Optical-Infrared Review Committee (OIR).

Over the past few months, the CASCA Board has established the OIR committee with the primary objective of conducting a comprehensive review of the optical-infrared ground-based landscape accessible to Canadians, both presently and potentially in the future. The committee’s mandate encompasses the assessment of various factors such as scientific viability, technical readiness, scheduling considerations, and the alignment with community needs and desires. It is important to note that the review of Canada’s involvement in the TMT project will not be within the scope of this committee.

We are delighted to announce that the OIR committee will be co-chaired by Doug Welch from McMaster University and Ivana Damjanov from Saint Mary’s University, who have graciously accepted the role of co-chairs. We are confident that their expertise and leadership will greatly contribute to the committee’s success. The remaining members of the committee will be announced shortly, and their collective knowledge and experience will further enrich the review process.

The committee aims to provide its recommendations by June 30, 2024, in the form of a comprehensive report that will be made available to the public. This report will serve as a valuable resource for the CASCA community, providing insights and guidance for the future of optical-infrared ground-based astronomy in Canada.

Lastly, we would like to share the terms of references that have been adopted by the committee (see below). These terms of reference outline the scope and objectives of the review process, ensuring transparency and accountability throughout the committee’s work.

Thank you for your attention, and we look forward to the fruitful outcomes of the OIR committee’s work.

Best regards,
Julie Hlavacek-Larrondo, on behalf of the CASCA Board

Terms of Reference


CASCA has formed the Optical-Infrared Review (OIR) Committee to assess and address the needs of Canadian researchers in light of developments since the Long Range Plan (LRP) 2020.

Significant developments since the LRP recommendations have become public include:

  1. The successful launch, commissioning, and science operations of the James Webb Space Telescope.
  2. The near-term science operations of the Rubin Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (estimated Jan. 2025), the launch of Euclid (estimated launch July 2023), and the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope (estimated launch 2026/7).
  3. A moratorium on new leases for observatories has been established in 2022 as the management of Maunakea transitions from the University of Hawai’i to the Maunakea Stewardship and Oversight Authority over the five-year period beginning on 1 July 2023 (Maunakea Spectroscopic Explorer after the National Strategic Planning Reviews). This impacts the original timeline for the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope/Maunakea Spectroscopic Explorer (CFHT/MSE) that included an estimated start of science operations in 2030. The start of the construction phase for MSE on Maunakea would depend on the decision about the CFHT’s site lease renewal at the end of this decade. In the case of a positive outcome, MSE science operations will not commence before the late 2030’s or early 2040’s. By then, the other wide-field multi-object spectrographs already under construction will likely have been taking data for a decade:
    – Subaru/PFS (Prime Focus Spectrograph)
    – VLT/MOONS (Multi-Object Optical and Near-IR Spectrograph)
    – VISTA/4MOST (4-metre Multi-Object Spectrograph Telescope)
    – Mayall/DESI (Dark Energy Spectroscopic Instrument)
    The construction of MSE, regardless of when it is built, will result in a gap of science operations at the site of approximately eight years.
  4. The (US) National Science Foundation (NSF) is conducting an environmental review of the Maunakea site in preparation for its potential future investment in the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) as part of the US Extremely Large Telescope Program. The NSF will not make a funding decision until a range of viewpoints and all aspects of the project are considered (UPDATES | March 23, 2023). The final decision was initially expected by the end of 2024 but has now been delayed and will also be influenced by the capacity of the NSF budget available at that time.
  5. As a partner in the Gemini International Observatory, Canada must make a decision for the upcoming Gemini Assessment Point, due in 2024.


The OIR Committee is charged with providing an assessment of optical and infrared facility resources both currently/imminently available to, or needed by, its researchers. This assessment will weigh the feasibility and capacity of the Canadian research community to engage and support the appropriate suite of facilities and will emphasize:

