

Thanks to NASA’s support, an increasing number of CubeSat astronomical research telescopes are in orbit or under development. Over the coming decade, CubeSat astronomical research telescopes—thanks to likely advances in technology, commercial quantity production, and lower launch costs—should help create a synergistic balance between large and small space telescopes similar to what has already been achieved between large and small ground-based robotic telescopes.


Numerous, low-cost CubeSat telescopes could, for instance, not only enhance research opportunities for professional astronomers and their graduate students, but they could also open up research opportunities to undergraduate and high school students as well as citizen scientists. Technology advances over the next decade could provide totally autonomous CubeSat telescope operation, extend their wavelength coverage to the infrared and soft X-ray, and provide larger apertures.


The workshop was organized as four 90-minute sessions: (1) Introduction / Astronomy CubeSats in Orbit, (2) Astronomy CubeSats Under Development, (3) Future Expansion to Student and Citizen Science Research, and (4) Future Advances in CubeSat Telescope Technology. Each session consisted of 15-minute invited PowerPoint talks followed by a 15-minute Panel Discussion / Q&A. Session speakers were the panel members. There was also be two half-hour poster sessions with refreshments.


8:30 Session I: Introduction / Astronomy CubeSats in Orbit

The workshop will open with NASA’s summary of the current status and potential future of CubeSats and their larger SmallSats cousins. Astronomy CubeSats currently in orbit will then be described. 

8:30 Russ Genet (Cal Poly) and Mary Knapp (MIT), Call to Order and Announcements
8:40 Kevin Iott, PlaneWave Instruments, Welcome from the Workshop’s Sponsor
8:45 Michael Garcia, Science Mission Directorate NASA Headquarters, NASA Astrophysics CubeSats and SmallSats: Current and Future Prospects
9:00 Vanessa Bailey, Jet Propulsion Lab, Arcsecond Space Telescope Enabling Research in Astrophysics (ASTERIA)
9:15 Christopher Moore, Harvard-Smithsonian CfA, The Miniature X-ray Solar Spectrometer (MinXSS) CubeSats
9:30 Daniel LaRocca, University of Iowa, HaloSat: Searching for a Hot Baryon Gas Galactic Halo
9:45 Panel discussion Q&A / Moderator: Knapp / Panel members: Garcia, Bailey, Moore, and LaRocca

10:00: Morning Poster Discussions (30 minutes with refreshments)

10:30 Session II: Astronomy CubeSats Under Development

The success of ASTERIA and other astronomy CubeSats in orbit has sparked a second generation of astronomy CubeSats currently under development.

10:30 Kevin France, Univ. of Colorado, Boulder, The Colorado Ultraviolet Transit Experiment (CUTE): Exploring Extreme Exoplanets
10:45 Paul Goldsmith, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, COSMMIC - CO Surveyor using an MMIC Low Noise Receiver on a CubeSat
11:00 Paul Scowen, Arizona State University, Star-Planet Activity Research CubeSat (SPARCS)
11:15 Mary Knapp, MIT Haystack Observatory, Low-Frequency Radio Observations
11:30 Jeremy Perkins, NASA Goddard SFC, BurstCube: A CubeSat for Gravitational Wave Counterparts
11:45 Panel discussion Q&A / Moderator: Knapp / Panel members: France, Goldsmith, Scowen, and Perkins.

12:00 Lunch (90 minutes)

Session III: Future Expansion to Student and Citizen Science Research

Looking toward a future when astronomy CubeSats will be plentiful, low in cost, and highly capable, we should then be able to extend their use in research from professional astronomers and their graduate students, to undergraduate and high school students as well as citizen scientists.

