that increasingly important synergies between ground- and space-based observations can be fully realized (see below, e.g., the subsection “A Heterogeneous Ionospheric Facility Network”).
When it begins operation in 2018, the 4-meter ATST will be, by far, the largest optical solar telescope in the world. Its ability to reach down to the fundamental photospheric density scale-length as a magnetometer, and to remotely sense coronal magnetic fields where they have never been measured, is revolutionary. However, despite facility closures by the National Solar Observatory (NSO), a significant increase in NSO base funding will be required to fully exploit the capabilities of the ATST. The NSO long-range plan estimates that ATST operations and data services will require at least $18 million per year, plus $4 million per year for NSO synoptic programs. Research grants and advanced instrumentation development would require additional funds.
The committee’s DRIVE initiative “Realize” recommendations emphasize the importance of NSF providing the ATST with base funding sufficient for operation, data analysis and distribution, and development of advanced instrumentation for the ATST in order to realize the scientific benefits of this major national investment. This emphasis agrees with the 2010 astronomy and astrophysics decadal survey recommendation regarding the need to develop a funding model for ATST operation, instrumentation, and scientific research.
Important research is often accomplished through midscale research projects that are larger in scope than typical single principal investigator (PI)-led projects (MRIs) and smaller than facilities (MREFCs). The Advanced Modular Incoherent Scatter Radar (AMISR) is an example of a midscale project widely seen as having transformed research in the ground-based AIM community. Although different NSF directorates have programs to support unsolicited midscale projects at different levels, these programs may be overly prescriptive and uneven in their availability, and practical gaps in proposal opportunities and funding levels may be limiting the effectiveness of midscale research across NSF. It is unclear, for instance, how projects like the highly successful AMISR would be initiated and accomplished in the future. Mechanisms for the continued funding of management and operations at existing midscale facilities are also not entirely clear.
The NSF Committee on Programs and Plans formed a task force to study how effectively it supports midscale projects, how flexible the funding is, how uniformly it is administered across NSF, and how well such projects serve the interests of education and public outreach. The resulting report affirmed the importance of strongly supporting midscale instrumentation but did not recommend any new or expanded NSF-wide programs. Nevertheless, as described in Chapter 4 in the “Diversify” recommendations of DRIVE, the committee strongly endorses the creation of such a competitively selected midscale project line for solar and space physics. This approach is also consistent with the 2010 astronomy and astrophysics decadal survey, which recommended a midscale line as its second priority in large ground-based projects.2
2 In that report, the recommendation for NSF to establish a “Mid-Scale Innovations Program” was accompanied by the following: New discoveries and technical advances enable small- to medium-scale experiments and facilities that advance forefront science. A large number of compelling proposed research activities submitted to this survey were highly recommended by the Program Prioritization Panels, with costs ranging between the limits of NSF’s Major Research Instrumentation and MREFC programs, $4 million to $135 million. The committee recommends a new competed program to significantly augment the current levels of NSF support for midscale programs. An annual funding level of $40 million per year is recommended—just over double the amount currently spent on projects in this size category through a less formal programmatic structure. The principal rationale