IU3. Committee on Space Research (COSPAR)

Update to the Report to the 2005 IUPAP General Assembly


The Committee on Space Research (COSPAR) was established by the International Council for Science in 1958, at the beginning of the space age, as an interdisciplinary scientific organization, with the focus on the progress of all kinds of research carried out with the use of space means (including balloons). It will thus celebrate its 50 th anniversary in 2008.

COSPAR's objectives are to promote on an international level scientific research in space, with emphasis on the exchange of results, information and opinions, and to provide a forum, open to all scientists, for the discussion of problems that may affect scientific space research. These objectives are achieved through the organization of biennial Scientific Assemblies, publications and other means.

COSPAR has 44 national institution members and 13 Scientific Union members. From the point of view of IUPAP, COSPAR is a highly physics based organization. Most of the scientists present have a background in the discipline either as Physicists or Applied Physicists. Sensor technology and indeed spacecraft performance (pointing, positioning, thermal response, stability etc.) all rely heavily on physics as an underlying discipline. Much of the physics addressed by COSPAR is Earth sciences (including effectively all the disciplines of geophysics undertaken by remote means), astrophysics, planetary physics, space plasma physics as well as life, material and fundamental science in space.

COSPAR is a very effective body in bringing together practitioners in the various disciplines of space research and from a large number of countries. Its Scientific Assemblies provide an excellent forum for scientists to describe current activities, to learn about other space science programs, and to engage in cooperation with international colleagues. They permit space scientists to learn about activities relating to both their own area of specialty and to those from other overlapping disciplines. 

COSPAR which is the only pan-national organization devoted to discussing the broad spectrum of space research activities, is expected to continue to play a useful role in defining and coordinating the direction of space research in the future.  In a world where space activities are dominated by a few large countries or regions, COSPAR’s role is particularly relevant for countries with intermediate and small programs to develop their interests and plans.

For more details see COSPAR’s web site:

Scientific Assemblies

COSPAR held its most recent (36 th) Scientific Assembly in Beijing, China in July 2006. A total of 2407 persons participated in the Assembly. 80 scientific events, covering all branches of space research, were scheduled, with interdisciplinary lectures, a Space Agency Round Table and two special lunch presentations interspersed. The public had the opportunity to attend three lectures presented in Chinese. There was also a specific student program. The COSPAR Space Science Award went to Eberhard Gruen and Akihiro Nishida. A number of other awards, some joint with other Academies of Sciences or space agencies, were also bestowed. It was announced that COSPAR had sponsored an initiative, endorsed by ESA and NASA, to have the landing site of the Huygens probe on Titan named after Hubert Curien, who contributed, as President of CNES, of the ESA Council and as French Minister of Research and Space, greatly to science and space research.

The next (37 th) Scientific Assembly will be take place in Montreal, Canada on 13-20 July 2008. The scientific program will again be structured in oral and dedicated poster sessions. The successful morning interdisciplinary lectures will be continued, and business meetings held in the evenings to meet the demands for more discussion time. The student program will be significantly expanded. The aim is to bring 65 students to Montreal, a threefold increase compared to the previous two Assemblies. The students also will benefit from a ‘value-added’ program.

The 2008 Assembly will include a celebration of the 50th anniversary of COSPAR. The objective of a half day of high level presentations will be to highlight the importance of space research and international cooperation over the past fifty years and how they will continue to inspire challenging and beneficial science activities for the future of humanity.

The 38th COSPAR Scientific Assembly will be held in Bremen, Germany on 18-25 July 2010 and the 39th Assembly in Mysore, India in 2012.

Recent activities

COSPAR has undergone a process of ‘Reflection on its Future’. This self-examination was carried out as a means of exploring what COSPAR has done well in the past and where COSPAR should be going in the future at a moment when major changes on the international space science scene are occurring or are expected.

