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Optimizing the U.S. Ground-Based Optical and Infrared Astronomy System (2015)

Chapter: 6 Optimizing the U.S. OIR System

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Suggested Citation:"6 Optimizing the U.S. OIR System." National Research Council. 2015. Optimizing the U.S. Ground-Based Optical and Infrared Astronomy System. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21722.
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6
Optimizing the U.S. OIR System

The coming decade presents unprecedented opportunities in astronomy that will be enabled by new premier facilities and instruments. Realizing the science goals articulated in New Worlds, New Horizons in Astronomy and Astrophysics1 (NWNH) and Vision and Voyages for Planetary Science in the Decade 2013-20222 (VVPS) plus charting compelling new astrophysical frontiers will depend on the continued availability of existing (Chapter 3) and new (Chapter 4) optical and infrared (OIR) capabilities. This section describes a future OIR System composed of individual nodes that is optimized with respect to the needed capabilities, and that coordinates federal and non-federal resource holders to maximize the scientific output. A twofold plan is proposed for (1) system-wide access to telescopes, instruments, and data and (2) strategic instrument development that uses available resources efficiently and promotes the workforce training needed in the areas of hardware, software, and analysis.

6.1 DEFINING THE FUTURE SYSTEM

The impressive current suite of U.S. OIR facilities is the result of decades of remarkable growth in the number and quality of ground-based telescopes and sophisticated instruments that are available to U.S. researchers. In the past two

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1 National Research Council (NRC), 2010, New Worlds, New Horizons in Astronomy and Astrophysics, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C.

2 NRC, 2011, Vision and Voyages for Planetary Science in the Decade 2013-2022. The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C.

Suggested Citation:"6 Optimizing the U.S. OIR System." National Research Council. 2015. Optimizing the U.S. Ground-Based Optical and Infrared Astronomy System. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21722.
×

decades, many 3- to 10-meter-aperture telescopes (WIYN, ARC, SOAR, Gemini, Magellan, Keck II, Subaru, LBT, HET, SALT, GTC, and DCT3) have come online, complementing older but still productive facilities at some of the same or nearby sites in California, Hawaii, Arizona, and Chile.

The operators of the U.S. OIR System facilities represent a combination of federal and non-federal institutions. Their diversity of funding sources (multiple federal agencies, state governments, philanthropic foundations, universities, individual donors, and international partners) and talent pools (universities, national labs, international collaborations) is a strength. But there is also a corresponding challenge. The resources made available to astronomy are controlled by a large number of independent organizations; this leads, on the one hand, to healthy competition, but on the other, to sometimes unnecessary duplication of capabilities and lack of coordination.

CONCLUSION: Components of the U.S. OIR System include a wide range of telescope apertures, instruments, and data archives that have been developed and supported in their operations from multiple funding streams.

A strategic plan for the U.S. OIR System must address the projected needs for the future as described in earlier sections—for example, optical direct imaging with coverage and cadences different from LSST, spectroscopic observations at a range of wavelengths and resolutions, spectroscopic multiplexing, narrowband imaging, infrared imaging, high spatial resolution, and high contrast. While many investigations require these capabilities on the largest apertures, medium- and small-sized telescopes are also valuable parts of the U.S. OIR System. The ReSTAR report presented examples ranging across a variety of research areas. Beyond today’s science, moreover, access to small- and medium-aperture telescopes is also critical in developing and testing new instruments and technologies and in helping to train the next generation of astronomers.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) currently is struggling with how to balance its ambitious new facilities with the support of the research community and older but still productive facilities.4,5 The non-federal observatories are also facing

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3 Acronyms not defined in the text, especially those denoting individual instruments and missions, are defined in Appendix C.

4 National Science Foundation (NSF), 2012, Advancing Astronomy in the Coming Decade: Opportunities and Challenges. Report of the National Science Foundation Division of Astronomical Sciences Portfolio Review Committee, http://www.nsf.gov/mps/ast/portfolioreview/reports/ast_portfolio_review_report.pdf.

5 For example, the NSF Portfolio Review Committee recognized the high current importance and potential for future impact of the Mayall 4-meter telescope with its wide-field OIR imaging capabilities, but in the context of funding and other constraints, the PRC recommended NSF divestment of the Mayall (NSF, 2012, Advancing Astronomy in the Coming Decade). The plan is now to dedicate the telescope for several years primarily to the DESI experiment run by DOE.