  1. The needs of Canadian early-career OIR faculty/staff researchers (and other such Canadian researchers needing access to OIR facilities) over the period 2025-2035;
  2. In this assessment, the recommendations from the LRP 2020 will provide the baseline community consensus from that time and those recommendations will be reviewed with respect to developments in the intervening time;
  3. The OIR review will be a similar mid-LRP cycle assessment much as the GAC was for VLOTs;
  4. The community’s needs with respect to 4m-class facilities, recognizing Canada’s existing partnership in the CFHT but also the conclusion of current Large Programs during the period under consideration. Long Range Plan recommendation #22 specifically recognizes that the CFHT situation may need to be re-assessed during this interval and this committee is in a position to provide such an assessment and recommend possible scenarios for 4m-class facility access going forward;
  5. The community’s needs with respect to 8m-class facilities, recognizing Canada’s partnership in the International Gemini Observatory and its existing instrumentation and those instruments that will become available in the near future. The committee will provide input relevant to the Gemini Assessment Point decision due in 2024 and to take effect in late 2027; and
  6. Canada remains a committed partner of the TMT International Observatory. VLOT facility plans and commitments are not directly part of this assessment but it is recognized that among possible recommendations by this committee to serve non-VLOT needs, some may provide possible VLOT access.

The Committee will comprise both senior and early career researchers and will have non-voting stakeholders and subject matter expertise from relevant stakeholders, including NRC and ACURA. It will also include at least one senior expert member from outside Canada.


The Committee will consult broadly with the Canadian community and will also be informed by:

  1. The research plans and aspirations of current early-career researchers, including both observers and instrumentalists;
  2. Data on OIR facility demand and archive use;
  3. Current and projected budget allocations, operations costs and joining fees (where applicable);
  4. Data on the role of OIR facilities and archive use in recent publications. Here, the international picture of which OIR facilities are providing significant impact will be sought;

The Committee will endeavor to provide its recommendations by June 30, 2024. The report will be made public.

Footnote Throughout “OIR facility/facilities” refers both to the resources currently available to the Canadian astronomical community and to other facilities (currently in operation or coming online shortly) that may be of interest to Canadian astronomers.

CATAC Update on the Thirty Meter Telescope

par Michael Balogh (CATAC Chair)
(Cassiopeia – l’automne 2023)

Background Summary of the TMT Project

Recognizing that the Thirty Metre Telescope (TMT) is a project spanning multiple decades, many people new to the astronomy community will be unfamiliar with its history. Following is a short summary of the project’s background, with links to more information. Current updates detailing developments since our last report follow this background.

current news follows summary

The TMT is a proposed 30-m diameter, optical telescope with a state-of-the-art adaptive optics system that will achieve unprecedented sensitivity and resolution. It will enable transformative discoveries in a wide range of disciplines including exoplanets and the search for biomarkers, cosmology and the formation of the Universe, galaxies and stars, and much more, as described in the Detailed Science Case. TMT is one of only three planned telescopes of this type. The others are the 25-m Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT) and the 42-m European Extremely Large Telescope (ELT).

Canada has been engaged in the TMT project since 2003, with a significant scientific and technical leadership role. Canada joined the TMT International Observatory (TIO) corporation as a full member in 2015, following a $243M commitment from the federal government. These funds primarily support construction of the enclosure by Canadian industry, and the adaptive optics system, NFIRAOS, by Herzberg Astronomy and Astrophysics (HAA). Participation in the TMT has been strongly endorsed by the Long Range Planning exercise, starting with the midterm review in 2005. Canada has three seats on the TMT Board: the ACURA Executive Director (Gilles Joncas), the HAA Director General (Luc Simard); and a Science Governor (currently vacant). Canada also has three voting seats on the Science Advisory Committee, and one non-voting position usually occupied by the Science Governor. Canada’s share of observing time is expected to be in the range of 10-15%, though this depends on the outcome of negotiations for NSF partnership, and the final project cost.

TMT is a technically mature project, but construction requires both significant additional funding, and the support of the local community. Protests against TMT construction in 2014 and 2019 have prevented construction from proceeding. The position of CASCA and ACURA, endorsed by CATAC, is that unless the TMT project has consent from the Native Hawaiians, Canada’s astronomical community cannot support its construction on Maunakea. Several important changes have taken place since 2019, including the establishment of the Mauna Kea Stewardship and Oversight Authority (MKSOA). The formation of this body was recommended by a Working Group initiated by the State Governor, and signed into law on July 7, 2022. This Authority began work on July 1, 2023, and will take over management of the mountain from the University of Hawaii after a transition period of no more than five years. This Authority includes Native Hawaiian representatives and cultural practitioners, giving them a direct role in the management of these lands, including the issuing of leases to astronomy facilities.