COSPAR's vision or mission in the next years will be to ‘expand the knowledge frontier of space for the benefit of humankind’. As one of the outcomes of this reflection process, a COSPAR Scientific Advisory Committee (CSAC) has been formed to pursue this broad vision and to monitor progress. The scope of the CSAC is broad, focusing on essential issues of space science and society. CSAC will report to the Bureau. Its mandate, loosely defined, is:

  • to review the evolution of space research and the international context over the time frame of twenty years,
  • to compile the visions of the main space organizations,
  • to advise COSPAR how to best fulfill its mission and respond to the needs of the science community and of society,
  • to analyze and suggest new approaches to international cooperation, and
  • to analyze the way COSPAR executes its vision and suggest improvements /modifications to its structure and the possible setting-up of new tools.

The CSAC membership is comprised of the COSPAR President, Vice Presidents, a small number of distinguished invitees, the Scientific Commission (SC) Chairs, and representatives from ICSU and UNESCO. The presence of the SC chairs recognizes the preeminence of science in COSPAR and responds to the need, identified in the reflection process, to improve communication between Commissions and the Bureau. ICSU participation will, it is hoped, help to improve understanding between COSPAR and its parent body. The ICSU member is considered to represent many of the organizations with which COSPAR deals, not least of which are the Committee's Scientific Union members.

Space agencies represent the ‘executive arm’ of space research. Therefore, it is essential that agencies are interested in COSPAR activities. Agencies also benefit from COSPAR, e.g. planetary protection guidelines, models, standards, etc. The process of reviewing the common interests between COSPAR and space agencies was reinforced by the organization at the Beijing Assembly of the Space Agency Round Table at which agencies had the opportunity to present their strategies and plans. In view of plans for lunar missions by a variety of countries, COSPAR will set up a Panel on Exploration that could provide consensual views of the international scientific community as guidelines for future activities.

In recent years, COSPAR’s program of Capacity Building has been considerably extended. A series of regional workshops were organized in Brazil (astronomy), India (astronomy), China (magnetospheric physics), South Africa (astronomy) and Morocco (space oceanography) in 2001 to 2005. In 2007 two workshops were held: the first one in Romania on Solar-Terrestrial Interactions and the second one in Uruguay on Planetary Science. All workshops were co-sponsored and financially supported by member Scientific Unions. Future regional workshops are planned in Egypt on Space Astrophysics (January 2008), in Malaysia on Space Optical and UV Astronomy (May 2008) and in China on Lunar and Planetary Surface Science (September 2009).

Encouraging results came out of a questionnaire, sent to participants two years after the Brazil workshop, to evaluate the long-term benefits of participation to students and, indeed, society. Amongst those responding (50%), all regarded the workshop as having been valuable for their careers. The Capacity Building program is planned to be continued and, if financially feasible, further expanded.

One of the goals of the Committee’s Panel on Capacity Building (PCB) is to develop workshops that can be held in several areas of the world in order to extract the most benefit from them. To date International Scientific Union partners include the IAU, URSI, IUGG/IAGA, and ISPRS. COSPAR is open to considering other partners and topics in an effort to cover all disciplines represented in COSPAR. The PCB also made efforts to build relationships with United Nations Office of Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA), United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the Academy of Sciences for the Developing World (TWAS) and other organizations that benefit space scientists from developing countries. In addition, the PCB is charged with addressing more broadly relevant North-South issues and thought will be given to how to ensure participation by developing country scientists in the Assemblies. Efforts are also underway to promote improving coordination and cooperation among various international and intergovernmental organizations that have their own capacity building programs in space science and technology.

Possible ways for IUPAP involvement in COSPAR activities in the
near-term future are: award nominations (next round due 30 November 2007), nomination of officers to be elected in 2008, proposals or co-sponsorship of future capacity building workshop, co-sponsorship of the Scientific Assembly 2008 with a modest contribution to the grants program which provides partial support to young and developing country scientists.


COSPAR maintains various means of communication with the scientific community and its wider membership. COSPAR’s web address is given above. Advances in Space Research (ASR) is the flagship for the COSPAR community. It is now a completely open and fully refereed journal covering all areas of space research. Space Research Today is a key tool in communication of information within the COSPAR community. This information bulletin provides COSPAR Associates and others with articles on current topics in space research by practitioners in the field, regular information on meetings, COSPAR and space-related news and other topics of interest to the community. It is issued three times a year.

Peter Wenzel, IUPAP liaison to COSPAR
November 2007

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