NSF AST: we hear ya, bro

Anyone want to buy some telescopes?
Heavily used.
Free to a good home.

The NSF has issued a preliminary response to the NSF Astronomy Portfolio Review.

Game on.

NSF MPS/AST Response to Portfolio Review Report (pdf)

This is a 4 page response from NSF Astronomy Division Director Ulvestad to the Portfolio Review, from August 31st 2012.

  • Implementation is pending current budget negotiations for next fiscal year budget and plan.
  • Implementation requires acting by end of 2013.
  • Small Grants: "...Given the constrained budget scenarios and the explicitly higher-priority recommendation for AAG and ATI, it is unlikely that AST will be able to respond positively to all of the recommendations for program increases over the next few years. AST does expect to maintain its commitments to the REU (Rec 7.2) and the AAPF (Rec 7.3) over the next several years, and also is in the process of starting a small program (in collaboration with NASA) on Theory and Computation Networks (Recommendation 7.1)."
  • Mid-Scale: "If sufficient funding is available, NSF will consider developing a mid-scale program addressing science projects, open access capabilities, mid-scale facilities, and development investments.
    [...per Recs 8.1 and 8.5...]
    Following the recommendations of the Portfolio Review Committee, the mid-scale program would include projects that previously fell under the TSIP, the URO, and the RSTAR programs."
  • Facilities: "For AST, the practical interpretation of the phrase “We recommend AST divest from ...” a particular telescope is that funding for operations of that telescope should be removed from the AST budget.
    In responding to this recommendation, AST will first seek other sources of funding or operators for that telescope before moving toward possible closure. In order to have a realistic probability of achieving maximum savings for reinvestment by the beginning of FY 2017, the divest/close decision for any individual telescope should be made near the end of Calendar Year 2013. It is anticipated that, if AST determines to divest from an individual telescope, this telescope would be separated from the AST-supported parent observatory in any future management competitions.
    In implementing a recommendation to divest from a telescope or facility, AST will [per Sec 1]:
    First seek transfer of a facility or telescope to another funding source before decision to close, with a decision deadline near the end of Calendar Year 2013.
    Divest a telescope or facility in a manner responsible to its fellow tenants at observatories and to its long-duration user programs; give appropriate and due consideration to agreements with all partners; and respect contractual obligations and commitments."

Pending Congress mandates, actual budget profiles and funding miracles, the NSF sounds like it intends to go ahead with the recommendations and start separating facilities by the end of 2013 for shut down by 2017.

This will make room for some medium scale projects, specifically the CCAT submm telescope (may that be described as a "finder scope" for ALMA?), and maybe a small theory computing program. REU and AAPF will be protected, everything else is vulnerable to cuts.

ALMA and ATST better be worth it.

On a related note, the final ATST decision ought to have been made this week.
See "NSF Telescope Nears Final OK for Construction in Hawaii"
The start to construction is now 2 years late, and the delay has added cost to the $300M project. Also:

"NSF has already agreed to fund a $20 million initiative to improve science education at a local community college..."

$20M is a real familiar figure, eh?

I hear evil rumors that since ATST was to ramp up under ARRA stimulus they ought technically give the $ back if they didn't get go ahead by today... as if.

NSF Portfolio Review website


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