1:30 Russell Genet, California Polytechnic State University, Robotic Telescopes and Student Research
1:45 Beatrice Millar, Stanford Online High School, Citizen Science with Stanford Online High School
2:00 Rachel Freed, Institute for Student Astronomical Research, Student Astronomical Research - Filling the Void with CubeSats
2:15 Jonathan Arenberg, Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems, Stella Splendida: Building the science and engineering workforce of the 21st Century
2:30 Marc Kuchner, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Building the NASA Citizen Science Community
2:45 Robert Zellem, JPL, and Quinn Perian and Sujay Nair, Stanford Online High School, Exoplanet Transit Timing Initiative
3:00 Panel discussion Q&A / Moderator: Genet / Panel members: Millar, Freed, Arenberg, Kuchner, Zellem, Perian, and Nair

3:15 Afternoon Poster Discussions (30 minutes with refreshments)

3:45 Session IV: Future Advances in CubeSat Telescope Technology

For future constellations of astronomy CubeSats to be affordable, they will need to operate autonomously. Larger apertures and extension of their spectral coverage into the infrared and soft X-rays would increase their scientific value.

3:45 Rashied Amini, Jet Propulsion Lab, Making CubeSats Autonomous - the Easy Way
4:00 Gurmehar Singh, Stanford Online High School, CubeSat Radio Interferometry Space Telescope Array: CRISTA
4:15 Duncan Farrah, University of Hawaii, Extending CubeSat telescopes into the infrared
4:30 David Allred, Brigham Young University, Mirror coatings for EUV and soft X-Ray imaging
4:45 Panel discussion Q&A / Moderator: Genet / Panel members: Amini, Singh, Farrah, Allred, and Sheikh

5:00 Adjourn


Stanford Online High School Student Posters
Photometric Effects on Astrometry of Close Double Stars, Ryan Caputo, Caroline Wiess, and Kalée Tock

Z-Factor: An Escape-Velocity Metric for Assessing the Likelihood of Gravitational Relationship Between Stars, Zach Haarz and Kalée Tock

Freshening Exoplanet Transit Midpoints, Quinn Perian, Sujay Nair, and Kalée Tock

High-Altitude Ballooning with Stanford Online High School, Kalée Tock

Using Machine Learning to Analyze Pulsar Plots, Gurmehar Singh and Beatrice Millar

Other Posters
Understanding the High-Energy Radiation Emission of Low-Mass Stars: Constructing Stellar Models Using SPARCS Photometry, Sarah Peacock (1), Travis Barman (2), Evgenya Shkolnik (3), David Ardila (4), Matthew Beasley (5), Judd Bowmane (3), Johnathan Gamaunt (3), Dawn Gregory (6), Valentin Ivanitski (6), Daniel Jacobs (3), Logan Jensen (3), April Jewell (4), Joe Llama (7), Victoria Meadows (8), Shouleh Nikzad (9), Mary Osmond Juelfse (3), Tahina Ramiaramanantsoa (3), Paul Scowen (3), Nathaniel Struebele (3), Mark Swain (4)
(1) University of Arizona, (2) Lunar and Planetary Lab, University of Arizona, (3) Arizona State University, (4) Jet Propulsion Laboratory, (5) Southwest Research Institute, (6) AZ Space Technologies, (7) Lowell Observatory, (8) University of Washington

Battery-Powered In-Space Reflective Coating Technology, David Sheikh, ZeCoat Corporation

Stanford Online High School Students Giving Presentations

Stanford Online High School students giving presentations (left to right):

Beatrice Millar, Elias Koubaa, Gurmehar Singh, Quinn Perian, and Sujay Nair

University of Hawaii Undergraduate Student Participants

From left to right:

Keenan Lee, Spencer Young, Kevin Williams, and Jami Stout


1. Astronomy CubeSats in Orbit (left to right):

Michael Garcia, Vanessa Bailey, Daniel LaRocca, and Christopher Moore


2. Astronomy CubeSats Under Development (left to right):

Paul Goldsmith, Paul Scowen, Kevin France, and Jeremy Perkins

3. Future Expansion to Student and Citizen Science Research (left to right):

Beatrice Millar, Rachel Freed, Sujay Nair, Quinn Perian, Robert Zellem, Mark Kuchner, and Jonathan Arenberg


4. Future Advances in CubeSat Telescope Technology (left to right):

Gurmehar Singh, Duncan Farrah, Rashied Amini, and David Allred

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