The US Extremely Large Telescope Program (US-ELTP) is a partnership between TMT, the Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT) and NOIRLab, to advance US access to 30-m class telescopes in both hemispheres. A proposal to the NSF has led to a formal review of the project by that body, under the MREFC process. Following a recommendation by the US Astro2020 review, the NSF is considering a significant share of at least 25% in each of TMT and GMT. The review process includes federal environmental and cultural reviews, under the National Historic Preservation Act and the National Environmental Policy Act.

TMT does have legal right to construct on an alternative site, on La Palma, Canary Islands. There are still associated environmental, political and social complications, including motivated environmental groups opposing construction. The NSF review process is currently limited to Maunakea as a potential site.

Construction cannot begin until the NSF Final Design Phase is completed – a necessary but not sufficient condition. This phase nominally takes 1.5 years, and has not started yet. Assuming seven years for construction, the earliest possible first light date for TMT is 2033. Technical first light for the European ELT is planned for 2027, with the first four instruments commissioned and ready for science by 2030. It is disappointing to be behind the ELT, when at one point (in 2014) TMT was so far ahead. However, CATAC is mindful that these facilities have anticipated lifetimes of >40 years, serve very large communities and that current anticipated first light dates are subject to change.

Further information can be found on the TMT website. Previous CATAC reports and eCass articles can be found here.

Project Status

Earlier this year, the US National Science Foundation (NSF) completed a Preliminary Design Review (PDR) of the US Extremely Large Telescope Program (US-ELTP). The report was positive, and it is expected that a recommendation will be made to the National Science Board (NSB) to move into the Final Design Review (FDR) stage. The next meeting of the NSB is Nov 29-30, 2023.

The NSF Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and Section 106 process continues, with updates and FAQ provided here. This process continues to move slowly, due in part to the large volume of comments submitted during the scoping process.

While the NSF process takes place, the corresponding delay to TMT construction is of concern, as the potential for a large gap between E-ELT and TMT first light dates grows. LRP recommendation #16 reads:

We recommend that NRC address any lack of access to a VLOT due to delays in TMT construction through arrangements that give Canadians access to other VLOT facilities.

CATAC looks forward to participating in future discussions with HAA and the astronomy community about this recommendation.

As part of the NSF review process, the TMT Detailed Science Case is being updated, led by the International Science Development Teams (ISDTs). All chapter editors have now been identified. The plan is to deliver a complete draft by the end of 2023 for review and comments.


The Mauna Kea Stewardship and Oversight Authority (MKSOA) began their work on July 1, 2023, and are in the process of hiring staff. Full transfer of authority from the University of Hawaii to MKSOA will happen within five years; no new leases or subleases may be signed before then. It is still too early to know if there will be a process for lease negotiation in the interim.

The Caltech Submillimeter Observatory (CSO) is on path to be decommissioned this year, with the telescope itself being removed this month. Detailed, up to date information about the process is available at the CSO website.

On July 14, a petition was filed to the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), requesting a decision under the Early Warning and Urgent Action Procedures (EWUAP). The request is a joint submission from three petitioners: KAHEA: The Hawaiian-Environmental Alliance, (2) Ziibiing Lab: Global Indigenous Politics Research Collaboratory, and (3) the Transnational Law and Racial Justice Network (TLRJN). Among other things, the petition requests that CERD urge Canada to divest support from TMT. This petition is now before CERD and the process, which can take several years, is a closed one between the committee and the Canadian government. ACURA’s response to this petition, and the petition itself, can be found here.

Upcoming Workshops

There will be three ELT-JWST synergy workshops: one in North America, one in Asia, and one in Europe. Registration is open for the first, to be held at UCLA Dec 11-15, 2023: “The Landscape for ELTs after the launch of JWST.” Canadians are strongly encouraged to attend. Some travel support may be available – please contact mbalogh@uwaterloo.ca for more information. The European and Asian meetings are anticipated to be held in 2024.

The last TMT Science Forum was in China in 2019. Plans to hold one in Canada in 2021 were postponed due to COVID and then finally cancelled in 2022. It is now anticipated that the next forum will be held in Washington, D.C., in late 2024.

CATAC Membership Changes

After six years of excellent service, inaugural CATAC member Harvey Richer has come to the end of his term. We are grateful for his work on this committee, and in particular for leading the effort to host the Science Forum in Vancouver, unfortunately thwarted by the pandemic. ACURA has nominated Suresh Sivanandam (U Toronto) to take Harvey’s place on CATAC.