Suggested Citation:"6 Optimizing the U.S. OIR System." National Research Council. 2015. Optimizing the U.S. Ground-Based Optical and Infrared Astronomy System. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21722.
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increasing budget and resource limitations. Sustaining, exploiting, and further developing the impressive U.S. OIR System of facilities and people is proving challenging overall, as both the community demand for telescope capabilities and the complexity and cost of instruments have increased. Restriction of U.S. researchers’ access to certain components of the U.S. OIR System6 threatens the potential scientific progress envisaged for the coming decade. Even astronomers with access to private facilities do not, in general, have access to the full complement of instruments and apertures they might need to pursue their research. Large surveys will provide unprecedented amounts of archived data to the community for a wide range of science, and flagship specialized instruments will provide unique data sets. Nevertheless, it is still essential to maintain community access to the diverse suite of capabilities required to pursue the science priorities of NWNH and VVPS and other exciting new science (see Chapters 2 and 4).

CONCLUSION: Because of funding constraints, U.S. astronomers are challenged in their pursuit of decadal goals by having access only to a fraction of the capabilities needed.

The current level of pressure on funding emphasizes the importance of cooperation within the OIR community to consolidate and share resources. Improved partnership in strategic planning, by all segments of the OIR community, will produce a more effective U.S. OIR System of capabilities, as well as free funds for support of premier instruments and telescopes. This cooperation and planning will enable a more efficient and productive research enterprise.

6.2 TELESCOPE TIME EXCHANGE

The current U.S. OIR System operates in a manner such that there are three major categories of access to telescopes: open (through competitive access), pro-

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6 The white paper submitted to the committee by Herbst, coauthored by 20 astronomers from small colleges and universities, stresses the harmful consequences of losing ~75% of the current ~800 nights/year of open telescope access, including most access to 4-meter telescopes in the Northern Hemisphere, if the recommended divestitures in the PRC report (NSF, 2012, Advancing Astronomy in the Coming Decade) are implemented (W. Herbst, T. Balonek, J. Bary, R. Cadmus, J. Cannon, W. Cauley, D. Cohen, et al., 2014, “Open Access Facilities in the US OIR System: A Plea from Astronomers at Primarily Undergraduate Institutions”). Further, the PRC report and NWNH noted that ~50% of the U.S. astronomical community using public-access OIR telescopes does not have access to other telescopes. This means that the best science will be more limited and less diverse due to loss of that broader community of proposers. See also the white papers submitted to the committee by Walter and by Liu et al. emphasizing the continued need for access to telescopes of all sizes in order to engage the community (F.M. Walter, 2014; C.T. Liu, B. Willman, J. Pepper, M. Rutkowski, D. Norman, K. Cruz, J. Bochanski, et al., 2014, “Maximizing LSST’s Scientific Return: Ensuring Participation from Smaller Institutions”).

Suggested Citation:"6 Optimizing the U.S. OIR System." National Research Council. 2015. Optimizing the U.S. Ground-Based Optical and Infrared Astronomy System. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21722.
×

prietary (through restricted competitive access via ownership or partnership), and collaborative (through colleagues having competitive access). Some astronomers employ all these methods. A fourth means of access is the acquisition of relatively limited amounts of telescope time on privately held telescopes by non-partners through limited agreements. This has made it possible for partner institutions to recoup operating costs in a climate where traditional sources of operations funding are insufficient.

A more effective future U.S. OIR System would make use of telescope time drawn from all of the cooperating facilities in the U.S. OIR System that would be allocated to high-ranking science from U.S. PIs in a community-wide proposal process, with a unified time allocation committee (TAC) (perhaps using the existing machinery of National Optical Astronomical Observatory [NOAO]).7 Resources would be granted to the institutions or facilities providing the telescope time. The allocated resource might be in the form of funding for purposes that include covering the cost of operations, facilitating ongoing improvement of equipment, or building new instruments. Any of these options would benefit the U.S. OIR System as a whole under this model. Alternately, the allocated resource such as telescope time, equipment, data access, or infrastructure access at alternate nodes in the system could be bartered among the institutions.

