Engaging the U.S. Astronomy Community - NSF Awards Partnership-Planning Grant to TMT
Today the National Science Foundation (NSF) awarded a cooperative agreement to the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) Observatory Corporation to explore a potential partnership between the organizations.
The award is a milestone for the TMT project, initiating a broad dialog between TMT, the NSF and the United States' astronomical community. The partnership-planning award also paves the way for the NSF to confer with TMT's international partners.
"The NSF award is a key development in our vision for TMT," said Henry Yang, Chancellor of the University of California - Santa Barbara, and Chair of the TMT Collaborative Board. "The full promise of this revolutionary telescope will be realizable with the engagement of the national astronomical community."
The NSF award allocates $250,000 per year for five years to partnership-planning activities that include scientific workshops and participation by U.S. scientists in the TMT Science Advisory Committee and the TMT Collaborative Board. The five-year program of engagement and planning will deliver a plan that addresses science, education and public outreach, instrumentation, and operation of the facility from the perspective of the U.S. astronomy community. This plan will be developed and refined in a series of joint meetings bringing together all U.S. and international stakeholders.
The National Optical Astronomy Observatory (NOAO) in Tucson, AZ will play an important role in carrying out the activities of the cooperative agreement. NOAO will establish a U.S. TMT liaison activity within its System Community Development group and NOAO astronomer Todd Boroson has been selected as the U.S. TMT Liaison Scientist.
"With this award by the NSF, an important process has begun of engaging the astronomical community in the ongoing design and development of TMT," said Boroson. "Astronomers nationwide have a great opportunity to offer their expertise in advancing the TMT project."
The TMT partnership plans to initiate construction in 2014. At present, the NSF does not commit to helping fund the construction costs of TMT; however TMT planning allows the entry of the NSF later in the construction period. TMT’s development plan calls for it to provide valuable research opportunities and discoveries for 50 years.
As the partnership planning moves ahead as a result of the NSF award, international partner organizations and their governments will soon be able to consult more closely on TMT's development.
"We are delighted by the dialog the NSF partnership-planning award enables. This elevates the dialog to the national and international levels," said Ed Stone, David Morrisroe Professor of Physics at Caltech, and Vice-Chair of the TMT Collaborative Board.
Specific opportunities for the U.S. astronomical community to become involved in planning a potential public-private partnership in TMT include a U.S. TMT Science Working Group (U.S. TMT SWG), established and led by NOAO, charged with seeking consensus within the U.S. community on TMT-related science issues.
As well, during the winter meeting of the American Astronomical Society, a TMT “town hall” meeting will be scheduled. This multi-hour session will provide annual reports to the U.S. community on TMT status, plans, and opportunities and provide a forum for U.S. community presentations, dialog, and engagement. An annual TMT Science Forum will be the principal means by which planning with the U.S. community and the current partnership, will explore, in depth, the scientific opportunities for the U.S., and enhancements to TMT capabilities.
In addition to these activities, NOAO, through the U.S. TMT SWG, will produce and deliver a document presenting the results of this program to the TMT project and to the NSF. An initial version of this document will be issued at the end of the first three years of this program. A final version will be issued at the program’s conclusion.