Gilles Joncas has replaced Don Brooks as ACURA Executive Director and serves on CATAC in a non-voting, ex-officio role. Similarly, as CASCA President, Sarah Gallagher takes over from Chris Wilson.

CATAC Membership

Michael Balogh (University of Waterloo), Chair, mbalogh@uwaterloo.ca
Bob Abraham (University of Toronto; TIO SAC)
Stefi Baum (University of Manitoba)
Laura Ferrarese (NRC)
Suresh Sivanandam (University of Toronto)
Jason Rowe (Bishop’s)
Stan Metchev (Western University; TIO SAC Canadian co-chair)
Gilles Joncas (ACURA Executive Director, non-voting, ex-officio)
Luc Simard (Director General of NRC-HAA, non-voting, ex-officio)
Sarah Gallagher (CASCA President, non-voting, ex-officio)
Tim Davidge (TIO SAC; NRC, observer)

Square Kilometre Array (SKA) Update

par Kristine Spekkens (Canadian SKA Science Director) and the AACS
(Cassiopeia – hiver 2023)

Left: Aperture Array Verification System 3 (AAVS3) for SKA-Low, which recently saw first light on site in Australia (credit: L. Simard). Right: SKAO and NRC personnel visit the SKA-Mid Prototype Integration Facility at MDA in Richmond BC (credit: D. Stevens).

It has now been almost a year since our government announced that Canada would become a full member of the SKA Observatory (SKAO). The funding committed in Budget 2023 will support Canada’s scientific, technological and governance activities during the construction phase which will last through this decade, and into the operations phase beyond that. With SKA activities ramping up in Canada and around the world, employment opportunities are also increasing both domestically (see below) and  internationally. Scientific, technological and membership updates for Canada and the SKA in the last six months are highlighted below.

Science Update

Canada’s 6% use-share will provide the community with significant access to SKA observing time and computing resources. Major anticipated science milestones during construction include:

To help prepare the community to work with SKA data, the SKAO has revitalized its science user webpages and released a suite of new science tools. The pages compile key documents describing the scientific performance of the SKA Design Baseline, as well as the details of the staged delivery plan. First versions of the SKA-Low and SKA-Mid sensitivity calculators have also been released, which include a variety of continuum and spectral line modes. As the full suite of observing modes are incorporated into the calculators, the SKAO is keen to receive feedback from the scientific community, through inline comments on the SKA-Low and SKA-Mid user guide Google docs or via email to sciops@skao.int.

In Canada, significant progress has been made to initiate the SKA Canada Fellowships program, with a call for applications for the first round of Fellows expected in January 2024. In steady state, this new, permanent program will fund a total of 8 –10 NRC-funded SKA Fellows spread across Canadian universities. With a 3–5 year fixed term, competitive stipends, and a substantial research/travel budget, SKA Canada Fellows will carry out independent research in astrophysics with faculty mentorship at the institution where they hold the fellowship, and will also make wide-ranging contributions to SKA Canada under the supervision and mentorship of NRC-HAA staff. The advertisement to recruit the first SKA Canada Fellows will be widely circulated to the Canadian astronomical community when it is released in January.

Technology Update

SKA construction proceeds apace, with three quarters of construction contracts now awarded across both telescopes. Major construction milestones for SKA-Low in Australia and for SKA-Mid in South Africa include first light for the SKA-Low Aperture Array Verification System 3 (AAVS3), and the assembly of the first SKA-Mid production dish, among many other developments. The focus of most current construction activities is the timely deployment of Array Assembly 0.5 (= AA0.5) – the first correlated 4-dish SKA-Mid array and 6-station SKA-Low array –  in 2024.

Canada’s most significant technical contribution to SKA construction is the SKA-Mid Correlator/Beamformer (MID-CBF). Significant recent progress towards meeting that goal has been made in recent months by industry partner MDA, including:

  • A Mid Telescope Prototype Integration Facility at MDA Richmond has been established. MDA is leading the integration of digital components of the Mid Telescope signal chain and providing a facility for other parties to integrate remotely;
  • An initial correlator system has been deployed at the System Integration Test Facility in Cape Town and integration has begun there with other systems;
  • Final integration of the AA0.5 4-dish correlator, which will be deployed in 2024 and will enable the correlated systems tests of SKA-Mid, are now underway;
  • Design approval to migrate to a Commercial Off-The Shelf (COTS)-based correlator architecture that will use newer lower power technology for correlator releases beyond AA0.5.