CONCLUSION: A telescope time exchange would broaden the suite of capabilities available to U.S. astronomers and would foster the complementarity of capabilities developed by different elements of the U.S. OIR System. These benefits would enable more of the goals of the decadal surveys to be accomplished.

Interested observatories would participate, for example, by first offering some percentage of their nights for competitive open access, for exchange with NSF (through barter or limited partnership agreements, as appropriate for the observatory) or trade with other observatories having different capabilities. NSF would be a catalytic force in enabling a cooperative system. Having the full range of telescope apertures and instruments available to the community and driven by competitive proposals would enable the best science to be matched to the best-suited capabilities. A functional OIR System of facilities, developed and operated by components funded both federally and non-federally, could provide the requisite community access and satisfy in the modern era the original motivation for the creation of

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7 The envisioned mechanics of NOAO proposal processing were operational in the era of TSIP and could be revitalized and expanded to cover the suite of future participants in the U.S. OIR System. See, for example, the white paper submitted to the committee by Walter et al., who suggest that NOAO coordinate such a program (F.M. Walter, T. Armandroff, R. Bernstein, M. Bolte, W. Herbst, P. Lira, M. Margulis, et al., 2014, “AURA Observatory Council Views on the National Observatory”).

Suggested Citation:"6 Optimizing the U.S. OIR System." National Research Council. 2015. Optimizing the U.S. Ground-Based Optical and Infrared Astronomy System. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21722.
×

NOAO. The panel discussion with over 10 private observatory directors at the OIR committee’s second meeting8 emphasized the willingness of private observatories to participate in such a system provided the incentives for open access to their telescopes are sufficient. An OIR System that optimizes astronomy resources through more cooperative efforts stands to benefit everyone in the field.

The program envisaged here would be broader than the now-canceled Telescope System Instrumentation Program (TSIP) that enabled some competitive public telescope access in exchange for federal funds for instrumentation or, in later rounds, for operations costs. The ALTAIR report and several white papers9 comment on the usefulness and the scientific and demographic success of the former TSIP and mention the possibility of expanding that idea. The new program proposed herein should open up access to a broad spectrum of non-federal facilities that would participate as nodes in the future OIR System based on the mutual benefits. The proposed program also satisfies the balance recommended in the Portfolio Review Committee report10 regarding access, training, and inclusiveness.

CONCLUSION: NSF participation in a telescope time exchange program would restore to U.S. astronomy an important fraction of the science otherwise lost as a consequence of the divestment of NOAO facilities.

Implementation of a new U.S. OIR System telescope access plan would rely on supply and demand plus empowerment of an organization to coordinate the matching of science proposals and capabilities (in the form of either observing time to acquire new data or access to existing data). In advance of the science proposal call, each participating facility would negotiate with the organizing entity for the amount of time that could be available and the price. For example, a particular observatory might offer that 10-30 percent of science nights be made available through the common proposal process. The total amount used would depend both on the demand and on the level of NSF funding available. If the demand fell below the minimum level desired for participation by that observatory (say, 10% in this case), the observatory could opt out. Multi-year agreements would enable

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8 Agenda and participants listed at http://sites.nationalacademies.org/BPA/BPA_087934; see also T.E. Armandroff, 2014, “Input from McDonald Observatory to the Committee on a Strategy to Optimize the U.S. OIR System in the Era of the LSST for Questions 3 and 10.”

9 See the following white papers submitted to the committee: Armandroff, 2014, “Input from McDonald Observatory to the Committee on a Strategy to Optimize the U.S. OIR System in the Era of the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope for Questions 3 and 10”; J. Cohen and C. Martin, 2014, “The Crucial Role of W.M. Keck Observatory in the U.S. Astronomical System”; A.P. Marscher, T. Bania, E. Blanton, T. Brainerd, K. Brecher, D. Clemens, C. Espaillat, et al., 2014, “White Paper on the Future of Ground-Based OIR Astronomy in the US”; N.B. Suntzeff, 2014; Walter et al., 2014, “AURA Observatory Council Views on the National Observatory.”

