Final Investigations Selected for GDC

The final two investigations for the Geospace Dynamics Constellation mission—or GDC—have been selected. NASA recently announced that the Thermal Plasma Sensor (TPS)—led by Phillip Anderson from the University of Texas, Dallas, and the Near Earth Magnetometer Instrument in a Small Integrated System (NEMISIS)—led by Mark Moldwin from the University of Michigan, will join the GDC mission and deliver instruments for integration on the GDC spacecraft. Learn more.

By Denise Hill
NASA Headquarters, Washington







Independent Review Board Makes Recommendations for GDC

An Independent Review Board under contract to NASA has completed its assessment of the overall architecture and technical concept for the Geospace Dynamics Constellation mission, or GDC. The Board’s report and NASA’s response have been published.

NASA asked the Independent Review Board to review GDC’s overall architecture and technical concept, focusing on three specific points:

  1. Are the scope, cost, and schedule understood and properly aligned?
  2. Is the management approach and structure adequate for a project of this scope and complexity?
  3. Are the GDC science team and the planned collaborations structured and focused to maximize the return on NASA’s investment, both scientifically and for potential contributions to national interests?

The Independent Review Board included experts from the scientific and technical communities who have deep experience with spaceflight missions and space weather activities. The assessment took just over three months and was performed via plenary sessions, subpanels, interviews, attendance at community meetings, and one-on-one interviews with project personnel and other key stakeholders.

View the full report and NASA’s response.


The Independent Review Board concluded that NASA’s implementation of GDC addresses the primary recommendations in the 2013–2022 Decadal Survey in Solar and Space Physics and is strongly supported by the heliophysics community and the broader national community of stakeholders.

The Independent Review Board also found that the unprecedented observations this mission will make will enhance our understanding of prevailing space weather conditions in the ionosphere-thermosphere system on local, regional, and global scales. These measurements will lead to improvements in ionosphere-thermosphere models that are foundational for better understanding of near-Earth space, as well as improve space weather prediction.


The Independent Review Board made 12 recommendations, which cover topics such as project cost and schedule, strategic communication, and inter-agency collaborations.

It determined the current budget for GDC does not support the mission’s schedule to be ready to launch in 2029 and is not sufficient for the mission’s scope. The Independent Review Board found the 2029 launch readiness date logistically viable, but without additional funding, the mission would have to wait until at least 2032 to launch, which would lead to additional costs. In order to reduce risk and uncertainty, it recommended GDC’s funding and phasing be corrected to better align with development plans.

Citing GDC’s importance to national interests and scientific advancements, it recommended increased coordination and collaboration with scientific and operational partners as part of a larger NASA strategy.

NASA’s response to these and the other recommendations can be found in the document linked above.

 NASA’s Response

The Independent Review Board’s report and NASA’s response to the recommendations have been published.

NASA’s Heliophysics Division also will hold a virtual town hall at 1 p.m. EDT, Monday, Oct. 24, where Division staff will provide the community with a status update, including discussions about the Decadal Survey for Solar and Space Physics (Heliophysics) 2024-2033 and other exciting endeavors, such as the Heliophysics Big Year. During the town hall, the Independent Review Board’s findings and recommendations for GDC, as well as NASA’s plans to address them, will be discussed.

Members of the science community, academia, media, and public are invited to join the discussion:

By Denise Hill
NASA Headquarters, Washington





Independent Review Board of GDC Architecture to Begin

On April 10, 2022, NASA chartered an Independent Review Board to review the overall architecture and technical concept for NASA’s Geospace Dynamics Constellation, or GDC – a mission to study how the giant magnetic bubble around Earth, the magnetosphere, interacts with Earth’s upper atmosphere.

NASA regularly uses such review boards to review strategic missions for robustness and to ensure maximum return on NASA’s investment.

GDC is a NASA Heliophysics mission that will observe the coupling between Earth’s magnetosphere and the ionosphere-thermosphere system – and how that coupled system responds to energy streaming in from the Sun and the rest of space. GDC will be the first mission to study these effects on a global scale by using a constellation of spacecraft that will allow for concurrent, multi-point observations.

The Independent Review Board is tasked with providing an assessment and recommendations that maximize the probability of mission success – scientifically and technically – as well as how best to enhance the larger NASA heliophysics portfolio. The board comprises experts in relevant science, technical, and programmatic fields and is expected to produce a final report and conclude its work around August 2022. Orlando Figueroa, retired deputy center director for science and technology at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and Maura E. Hagan, professor emeritus of physics at Utah State University in Logan, Utah, were selected as co-chairs to lead the board and together offer decades of experience in ionosphere-thermosphere system research and NASA program leadership.

Geospace Dynamics Constellation: Exploring the Heart of Space Weather

animated image of the Geospace Dynamics Constellation orbiting EARTH
Concept animation of Geospace Dynamics Constellation orbiting Earth through the upper atmosphere. Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/ULA/Pond5/Artbeats

The Geospace Dynamics Constellation mission – or GDC – is a team of satellites that will study Earth’s upper atmosphere and provide the first direct global measurements of our planet’s dynamic and complex interface with the space environment. This boundary between Earth’s atmosphere and space is called the ionosphere-thermosphere (I-T) system.

This mission will change our understanding of the structure and behavior of the I-T, specifically how it responds to energy input from the Sun and space environment above and the lower atmosphere below, and how it internally redistributes this energy on a global basis. The processes and dynamics active in this region are involved in many of the space weather effects we experience on Earth, such as disrupted communications and navigation signals, satellite orbit disruptions, and certain triggered power outages.

Using an array of sensors on each spacecraft, working together to gather comprehensive observations, GDC will explore the fundamental physics of this region, which is driven on all scales from minutes to years by a variety of external factors. The level of detail and resolution provided by this mission will give us an unprecedented understanding of the space environment surrounding our home planet and will grant us new insights into the fundamental dynamics of planetary atmospheres within the solar system and beyond.

GDC will also provide the first opportunity to study I-T physics on a range of scales from small (similar to thunderstorms), medium (similar to hurricanes), to global scales (similar to jet streams, polar vortices, etc.). The new and comprehensive measurements GDC will provide are critically needed to increase our understanding of the upper atmosphere and to understand this region as both a collection of distinct parts and a system that acts and reacts as a whole.  Ultimately, GDC’s science investigation will lead to improvements in our ability to specify and forecast space weather effects on a global basis.

The GDC mission is currently in formulation and NASA has started assembling the GDC science team with the selection of three GDC Interdisciplinary Scientists: Dr. Rebecca Bishop (The Aerospace Corporation), Professor Yue Deng (University of Texas, Arlington), and Professor Jeffrey Thayer (University of Colorado, Boulder). Each leads teams that will bring their own unique capabilities and contributions to the mission. In early 2022, NASA will select the rest of the science team and the instruments that will fly on the GDC spacecraft.

By Denise Hill
NASA Headquarters, Washington