Canadian SKA Regional Centre (can|SRC) Update

The development of a Canadian SKA Regional Centre (can|SRC) within a network of interoperating SKA Regional Centres (SRCNet) is critical to the science success of SKA. can|SRC will provide user data access, support, and archive services by building on the Canadian Network for Astronomical Research (CANFAR) science platform, which is maintained by the CADC using Digital Research Alliance of Canada hardware and CANARIE network services.

During the last 6 months the CADC has increased engagement with SRCNet development, providing SRCNet members with deployable versions of the CANFAR Science Platform (CSP) software stack as a demonstrator of how an SRC might operate.  This SRCNet demonstrator is now deployed at 4 SRCNet sites, and the CADC is exploring the utility of this solution for network-enabled computing.  Although the CADC has been operating the CSP for a few years now, there are still many features to be developed before we arrive at an SRCNet solution.   To achieve the required software development effort, the CADC expects to onboard three new software developers in the next six months.

In parallel with the development of the CSP software stack, NRC is negotiating a Contribution Agreement with the Alliance. Each SRCNet member country is expected to contribute computing and storage resources at the level of partnership for that country. The NRC-Alliance contribution agreement will enable Canada to meet its SRCNet contribution, and provide a public archive of the Rubin Observatory’s LSST object catalog and image stacks (enabling significant Canadian access to that survey).  The computing resources will start to appear on the CANFAR platform in the spring of 2024, ramping up to the full capacity required for our SRC contribution over the following 8 years.

Canadian Membership Update

Canada’s process to join the SKA Observatory (SKAO) as a full member is proceeding towards completion.  The accession agreement between our government and the SKAO has been finalized and signed, and Canada’s request to become an SKAO Member State has been formally accepted by the SKAO Council which governs the project. The signed accession agreement, together with the SKAO Convention, were tabled in Parliament on Dec 11, 2023; this is a major milestone in the accession process for Canada. Canada’s official transition from its current status as a Council Observer to that of a Member State is anticipated in the first half of 2024.

For more information, updates, and opportunities to get involved:

Prix CASCA 2024: appel de candidatures

par Vincent Hénault-Brunet (CASCA Awards Committee)
(Cassiopeia – hiver 2023)

Chers membres de la CASCA,

Nous acceptons maintenant les nominations pour les prix CASCA 2024.

Les prix suivants seront décernés cette année:

  • Le Prix Qilak pour la communication, l’éducation et la sensibilisation du public en astronomie, attribué les années paires à des activités de sensibilisation récentes et marquantes;
  • Le Prix Carlyle S. Beals pour des réalisations scientifiques et des services communautaires exceptionnels;
  • Le Prix Dunlap pour l’innovation dans les outils de recherche astronomiques; et
  • La Médaille J.S. Plaskett pour un travail exceptionnel de thèse de doctorat.

Les nominations pour la Médaille Plaskett doivent être soumises par le directeur ou la directrice du département, et nous accepterons une seule nomination par département. Cette récompense permet de reconnaître l’excellence de la recherche et le travail acharné de nos membres diplômé.e.s. Étudiant.e.s, n’attendez pas, faites suivre ce courriel à votre superviseur.e/directeur/directrice de département et demandez à être considéré.e.s pour la nomination faite par votre département. Directeurs/directrices des programmes de cycles supérieurs, ne manquez pas cette occasion de mettre en valeur le travail de vos étudiant.e.s.

Veuillez noter que les auto-nominations sont désormais acceptées pour les prix après la thèse de doctorat, suivant des recommandations du Comité Équité et Inclusion de la CASCA, et que les lignes directrices relatives aux prix ont été mises à jour en conséquence. Nous aimerions avoir un groupe diversifié de nominé.e.s parmi lesquels choisir, c’est pourquoi nous encourageons particulièrement les personnes qui sont nominées pour la première fois. Des instructions détaillées sur la manière de rédiger une lettre de nomination sont disponibles ici.

