technology development will be crucial for meeting the needs for the program outlined in this report, including achieving the level of technology development and demonstration required before MREFC funding can be obtained for new major projects.
The types of high-risk, high-payoff technologies that can be transformative frequently take a large fraction of a decade to bring to the point of a convincing demonstration. An example of the kind of technological breakthrough that NSF is capable of enabling is adaptive optics with laser guide star technologies, which today improve the spatial resolution of ground-based images by factors of 20 to 50. The current outstanding performance of adaptive optics on 8- to 10-meter telescopes took more than a decade to achieve.
In view of the higher risk of potentially transformative technology development, one would expect ATI to have a substantial pipeline of projects under way with the realization that many will fail, but a few will succeed in dramatic fashion. In the decade from 1998 to 2008, ATI proposals had a somewhat higher rate of approval for funding than the average for NSF-AST, and the committee thinks that this is appropriate, given the great potential of new technologies for astronomy. The committee received community input in the form of white papers on the funding needs for technology development in areas such as adaptive optics, optical and infrared interferometry, millimeter and submillimeter detector arrays, and high-speed, large-N correlators. The Astro2010 Panel on Optical and Infrared Astronomy from the Ground and Panel on Radio, Millimeter, and Submillimeter Astronomy from the Ground made a convincing case that the current level of ATI funding should be augmented to enable successful pursuit of these highly ranked technology development programs and roadmaps. In Chapter 7 the committee recommends increased funding of the ATI program to meet the technology development needs of the future astronomy and astrophysics program.
DOE-supported laboratories offer capabilities for technology development that are frequently not accessible at universities. As a result, unique technologies that could be key for astronomical advances are developed at DOE laboratories in support of primary DOE missions, and later adapted for astronomical applications. Examples include (1) the very-large-format detectors that are now being applied to wide-area astronomical imaging in the Dark Energy Camera, and potentially in LSST and WFIRST; (2) the dye lasers developed for the Atomic Vapor Laser Isotope Separation Program that were later modified and adapted for use in laser guide star adaptive optics systems; (3) the electron beam ion traps that were used to measure atomic physics processes for DOE’s nuclear weapons mission and subsequently used to measure cross sections relevant to astronomical X-ray spectroscopy; and