7 Keck Observatory as a Public-Private Partnership
Keck Observatory is a highly successful public-private partnership. The Observatory’s initial construction was funded by a gift from the W. M. Keck Foundation to Caltech ($140 million in 1985 dollars). The Keck Foundation also funded much of WMKO’s world-leading adaptive optics systems. Five sixths of WMKO’s operations funding is contributed by the University of California and one sixth by NASA. Funding for new instrumentation has been obtained from grants from NSF and NASA, and also from donations by individuals and private Foundations.
Therefore, federal funding to Keck is highly leveraged by private and state funding. All of the partners, including the broad U.S. community who gain access through NASA and TSIP, benefit from the philanthropic gifts from the private sector that have enabled Keck’s innovative telescope, powerful instrumentation suite, and world leading adaptive optics systems. For example, MOSFIRE is funded approximately 50% by NSF/NOAO TSIP funds and 50% by a private gift. The varied sources of funding that support WMKO make the Observatory relatively more stable against a shortage or disruption in any particular funding stream.
The U.S. community and associated investment of federal funds benefit from Keck's very cost-effective operations model. The ratio of operating cost to total invested capital is a standard metric of operational efficiency. By this metric, Keck has the lowest operating cost of major ground-based optical/infrared telescopes.
8 Summary of Recommendations
In order for Keck Observatory to realize its full potential in serving the U.S. astronomy community and functioning as an essential element of the U.S. ground-based optical/infrared system, we recommend that:
NSF increase the funding, to $10M per year, for a TSIP or TSIP-like program in order to increase the open access time available on non-federal facilities;
NSF make TSIP funding stable from year to year;
NSF and NOAO implement financial incentive factors in TSIP to encourage high-priority capabilities and long-term exchange arrangements;
NSF modify the financial limits and allocations in the ATI and MRI programs to enable proposals for developing transformational instrumentation for 8-10 meter telescopes;
Planning and funding of new transformational instrumentation in the U.S. community be developed through a competitive process open to all participants in the ground-based optical/IR system.
Members of the Keck Science Steering Committee and Keck Observatory management team contributed to the formulation of this document and the ideas it contains.