Les nominations pour tous les prix mentionnés ci-haut doivent être soumises au président du comité des prix de la CASCA, Vincent Hénault-Brunet, et envoyées par courriel à vincent.henault@smu.ca. Le cas échéant, des lettres de soutien externes (par exemple, d’experts internationaux dans le domaine du candidat) doivent également être envoyées directement au président du comité des prix (pour assurer la confidentialité des références). Les candidats doivent être membres en règle de la CASCA. En cas de doute, veuillez vérifier auprès de l’administrateur de la CASCA à l’adresse casca@casca.ca. La date limite pour les nominations est le 15 janvier 2024. Veuillez vous référer aux pages des prix CASCA concernés pour les procédures de nomination supplémentaires.

De plus, le conseil de direction de la CASCA accepte les nominations pour le prix exécutif de la CASCA pour service exceptionnel, décerné à une personne qui a fait des contributions soutenues en matière de service qui ont renforcé la communauté astronomique canadienne et amélioré son impact à l’échelle régionale, nationale et/ou internationale. Cela peut inclure, mais n’est pas limité à, des innovations dans l’éducation, la sensibilisation et le soutien des installations de recherche ou des outils utilisés par d’autres. Le récipiendaire du prix exécutif est choisi par le conseil de direction de la CASCA. La procédure de nomination consiste à soumettre au Président de la CASCA une lettre de soutien d’une à deux pages indiquant les qualifications du candidat, ses antécédents de service et l’impact de ses activités de service – tant au niveau national qu’international. L’étude des candidatures débutera le 15 janvier 2024. Veuillez envoyer les dossiers de candidature pour le prix exécutif de la CASCA directement à casca-president@casca.ca.

Nous sommes impatients d’avoir de vos nouvelles et de célébrer une autre année de grandes réalisations de nos membres de la CASCA!


Le comité des prix de la CASCA

Vincent Hénault-Brunet, Pauline Barmby, Craig Heinke, Tracy Webb, Jon Willis

Optical-Infrared Review Committee Update

par Doug Welch (McMaster), Ivana Damjanov (Saint Mary’s)
(Cassiopeia – hiver 2023)

We are pleased to provide the CASCA community with an update on the activities of the Optical-Infrared (OIR) Review Committee which was formed by CASCA during the first half of 2023 and which met for the first time in late July.

The full terms of reference (ToR) for the committee can be found here but we briefly remind everyone of key boundary conditions:

  • The interval being considered is 2025-2035;
  • The focus is on ground-based, international OIR facilities;
  • VLOT facilities and plans are not part of this assessment;
  • The plans and aspirations of early-career researchers (university faculty and research staff) will play a key role in the committee’s information-gathering and recommendations;
  • The committee will provide recommendations to address the Gemini Assessment Point; and
  • The recommendations of the committee will be available by the end of June 2024.

The membership of the committee is:

  • Étienne Artigau, Université de Montréal
  • Ryan Cloutier, McMaster University
  • Allison Man, University of British Columbia
  • John Ruan, Bishops University
  • Simon Morris [External Member], Durham University
  • Laura Ferrarese [Non-voting Member], NRC-HAA
  • Kim Venn [Non-voting Member], ACURA representative

Since the beginning of October, the OIR Review committee has been meeting at two-week intervals To date, our primary tasks have been:

  • Preparing a current list of early-career researchers;
  • Designing and iterating on a survey to gather our initial data/feedback from early-career researchers and their current plans and aspirations; and
  • Assembling external research context based on available international strategic plans.

We have also acquired:

  • Canadian proposal, usage, and publication statistics for CFHT and Gemini for the last several years; and,
  • A current list of HAA support projects that includes international OIR facilities.

Our early-career researcher survey will be circulated to individuals using a Google Form on or about January 10, 2024. Once those results are compiled, the committee will contact early-career researchers for individual or small group follow-up interviews.

The committee will meet with leadership of stakeholder observatories (e.g. CFHT, Gemini) to ensure that our understanding of developments at those facilities is current and accurate.

It is anticipated that the final report of the committee will recommend a small number of scenarios capturing the most promising avenues for maximizing competitive access to offshore facilities and instrumentation for Canadian researchers.

Indigenous Engagement Committee Report

par Samantha Lawler (University of Regina)
(Cassiopeia – printemps 2024)

On February 13, the CASCA Indigenous Engagement Committee held its first workshop. The topic was “How to invite a local Indigenous knowledge-keeper to your astronomy class”. We discussed what documents were available for helping employees to fruitfully engage with local Indigenous groups, and compiled a list of these. A couple of institutions did not have a document at all, and several have really fantastic, comprehensive documents. A list of links to documents appears at the end of this article.

