tween support for public OIR observatories (NOAO and Gemini) at 81 percent, that for privately held telescopes through instrumentation programs (TSIP) at 14 percent, and design and planning for GSMT, LSST, and other future facilities at 5 percent. ATI and MRI funds allocated to OIR projects are not included in the calculation and are distributed across the pie, albeit unequally, but do not affect the main conclusion. Private observatories receive a small slice of the federal funding even though they comprise the majority of telescope aperture.

Ground-Based Radio, Millimeter, and Submillimeter Astronomy

Radio astronomy was a young and unestablished field when the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) was founded in 1956. Unlike the situation in U.S. OIR astronomy, U.S. radio, millimeter, and submillimeter (RMS) astronomy has been primarily federally funded since its inception. However, just as in OIR astronomy, the increasing cost of constructing large RMS telescopes and, especially, the long-term cost of operating them, is now leading to growth of the idea of public-private partnerships.

Although the concept of an RMS system is not widespread, there are limited examples of public-private partnerships in radio astronomy (Table 3.2). NSF partners with universities through the University Radio Observatory (URO) program to operate, instrument, and provide public access to unique radio observatories, currently the Caltech Submillimeter Observatory (CSO), the Combined Array for Research in Millimeter-wave Astronomy (CARMA), and a small amount for the Allen Telescope Array (ATA). The URO program is responsible for training at the student and postdoctoral level many of today’s prominent RMS astronomers as well as the highly skilled technical staff who are needed to build and operate the state-of-the-art receivers and instruments.

NRAO is operated via a cooperative agreement between NSF and a not-for-profit research management corporation, AUI (Associated Universities, Inc.). Its facilities can lay legitimate claim to international leadership in their capabilities, at least for now. The complementary scientific capabilities provided by the national observatory (now including ALMA), the smaller university-operated facilities, and more targeted investments in experiments (e.g., CMB and the epoch of reionization) and technology development should allow the United States to maintain its position of international leadership in radio astronomy for at least another decade. However, significant investments in next-generation facilities by Europe, China, Australia, and South Africa (~$100 million each) are beginning to challenge this leadership.

Currently, the balance of NSF-AST support for RMS activities is approximately 60 to 65 percent for NRAO plus ALMA telescope operations, 15 to 20 percent for university-operated radio observatories, 5 to 10 percent for experiments, and

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine
500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001

Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement