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1 Overview of W. M. Keck Observatory - page 9 / 10

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instrumentation and adaptive optics systems and making observing time available to the broad U.S. community.  Note that the ALTAIR committee stated “when asked to prioritize possible avenues by which the large telescope system could by enhanced with any increases in federal funding, the highest priority of respondents was for more open access time on non-federal facilities.”

ALTAIR also commented on the potential use of financial incentive factors in the calculations that convert TSIP funding into telescope nights.  The ALTAIR report stated “We recommend additional flexibility in setting the incentive factors, e.g., to recognize the complexity of the instrumentation suite that the funding provides access to, to enable a longer-term time purchase agreement, or in seeking access to high-priority capabilities.”  Keck Observatory recommends that TSIP offer financial incentives for TSIP proposals that propose TSIP-defined high-priority capabilities and/or a long-term exchange relationship.  We feel that the intended results of such incentives, creating long-term exchange relationships and prompting independent observatories to propose and then build instrumental capabilities that are needed for the optimal development of the U.S. observing system, are beneficial to both the proposing observatory and the broad U.S. user community.

6 Other Federal Support of Keck Observatory

The NSF-funded ATI, MRI and TSIP programs are the primary paths to funding instrumentation for U.S. ground-based faculties besides private philanthropy. The amount of funding in the NSF programs is modest given the escalating cost of state-of-the-art instruments for 8-10 meter telescopes. During calendar 2008, the average size of NSF-ATI awards was $290,000, with the largest award being $1.0 million.  NSF MRI awards have a ceiling of $2-4 million (and require 30% matching contribution).  These funding levels are significantly below the costs cited above for a typical new 8-10 meter infrared instrument of around $10 million and $60 million for a truly transformational capability.

We recommend that NSF encourage the funding of transformational instrumentation for 8-10 meter telescopes by carefully examining the funding limits and total allocations to the ATI and MRI programs.  Establishing a mechanism to fund such proposals and addressing the tendency of review panels to seek to fund a greater number of smaller proposals would greatly aid the U.S. community that depends on such instrumentation to perform cutting-edge science.

The NSF and NASA occasionally fund “one-off” instrumentation activities at U.S. observatories, usually judging these proposals in relative isolation. One example is the funding of the Gemini “Aspen” instruments. We urge the NSF and NASA to conduct open competitions with opportunities for the full community to propose when considering funding any and all instrumentation activities.  A community-wide activity that would define the science-driven needs of the U.S. optical/infrared system followed by various observatories proposing/competing to fill those needs is one possibility for addressing this situation.  Such a process would allow the agencies have the opportunity to consider the full range of possibilities for developing and operating observing capabilities for the U.S. observing system, and Keck Observatory would welcome such a community-wide activity.

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