completion of 112 months. The committee recommends that LSST be started as soon as possible, with, as proposed by the project, two-thirds of the construction costs borne by NSF through its MREFC line and a quarter by DOE using Major Item of Equipment (MIE) funds. The estimated operations cost is $42 million per year over its 10-year lifetime, of which roughly $28 million is proposed to be borne by the U.S. agencies—the committee recommends two-thirds of the federal share of operations costs be borne by NSF and one-third by DOE. It is recommended that any extended mission should only happen following a successful senior review. By its very nature LSST will stimulate a large number of follow-up studies, especially of a spectroscopic character. The planning and administration of an optimized plan for follow-up studies within the public-private optical-infrared system could be carried out by the National Optical Astronomy Observatory.
The top rank of LSST is a result of its capacity to address so many of the identified science goals and its advanced state of technical readiness.
Science and technology are evolving rapidly. Each decade, new discoveries open new opportunities, and scientists and engineers find novel and innovative approaches to designing instruments. Although there are regularly competed opportunities on timescales shorter than a decade for moderate-scale missions in space, on the ground there is no program that can compete and select mid-scale projects based on scientific merit and technical readiness as instruments mature and science advances. The committee was impressed by the large number of white-paper submissions for mid-scale ground-based projects that offer compelling science and novel technical approaches but that cannot be evaluated without a proper scientific and technical peer review.
The committee recommends, as its second-highest priority, a competed program, based on NASA’s highly successful Explorer model, that would enable moderate-scale projects to be frequently selected through peer review. Like the Explorer program, a mid-scale instrumentation and facility program at NSF—a program that the committee calls the Mid-Scale Innovations Program—would provide first-class science at moderate cost and would address the need to involve and train students in experiment design and instrumentation.
The need for such a program is driven by the fact that NSF-AST does not have a formal mechanism for competing proposals in the price range between the Major Research Instrumentation (MRI) program (less than $4 million) and the MREFC line (greater than $135 million in FY2010). It does accept unsolicited proposals in the mid-scale category, several of which have been funded, but without the head-to-head competitive peer review that ensures that the highest-priority needs are met. The committee therefore recommends the establishment of a competed Mid-Scale