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Thirty Meter Telescope

The Project Manager’s Corner: A Great Year
Gary Sanders, TMT Project Manager

December 2006

I am sitting in a lounge at Vancouver airport thinking back over a great year for TMT. I'm returning to Pasadena after a very successful meeting of our Science Advisory Committee (SAC), described elsewhere in this issue by our SAC Chair, Paul Hickson of University of British Columbia. That meeting capped this great year.

Last January I began my series of Project Manager’s Corners. This has been my personal attempt, each month, to help you follow TMT openly and as it progresses. I began in January by looking back to the origins of the project, and I reported on our search for a mountain site, our science instruments, our tiniest and most challenging mirror. I described a major project milestone, our Conceptual Design Review.

In June, TMT took its public outreach up a notch and initiated our series of monthly Newscasts. In the Newscasts, I continued my Project Manager's Corners, adding to the other regular features in the Newscast. In successive months, I described the Newscast, how our Board represents the segments of the involved astronomy community, how we estimated the cost of implementing our full Conceptual Design into an observatory, how TMT is an example of a large science project that others can learn from, and how telescope designers must anticipate nature's challenges such as earthquakes. We finish the year by combining our November and December issues into a year-end edition. This is a good time to look back and take stock.

Following the successful Conceptual Design Review, our team carried out a very detailed cost-estimating exercise. Our estimate included our full initial Conceptual Design scope and it was reviewed by a distinguished external panel that confirmed the quality of the estimate. Flush with success, we confronted one significant problem. Our estimated costs exceeded the TMT Board target cost. In my August Project Manager's Corner, I mentioned the all-too-common process of refining the scope of a design once the costs are understood.

Armed with our favorably reviewed estimate, we possessed the tools to carry out a value-engineering exercise. We reviewed the project scope in light of the costs and made some design changes, eliminated some facility spaces, tightened up our enclosure dimensions, and left the key elements of the design that deliver science essentially untouched. Our estimate is now close to the Board target of $700 million (in 2005 dollars), with some final scope options and implementation details to be considered by the TMT Board in January.

Our site-testing program is collecting good data on five candidate sites. We have met with host governments and institutions associated with each of these sites. TMT should be able to select a site on our planned schedule in 2008.

Adaptive optics, and telescope design and development, have made great strides and the next phase of the development for these subsystems is to be initiated after the January Board meeting.

With reviewed designs and an efficient model for construction costs, much attention has been paid to how TMT will be operated, which instruments are to be provided at first light, and how the greater instrument suite will be implemented following first light. We have learned a great deal from discussions with the staffs at the Keck, Gemini and VLT observatories, and we thank them for their valuable advice. The product of these science operations/instrument development discussions was brought back to our own community in the SAC meeting just completed. The SAC provided positive feedback on these plans.

The SAC meeting and the upcoming Board meeting wrap up this great year of 2006. And they are points of departure for the mature development tasks and work toward our Preliminary Design Review, site selection and plans for the next phase of TMT implementation.

Our world class TMT team, having worked so hard, will have an interesting year in 2007.

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