10 NSF, 2012, Advancing Astronomy in the Coming Decade.

Suggested Citation:"6 Optimizing the U.S. OIR System." National Research Council. 2015. Optimizing the U.S. Ground-Based Optical and Infrared Astronomy System. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21722.
×

proposals of scale and significant scope to be considered and awarded for telescope, instrument, or data access and would also help in the planning by observatories.

Federal resources allocated to facilities based on community science proposals solicited from the entire U.S. community would come only after a peer-review competitive process. NOAO, with its experience handling TACs for a variety of telescopes, would be the logical body to manage the review and the time allocation. NOAO also could be empowered as the negotiating body for the availability of nights or data access that are on offer from the non-federal resource holders. The AURA Observatory Council reiterates the idea of NOAO coordinating the broad range of capabilities in the U.S. OIR System.11

The TACs would be made aware that they have two resources to manage when ranking the science priorities among the proposals received: the available telescope nights or data access offered by the nodes, and the support including NSF funding for their access. Recent sales of telescope time by private observatories suggest that NSF support on the order of $1 million to $2 million per year, for example, would provide access to 20-40 nights per year on 8-meter-class telescopes and proportionately more on smaller telescopes, which are also an important component of the system. This level of NSF support would represent less than half of what was until recently spent operating telescopes on Kitt Peak, or alternatively, less than half of what was spent on TSIP. Support could be increased as funding allows.

Implementation of an effective exchange will require common understanding of issues such as the value of various assets within the system and the timescales on which they are reassessed.12 Given the complex array of assets and plausible incentives, the exchange program as envisioned will almost certainly require a ramp-up, perhaps preceded by a pilot phase.

CONCLUSION: The long experience of NOAO in competitive allocation of telescope time makes it a natural choice to participate on behalf of NSF in an exchange program, and to host and facilitate the exchange.

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11 Walter et al., 2014, “AURA Observatory Council Views on the National Observatory.”

12 For example, TSIP had methods for assigning a value estimate for the cost of a night at a facility based on the amortized telescope and instrument development and the annual operations cost. The general problem of management of scientific resources involving coordination by a central broker for limited exchanges is discussed by Ledyard (J.O. Ledyard, D. Porter, and A. Rangel, 1994, Using computerized exchange systems to solve an allocation problem in project management, Journal of Organizational Computing 4(3):271-296). The methods were applied successfully to trades among teams of scientists involved in the instruments on the Cassini mission to Saturn and in secondary payloads on the Space Shuttle, with either allocated or otherwise owned fixed resources. Other similar, currently operating, scarce resource marketplaces involve, for example, computational grid access, electromagnetic spectrum allocation, and industrial pollution permits. The analogy to telescope nights will require further study.

Suggested Citation:"6 Optimizing the U.S. OIR System." National Research Council. 2015. Optimizing the U.S. Ground-Based Optical and Infrared Astronomy System. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21722.
×

RECOMMENDATION: The National Science Foundation (NSF) should direct the National Optical Astronomical Observatory to administer a new telescope time exchange with participating observatories of the U.S. Optical and Infrared System. Observatory representatives would barter facilities, swap instruments, or engage in limited term partnerships for telescope time or data access on behalf of their respective constituencies, as appropriate, and NSF would barter telescope time or data access or engage in limited term partnerships to carry out proposals competed through a system-wide time allocation committee.

6.3 FORMULATING A PLANNING PROCESS

A coordinated approach to telescope, instrument, and data access as described above can be either part of, or separate from, a strategic planning process in which the community addresses the highest-priority science objectives of the coming decade through the cooperation of all capable components of the U.S. OIR System, both federal and non-federal. An organized U.S. OIR System composed of complementary capabilities operating under a living roadmap would be the best way to capitalize on the system resources and address the science questions highlighted in NWNH and VVPS.

The decadal surveys specify which flagship and moderate-scale facilities need to be built and operated. Determining the full suite of moderate- and smaller-scale capabilities required to pursue the wide range of frontier science goals needs to be carried out on a finer scale and updated more frequently than the decadal surveys. This committee report provides recommendations in Chapters 4 and 5 for specific near-term capabilities. For the future, ongoing detailed planning for the OIR System of capabilities and, importantly, implementation of those plans on timescales of a few years can be executed by the federal and non-federal observatories and facilities that together make up the OIR System. The process does, however, need to be empowered by federal funding agencies.