Many resources were highlighted during the workshop, but the committee wanted to specifically share a very complete document provided by the Calgary Board of Education that can be found here. This document is a complete elder protocol developed in partnership with many community members, the Native Counseling Services of Alberta and the Human Rights Education and Multiculturalism Fund.

The main take-aways from the workshop are summarized in the bullet points below:

  • Seek the help of a Cultural Mediator provided (or not) by your institution.
  • Be aware of the burden of requests Indigenous people sometimes receive.
  • Clearly communicate the “shared purpose” of a meeting with the elder/knowledge-keeper.
  • Build a relationship before your event/activity.
  • Story telling takes time, it has a purpose to help you, and it is up to you to extract the tools you need from that story. Structured agendas may not be useful in some settings and Elders especially tend to not like time constraints.
  • Elders have to be accompanied with respect over their whole visit to your institution.
  • Gifts and honoraria must be given with care and respect.
  • Ask what is the best way to reach out, it might not be emails.
  • Prepare your participants in advance. Develop and use a code of conduct.

The IEC thanks all the participants for an excellent discussion, and we plan for future workshops with the CASCA community.

List of Indigenous engagement documents from individual institutions:

Square Kilometre Array (SKA) Update

By /par Kristine Spekkens (Canadian SKA Science Director), Michael Rupen (SKA Program Lead, NRC-HAA), Gregory Sivakoff (ACACS Chair), Gilles Joncas (ACURA Executive Director)
(Cassiopeia – Summer / été 2024)

The last six months have been extremely eventful for Canada and the SKA. On April 14, Canada became a member of the  SKA Observatory (SKAO), with full science, technology and governance privileges. This completes the accession process that began last year, with Budget 2023 providing $269.3M over 8 years plus ongoing funds to support Canadian SKA participation through the construction phase and into operations towards the end of this decade. Some scientific, technological, and SKA Regional Centre updates for Canada and the SKA are highlighted below.

Science Update

Canada’s 6% use-share will provide the community with significant access to SKA observing time and computing resources. Construction is phased into Array Assemblies (AAs), each one with increasing numbers of dishes for SKA-Mid and antennas for SKA-Low. Major anticipated science milestones include:

  • Science Verification data from scientifically competitive arrays (Array Assembly 2 = AA2) in late 2027;
  • Shared-risk Principal Investigator (PI) observations with the AA* staged-delivery facilities in late 2028; and
  • The start of large Key Science observing Programs (KSPs) in 2030.

The SKAO science user webpages include resources ranging from staged delivery plans, to key performance documents, to data challenges, to sensitivity calculators. New tools and functionality are being continually added as they are developed by the SKA Operations Team.

In Canada, the ACURA/CASCA Advisory Committee on the SKA (ACACS) has been formed to support Canadian SKA participation and offer guidance to ACURA, CASCA, and NRC. ACACS, which supersedes the pre-commitment ACURA Advisory Committee on the SKA (AACS), will ensure coherent messaging and provide feedback, promote the SKAO and coordinate related activities across universities, identify potential resources to support future elements of Canadian SKA participation, and regularly interface with the Canadian astronomical community. ACACS is chaired by Gregory Sivakoff (University of Alberta; sivakoff@ualberta.ca), and ACURA and CASCA will soon solicit a call for committee member volunteers. Canadian astronomers interested in ACACS activities are encouraged to reach out to the chair directly.

A major international SKAO General Science Meeting will be held from 16-22 June 2025, in Görlitz, Germany, the location of the new German Center for Astrophysics (Deutsches Zentrum für Astrophysik). The meeting will focus on planning Science Verification and Early Science observation planning, and revising  the (now decade-old) SKA Science Book. Draft chapter submissions will be solicited by SKAO in early Fall, from which the Görlitz meeting program will be planned. To facilitate strong Canadian engagement in this process, ACACS will organise a two-day virtual meeting on Canadian Scientific Participation and Leadership in the SKA in mid-October. Details will be circulated to the community as they become available.

