Task Group on Establishing a Constellation of Small Satellites (TGCSS)


Baker, D. (USA), 2020 – 2024


Chandran, A. (Singapore), 2020 – 2024
von Steiger, R. (Switzerland, 2020 – 2024

Read the article An International Constellation of Small Spacecraft, appearing in the August 2020 issue of Space Research Today, number 208.

Terms of Reference

Background: The recent COSPAR Strategic Action Plan (adopted in March 2019) recommends:

As a demonstration of COSPAR’s value to its Members, and its importance in space research, COSPAR should explore the possibility of assembling an international consortium that will develop, launch, and acquire data from a constellation of small satellites. As always with COSPAR activities, participation in the consortium would be voluntary. The small satellites with instruments would need to be provided by Member nations, and there will need to be a major space agency(s) that facilitates launches and data collection. It will be important that the constellation yields useful and important data, so that each contributing nation can state that it is assisting in the solution of an important scientific problem. A particularly useful constellation would be one that measures the plasma conditions in the ionosphere, with sufficient measurement density to substantially improve space weather forecasts.

Further, The COSPAR Scientific Roadmap: Small Satellites for Space Science recommends:

COSPAR should facilitate a process whereby International Teams can come together to define science goals and rules for a modular, international small satellite constellation. The role of COSPAR is one of an honest broker, coordinating not funding. The results of an international effort to build small satellite constellations would be valuable for all participants and would be more valuable than the individual parts. COSPAR is in a position to help foster this international collaboration, creating a precedent for setting up community science in a very open way.

Purpose: Accordingly, a Task Group is established for the purpose of developing an actionable plan for implementing the recommendations of the COSPAR Strategic Action Plan and the COSPAR Scientific Roadmap on Small Satellites for Space Science. Specifically, the Task Group will:

  • Design, in reasonable detail, a constellation of small satellites that can measure the plasma conditions in the ionosphere, with sufficient measurement density to substantially improve space weather forecasts;
  • Specify the measurements required and likely instruments that must be carried on each spacecraft;
  • Specify the data rates and possible means for acquiring and analyzing the data, and making it available to improve space weather forecasts;
  • Determine which national space programs, or organizations would be willing and able to contribute a capable small satellite to the constellation;
  • Determine whether a major space agency or agencies would be willing and able to assist in the development, launch, and operations of the constellation;
  • Specify the permanent organization structure that will coordinate the development and operations of the constellation.

Further, the Task Group should coordinate its activities with the INSPIRE program, which aims to provide a constellation of Earth and space weather-observing satellites by offering university and industry partners opportunities for cutting-edge research in science and engineering. INSPIRE is a consortium of global space universities formed to advance space science and engineering, and can be a source of small satellites for the constellation.

Membership: The Task Group is chaired by Daniel Baker, and the membership drawn from the international community committed to and knowledgeable on the use of small satellites for the purpose of both encouraging international cooperation and making a meaningful contribution to solutions of problems that are important to humanity. A list of members can be found here.

Reporting: The Task Group is expected to work expeditiously and report results and recommendations at the COSPAR Scientific Assemblies.

Expressions of Interest

Following the announcement of the launch of the TGCSS initiative, COSPAR has received several Expressions of Interest from its national member institutions and international scientific unions. The current list of these expressions of interest is posted below in the order received and will be updated as new responses are forthcoming.

  • International Union of Biological Science (IUBS)
  • UK Space Agency (UKSA)
  • Chinese National Committee for COSPAR (CNCOSPAR) and National Space Science Center (NSSC)
  • Egypt’s Academy of Scientific Research and Technology (ASRT) and National Committee for Astronomy and Space Sciences (NCASS)
  • Czech Space Office (CSO)
  • Korea’s MIST and Space Weather Center (KSWC)
  • Russia’s Lomonosov Moscow State University
  • Spain’s Instituto de Astrofísica de Andalucía (IAA-CSIC), Instituto de Microelectrónica de Sevilla (IMSE-CNM-CSIC), and Aerospace Electronics Group (GranaSAT)
  • Taiwan National SPace Organization (NSPO)
  • Israel’s Ariel University, Ben Gurion University, Tel Aviv University, and one industrial company (NSLcomm)
  • India