CONCLUSION: Execution of an OIR System strategic plan to identify and develop highest-priority new peer-reviewed capabilities—for example, new instruments and software—would help address near-term decadal science needs.

Such a planning process can be successful only if instrument and software builders have an active role in shaping recommendations, and thus a stake in seeing the recommendations carried out.

One approach to this fine-scale identification of needed OIR capabilities would be sets of periodic (e.g., biennial or triennial) workshops, focusing on decadal

Suggested Citation:"6 Optimizing the U.S. OIR System." National Research Council. 2015. Optimizing the U.S. Ground-Based Optical and Infrared Astronomy System. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21722.
×

survey science or technical areas, with the goal of mapping frontier scientific investigations onto existing telescopes and instruments. Prioritized instruments would be matched to the telescope best suited for the desired capabilities, regardless of whether the telescope was public or private; if private, the community would gain some open-access nights to it. Examples of similar past open, science-based activities include planning for instruments for Gemini Observatory, the ALTAIR and ReSTAR studies, and the 2008 adaptive optics (AO) roadmap. Workshops lead to understanding both of the existing capabilities for which ongoing support is needed and of the missing capabilities and their science drivers. The workshop approach also establishes broad consensus on a roadmap for developing the necessary new capabilities. A critical component is the assignment of priorities to the existing and proposed capabilities. Appropriate prioritization enables resource decisions to carry out the investigations that will address decadal survey science.

The task of organizing this system-wide strategic process, including running meetings or workshops and generating and publicizing reports, could be taken on by NOAO. The system organizing committee could be a standing committee with rotating membership, representative of all segments of the community. The workshops could be narrow or broad, as needed, and the organizing committee would turn the outcomes into a prioritized plan that is viable and consistent with decadal needs. As an example of the utility of such activities, past system development activities led or managed by NOAO included TSIP, which over its lifetime provided 453 new (previously inaccessible to the broad U.S. community of professional astronomers) nights on large telescopes and 13 new instruments, and distributed $33 million in funds to facilities for instrument building and telescope operations.13

CONCLUSION: A component of the process for generating and updating the system plan could be a periodic forum to review the capabilities that need to be sustained or developed through partnered or independent investment, by NSF and other partners, in the U.S. OIR System. NOAO could facilitate the meeting by a system organizing committee, chosen to represent all segments of the community.

The successful evolution of the U.S. OIR System depends on implementing the roadmap that results from the consensus telescope and instrument plan, not just creating the roadmap. Implementation will require two ingredients: (1) endorsement of the process and the plan by all the stakeholders including funding agencies, the federal and non-federal observatories, and the broad community and (2) directed resources allocated to the specific development activities called for by the plan.

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13 National Optical Astronomy Observatory, “TSIP Funding and Public Access Summary,” http://ast.noao.edu/system/tsip/more-info/funding-summary, accessed March 1, 2015.

Suggested Citation:"6 Optimizing the U.S. OIR System." National Research Council. 2015. Optimizing the U.S. Ground-Based Optical and Infrared Astronomy System. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21722.
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The resources necessary to provide the important new capabilities within the OIR System are considerable. State-of-the-art astronomical instruments, even for mid-sized telescopes, cost millions of dollars, while premier “flagship” instruments on the largest current telescopes can cost tens of millions and those for the Giant Segmented Mirror Telescopes (GSMTs) will approach $50 million or more. Past studies that have proposed programs aimed at strategic investment in OIR instrumental capabilities (Astronomy and Astrophysics in the New Millennium14 [AANM] and NWNH) have put estimates of about $10 million per year on the required funding level coming from outside the observatories. Such an investment in the OIR System by federal funding agencies would leverage the other considerable resources that the non-federal observatories have acquired, including the private funds that produced the telescopes themselves. Outside investment in future instrumentation for GSMTs will most likely be necessary because of scope, complexity, and cost and is a means to procure broader astronomical access, as recommended in Section 4.3.

