NSF to re-evaluate the OIR system and NOAO’s role in it under cost-constrained conditions. Advice from an independent commission including both astronomers and specialists in systems management is one way to address this issue.
RECOMMENDATION: To exploit the opportunity for improved partnership between federal, private, and international components of the optical and infrared system, NSF should explore the feasibility of restructuring the management and operations of Gemini and acquiring an increased share of the observing time. It should consider consolidating the National Optical Astronomy Observatory and Gemini under a single operational structure, both to maximize cost-effectiveness and to be more responsive to the needs of the U.S. astronomical community.
The ground radio, millimeter, and submillimeter (RMS) telescope system has three crucial elements:
World-class facilities using an efficient suite of telescopes based on mature technologies,
Unique and important observing capabilities and the development of new technologies and techniques through university-operated observatories, and
Specialized principal-investigator-led experiments and surveys that tackle key science challenges and develop new technologies.
The RMS system is funded primarily by NSF. In considering its future, it must find a balance between several competing elements in order to optimize the science delivery at a time of seriously constrained funding. A guiding principle is maintenance of an appropriate balance between major national facilities and a vibrant university-based program. A second principle is provision for the long-term future through a staged program leading toward major participation in all three components of the international Square Kilometer Array, which has enormous scientific potential and enthusiastic support around the globe.
At present, approximately two-thirds ($67 million) of the NSF-AST RMS budget is devoted to NRAO to operate and develop the (E)VLA, Green Bank, and ALMA facilities. The remaining one-third ($33 million) is devoted to future facilities development, technology development, and university-operated observatories and experiments.
While the strength of the RMS system rests on maintaining the balance of the national observatories, university-operated observatories, principal-investigatorled experiments, and technology development, a fundamental problem is the