The IAU is inviting Proposals to Establish an IAU Coordination Centre

Press Release

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The International Astronomical Union (IAU) invites proposals to establish an IAU Coordination Centre for the Protection of Dark and Quiet Skies. The centre will foster the development of tools and procedures that can mitigate satellite constellations in astronomy. It will also negotiate directly with space companies and industries. Interested institutes or organisations can, individually or in partnerships, submit proposals to host the centre.

The IAU remains deeply concerned about the increasing number of launched and planned satellite launches and constellations in low-Earth orbits. This is consequent upon its mission to promote and safeguard astronomy in all aspects through international cooperation. Furthermore, the IAU embraces the principle of a dark and radio-quiet sky as essential to advancing our understanding of the Universe.

Context of the Call for Proposal

The work protecting the astronomical sky from artificial interference has taken place in Commissions and Working Groups. Some of these groups include the Executive Committee Working Group Dark and Quiet Sky Protection. Furthermore, the protection of the dark and quiet sky has recently become an acute issue with the advent of prominent constellations of communication satellites in low Earth orbit (LEO). This new threat consequently adds to those represented by artificial light at night (ALAN) and the interference by transmission at radio wavelengths, which have become increasingly severe due to technological advancements.

The Report of the online Workshop Dark and Quiet Skies for Science and Society thoroughly analysed the overall situation. The Report contained several recommendations for possible mitigation actions. Furthermore, It highlighted that the types of interference caused by satellite constellations are substantially different from other types of interference. In addition, they affect astronomical observations globally rather than locally. This thus ensures it requires mitigation measures that can be agreed upon and implemented worldwide.

The Report is a cornerstone of the necessary international actions to protect the skies; an executive summary, in the form of a Conference Room Paper, was presented to the 58th meeting of the Scientific and Technical Sub-Committee (STSC) of the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS). The STSC agreed on the relevance and urgency of the issue and thus encouraged UNOOSA, in collaboration with the IAU, to continue the discussion with all stakeholders and to report its findings to the next STSC meeting in 2022.

The IAU will continually pursue actions at the UN level. These actions aim to obtain internationally agreed regulations governing the characteristics of prominent satellite constellations. Furthermore, the IAU sees benefit in coordinating a parallel effort aimed at negotiating directly with the space companies and industries. In addition, fostering the development of tools and procedures that can mitigate the impact of satellite constellations are beneficial.

Satellite constellations are creating new challenges for observational astronomy. Furthermore, meeting these challenges calls for controlling the source of interference and developing innovative observing and data analysis procedures. Tackling this complex problem is well beyond the capability of an IAU Commission or even of a single observatory or institution, particularly given that the impact concerns both the optical and radio domains. However, the experience gained by the Dark and Quiet Skies for Science and Society Workshop organisation shows that an internationally coordinated effort is possible and can also produce concrete results in a reasonably short time.

Considering all the above, the Executive Committee of the IAU, in its 105th Meeting on 22 April 2021, approved the establishment of an International Coordination Centre for the Protection of Dark and Quiet Skies. Thus, using a procedure similar to that used for the constitution of the other IAU Offices, this Call for Proposals will determine the centre’s location. Additionally, the IAU expects that an existing institute or organisation of excellence, or a partnership thereof, with proven experience in international cooperation, will host the centre. Therefore, IAU invites interested institutes or organisations, individually or in partnerships, to submit proposals to host the centre.

The Missions of the Centre

  • Coordinate the observation and measurement of the optical and radio interference caused by satellite constellations.
  • Establish contacts with the space companies and industries involved in constructing and deploying LEO satellites to discuss relevant mitigation measures.
  • Foster and coordinate the study and testing of hardware solutions aimed at reducing reflected sunlight by the satellites and spurious radio emission in the side-lobes of the satellite transmitters.
  • Interface with space agencies to get access to accurate and up-to-date orbital parameters of all LEO satellites.
  • Coordinate the development of “smart” scheduling and detector operation software and specific artefact removal algorithms and distribute them.
  • Provide suggestions for possible international regulations governing LEO satellites to the IAU Officers in support of their pursuing the matter at the COPUOS level.
  • Maintain regular contact on matters of common interest with the other IAU Offices (OAD, OAO, OYA, OAE).
  • Create and maintain a dedicated set of web pages under iau.org for disseminating information about the protection of dark and quiet skies from satellite interference.
  • Organise thematic workshops (online and in-person) as needed.
  • Proposals should include at least the following elements:
    • Identification of the proposer entity (name, type of organisation, location, country);
    • Statement of interest in hosting the centre;
    • Indication of resources (personnel, infrastructural and financial) to be made available for hosting the centre, and what contribution is expected from the IAU;
    • Executive summary of the main programmatic lines and goals proposed for the centre’s activity for five years;

Proposed Timeline for Establishing the Centre.

The IAU Executive Committee will appoint an evaluation committee that will select the centre’s host. Consequently, after the selection, the IAU and the selected host will negotiate to draft an MoU. The MoU will consequently be signed by both parties. The centre will stand established for an initial period of five years, renewable upon review. Proposals by a consortium of coordinated entities are encouraged. In addition, IAU prefers that the timeline for the establishment of the centre is prompt.

Deadlines and Evaluation Timeline

  • 10 September 2021, 12:00 pm CEST: Proposals (preferably < 25 000 characters) should be received by Assistant General Secretary José Miguel Rodriguez Espinosa 
  • 1 October 2021: Completing phase 1 of the evaluation process, the shortlist of candidates identified, the negotiation begins.
  • 30 November 2021: MoU between the IAU and the selected host signed. 

Contacts

Piero Benvenuti
Email: piero.benvenuti@unipd.it 

José Miguel Rodriguez Espinosa
Assistant General Secretary
Email: IAU_AGS@iap.fr 

Lars Lindberg Christensen
IAU Press Officer
Cell: +49 173 38 72 621
Email: lars.christensen@noirlab.edu