For efficient and effective development of the capabilities of the OIR System, the processes for both the development of the roadmap and its implementation must be endorsed collectively by all stakeholders: NSF, the federal and non-federal observatories, and the broader U.S. astronomical community. In practice, the roadmap will account for only a fraction of the development activities that are supported and carried out at the individual OIR System nodes. Roadmap execution should not impede small creative projects with much shorter timescales than the decadal initiatives. The agreed-upon plan will optimize the use of federal resources by drawing on the various strengths within the OIR System as they are needed to realize decadal science priorities.

Rather than a detailed listing of what the rules of this program might be in practice, here are a few proposed principles to guide its definition:

  1. The development of the strategic plan, and, in particular, the coordination of science needs with new capabilities, must be an activity in which the entire community is invited to participate. Organizations that provide significant resources to the overall evolution of the OIR System must be included in the oversight of the program.
  2. Peer-reviewed selection is required at each stage at which proposals are competed.

CONCLUSION: Development and implementation of new capabilities will require (1) funding (to the level available), (2) groups capable of carrying

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14 NRC, 2000, Astronomy and Astrophysics in the New Millennium, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C.

Suggested Citation:"6 Optimizing the U.S. OIR System." National Research Council. 2015. Optimizing the U.S. Ground-Based Optical and Infrared Astronomy System. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21722.
×

out the technical work effectively, and (3) telescopes on which to deploy and use new instruments.

RECOMMENDATION: The National Science Foundation should direct the National Optical Astronomical Observatory (NOAO) to administer an ongoing community-wide planning process to identify the critical Optical and Infrared System capabilities needed in the near term to realize the decadal science priorities. NOAO could facilitate the meeting of a system organizing committee, chosen to represent all segments of the community, which would produce the prioritized plan. NSF would then solicit, review, and select proposals to meet those capabilities, within available funding.

The current incarnation of the Mid-Scale Innovations Program (MSIP) includes within its scope both relatively large projects for new telescopes and major instruments, and smaller proposals to provide the kind of telescope access (or data access) that previously was part of TSIP (optical) and the University Radio Observatories (radio) programs. The MSIP funding pool is not large enough to accommodate everything that was envisioned by NWNH beyond the strategic new instrumentation at the mid-scale level. Furthermore, MSIP is not structured in a way that reliably ensures that funding will be directed toward the strategic goals described in this report.

Another consideration is that the federal funding provided to support development of new capabilities within the U.S. OIR System often will constitute partnerships with non-federal observatories. This public-private relationship has in the past been difficult for NSF to accommodate within its proposal-driven review and selection process.

The committee believes that having mid-scale proposals compete against each other in MSIP is a good idea. But it also believes that MSIP is not well structured to meet decadal priorities. NSF Division of Astronomical Sciences (AST) might consider whether there are mechanisms within the MSIP categories for preferentially funding capabilities that would further decadal survey priorities in general (not just for OIR). Within OIR, these capabilities could be identified by the ongoing planning process described here. Note that the original recommendation by the AANM decadal survey was that “all facilities, whether nationally or independently operated, be viewed as single integrated systems—one for optical and infrared astronomy, one for radio astronomy, and one for solar astronomy. The committee recommends that NSF AST implement a plan for ground-based astronomy that reflects an integrated view of independent and national observatories and the funding available from government and private sources.”15 With this AANM

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15 NRC, 2000, Astronomy and Astrophysics in the New Millennium, p. 182.

Suggested Citation:"6 Optimizing the U.S. OIR System." National Research Council. 2015. Optimizing the U.S. Ground-Based Optical and Infrared Astronomy System. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21722.
×

recommendation in mind, it is conceivable that, for planning small and mid-size projects for science called out by decadal surveys, fields beyond OIR could also engage in community planning processes. Then (assuming a sufficient funding line for MSIP), a portion of MSIP funds could be allocated for anything suggested by the community at large, and a portion could be allocated for capabilities identified by the community planning to meet decadal objectives.

CONCLUSION: MSIP is not structured in a way that supports strategic decisions, nor is its funding pool large enough that strategic decisions could be easily integrated into its funding process.

6.4 BUILDING THE U.S. OIR SYSTEM

NSF receives guidance from the decadal surveys for using its resources to achieve science priorities. In the model outlined above, NSF would manage its program to support peer-reviewed highly ranked proposals that request funding for OIR System access to telescopes, instruments, and data (Section 6.2) and to support development of new near-term capabilities specified by the planning process, developed with the decadal science in mind (Section 6.3). A more integrated and self-regulated approach might be even more effective. System coordination that includes both elements outlined above—the access and the strategic instrumentation development—could be undertaken by a single organization charged with responsibility for carrying out all aspects of the coordination.

For example, a focused workshop could be organized to produce an updated plan in a specific decadal science priority area; the plan would specify an instrument to be built; a solicitation would produce proposals to develop such an instrument; the instrument would be constructed and placed at the optimum telescope within the system; time would be made available through the telescope time exchange; and access would then be granted to this premier instrument to the best science proposals. As noted in Sections 6.2 and 6.3, all interested stakeholders would be represented in this process.

The organization charged with overall system coordination for the telescope time exchange and planning process should be one that can bring a common understanding and institutional memory to the process. NOAO has a scientific, technical, and administrative staff that has effectively carried out tasks much like those described above as would be needed for a system managing organization. With appropriate thought about how to implement this program, including endorsement by the non-federal observatories partners in the OIR System and at the direction of NSF, NOAO could assume its natural role as the coordinator of this revitalized OIR System on behalf of NSF and the entire community. This is essentially the role that was desired for NOAO by both AANM and NWNH.

Suggested Citation:"6 Optimizing the U.S. OIR System." National Research Council. 2015. Optimizing the U.S. Ground-Based Optical and Infrared Astronomy System. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21722.
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CONCLUSION: Creation and operation of the Telescope Time Exchange, OIR System strategic planning, and implementation of the plan might be most effective if carried out as an integrated program. NOAO has successfully conducted activities like these in the past and would be the logical choice to undertake this program, representing NSF interests.

CONCLUSION: A wide range of participants will have a stake in the success of this activity. It is critical that all these stakeholders have a role in its oversight.

6.5 THE INTERNATIONAL SCENE

While the United States has continued to produce outstanding telescopes, instruments, and astronomy results over the past several decades, international colleagues have accelerated their developments and now rival or surpass the United States in several areas. A few examples of some of the international facilities and future planning for them are mentioned here.

The European Southern Observatory (ESO) has four 8.2-meter telescopes at Paranal Observatory in Chile, each equipped with three different instruments. Its relatively stable funding line over several years enables ESO to plan efficiently for future instruments, such as the SPHERE spectropolarimeter with high-contrast AO and the ESPRESSO echelle spectrograph for radial velocity measurements. Part of ESO’s mission is to organize collaborations; its instruments are developed in a coordinated way, with most built by consortia of institutes. ESO has a suite of smaller telescopes as well, which are mostly run by ESO member consortia. The ESO community has thus maximized its combined resources by having a strong support network of partnerships for instrument development and small and medium telescope operations, with ESO concentrating on operating and upgrading the largest facilities. The E-ELT, a planned 39-meter telescope, is expected to have first light in the early 2020s.

The National Astronomical Observatories of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the National Institutes of Natural Sciences/National Astronomical Observatory of Japan, and the Indian Institute of Astrophysics have joined TMT as partners, while the Association of Canadian Universities for Research in Astronomy joined as associate member. Astronomy Australia Limited, Australian National University’s Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics, the Korea Astronomy and Space Science Institute, and the Sao Paulo Research Foundation of Brazil are international partners in GMT.

China operates the 4.3-meter Large Sky Area Multi-Object Fibre Spectroscopic Telescope (LAMOST), which is a wide-field telescope with 4,000 simultaneous

Suggested Citation:"6 Optimizing the U.S. OIR System." National Research Council. 2015. Optimizing the U.S. Ground-Based Optical and Infrared Astronomy System. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21722.
×

optical fibers. Japan operates the 8.2-meter OIR Subaru Telescope on Maunakea in Hawaii, with several key state-of-the-art instruments. A forthcoming Prime Focus Spectrograph (PFS) with 2,400 fibers will complement the HyperSuprime Camera, and will be a critical instrument for LSST follow-up. A planned 6.5-meter telescope in Chile (Tokyo Atacama Observatory, TAO) is in the final design phase. Mexico is planning construction of a 6.5-meter telescope (San Pedro Martir Telescope, SPMT) in Baja, California.

The Canary Islands Institute for Astrophysics runs the 10.4-meter Gran Telescopio Canarias (GTC), on La Palma, in addition to the 4.2-meter William Herschel Telescope (WHT). It is in the process of building EMIR, a wide-field multi-object infrared spectrograph, similar to its optical equivalent, the Optical System for Imaging and Low-Intermediate-Resolution Integrated Spectroscopy (OSIRIS). It also plans a new multi-object spectrograph, WEAVE, for the WHT, which it will use for LSST follow-up.

Many countries engage in long-term planning for capabilities and prioritized science activities. There is a long history of collaborations and partnerships between other countries and international institutions and U.S. federal and private facilities. Many are planning to be partners with LSST. Much of the key LSST science does not require rapid follow-up, so non-member countries can still benefit from LSST by accessing its publicly available data after the propriety period has ended. Nonetheless, access to time-critical events might be of sufficient value to barter LSST data in an exchange program.

As recommended in NWNH,16 it would be useful for the United States to engage in periodic international discussions in order to consider additional ways of collaboration and coordination to maximize scientific output from facilities. Such collaborations can either be formal (as with TMT and GMT) or informal, such as trading access to unique or complementary capabilities. At the International Astronomical Union XXIX General Assembly in Hawaii in August 2015, a focus meeting on Global Coordination of Ground and Space Astrophysics and Heliophysics will consider ways forward for international collaboration. In the future, NOAO, as coordinator for the U.S. OIR System, could help facilitate such discussions.17

CONCLUSION: NOAO could play a potentially beneficial role as a facilitator of discussions between the U.S. OIR System and other countries’ observatories in order to pursue possible international telescope time exchanges.

_______________

16 NRC, 2010, New Worlds, New Horizons, p. 28.

17 See presentations by D. Silva on the future of NOAO and by H. Hammel on the role of AURA (D. Silva, National Optical Astronomy Observatory, “NOAO Today and Tomorrow,” presentation to the committee on October 12, 2014; H.B. Hammel, Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, “AURA Perspective,” presentation to the committee on October 13, 2014; both are available at http://sites.nationalacademies.org/BPA/BPA_087934#presentations).

Suggested Citation:"6 Optimizing the U.S. OIR System." National Research Council. 2015. Optimizing the U.S. Ground-Based Optical and Infrared Astronomy System. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21722.
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Suggested Citation:"6 Optimizing the U.S. OIR System." National Research Council. 2015. Optimizing the U.S. Ground-Based Optical and Infrared Astronomy System. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21722.
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Suggested Citation:"6 Optimizing the U.S. OIR System." National Research Council. 2015. Optimizing the U.S. Ground-Based Optical and Infrared Astronomy System. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21722.
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Suggested Citation:"6 Optimizing the U.S. OIR System." National Research Council. 2015. Optimizing the U.S. Ground-Based Optical and Infrared Astronomy System. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21722.
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Suggested Citation:"6 Optimizing the U.S. OIR System." National Research Council. 2015. Optimizing the U.S. Ground-Based Optical and Infrared Astronomy System. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21722.
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Suggested Citation:"6 Optimizing the U.S. OIR System." National Research Council. 2015. Optimizing the U.S. Ground-Based Optical and Infrared Astronomy System. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21722.
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New astronomical facilities, such as the under-construction Large Synoptic Survey Telescope and planned 30-meter-class telescopes, and new instrumentation on existing optical and infrared (OIR) telescopes, hold the promise of groundbreaking research and discovery. How can we extract the best science from these and other astronomical facilities in an era of potentially flat federal budgets for both the facilities and the research grants? Optimizing the U.S. Ground-Based Optical and Infrared Astronomy System provides guidance for these new programs that align with the scientific priorities and the conclusions and recommendations of two National Research Council (NRC) decadal surveys, New Worlds, New Horizons for Astronomy and Astrophysics and Vision and Voyages for Planetary Sciences in the Decade 2013-2022, as well as other NRC reports.

This report describes a vision for a U.S. OIR System that includes a telescope time exchange designed to enhance science return by broadening access to capabilities for a diverse community, an ongoing planning process to identify and construct next generation capabilities to realize decadal science priorities, and near-term critical coordination, planning, and instrumentation needed to usher in the era of LSST and giant telescopes.

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