The Canadian SKA Scientists program continues to be developed, with a first call for applications expected in Fall 2024. In the steady state, this new, permanent program will support a total of 8 –10 NRC-funded SKA Scientists spread across Canadian universities. With a 3–5 year fixed term, competitive stipends, and a substantial research/travel budget, Canadian SKA Scientists will carry out independent research in astrophysics with faculty mentorship at the universities where they hold the position, and will also make wide-ranging contributions to the SKA Program under the supervision and mentorship of NRC-HAA staff. The job ad to recruit the first Canadian SKA Scientists will be widely circulated to the Canadian astronomical community.

Technology Update

Left: the pedestal for the first SKA-Mid dish is lifted into position in South Africa. Right: the first SKA-Low station in Australia. Image credits: SKAO

Significant SKA construction progress has now been made on-site. In recent months, the first SKA-Mid dish in South Africa and the first SKA-Low antenna station in Australia have been installed. Both are important steps toward Array Assembly 0.5 (= AA0.5), a major technical construction milestone consisting of the first correlated 4-dish SKA-Mid array and 4-station SKA-Low array. AA0.5 on SKA-Low is anticipated in late 2024 while that for SKA-Mid is expected in early 2025, enabling the first comprehensive, on-site engineering tests of both telescopes.

Canada’s most significant technical contribution to SKA construction is the SKA-Mid Correlator/Beamformer (Mid.CBF). Significant recent progress towards meeting that goal has been made in recent months by NRC-HAA with industry partner MDA Space, including:

  • The Mid.CBF System Requirements Review (SRR), the first major review of Mid.CBF, will be held at MDA on July 2 – 4. The goal is to show that the final design meets all the scientific and non-functional (e.g., safety and environmental) SKA requirements, and is a critical “go/no-go” decision point on the road to deployment.
  • Leading up to this review, the AA0.5 Mid.CBF system is currently being tested at the SKA-Mid system integration facility in Richmond, BC. The goal is an end-to-end demonstration of a 4-antenna / 200 MHz correlator by late June.
  • Looking further ahead, the Pulsar Timing Beamformer FPGA firmware implementation (needed for AA1) is nearing completion and progressing onto hardware tests.  AA2+ designs for the Agilex FPGAs are in the prototyping phase to ensure the firmware designs will fit in the target hardware.
  • On the hardware side, testing is underway for two candidate 32-port 400 GbE network switches to route data within Mid.CBF.
  • Software design and prototyping is also underway for a hardware/firmware emulation environment, to allow testing software systems at scale without huge amounts of signal processing hardware.

Canada is also on track to deliver high-performance, cryogenic low-noise amplifiers (LNAs) for SKA1-Mid’s Band 2 receivers.  The current focus is on the LNAs for AA0.5 and AA1, with the first set tested and shown to meet all requirements.

Canadian SKA Regional Centre (can|SRC) Update

In March, the SKAO governing Council endorsed the formation of the ~5-year SRCNet Project. The initial focus is on the development and delivery of SRCNet v0.1, the first implementation of a collaborative, federated international network of SKA Regional Centres (SRCs) that will be essential for transforming SKA observations into scientific insights.  The goal of SRCNet v0.1 is to demonstrate the basic capabilities and operation of such a network in time to allow community access to the initial science verification data from AA2. In the long run SRCNet will form the SKA science archive, and also provide much of the processing power needed to turn raw data into the advanced data products needed for SKA science.

The Canadian SKA Regional Centre (can|SRC) will provide user data access, support, and archive services by building on the Canadian Network for Astronomical Research (CANFAR) science platform, which is maintained by the CADC using Digital Research Alliance of Canada (Alliance) hardware and CANARIE network services. can|SRC has been selected as one of the five key data centres around the world that will form SRCNet v0.1.   This milestone was achieved through a collaboration agreement between NRC and the Alliance, enabling the necessary computing and storage capacity for can|SRC. This new SRCNet v0.1 capacity is expected to be operational on CANFAR by late fall 2024.

This spring, CANFAR was chosen as the prototype Science Platform for SRCNet v0.1. Additionally, a number of SRC nodes have agreed to contribute significant effort towards integrating the Rucio storage system with CANFAR. Rucio, a data distribution management tool used by CERN, will be implemented for SRCNet v0.1. The goal is to have v0.1 ready for internal data transfers and computing tests by January 2025, with the further aim of supporting scientific test users in v0.3, scheduled for release in Spring 2026.

NRC-HAA is currently hiring a number of developers, as well as at least one radio astronomer to support can|SRC development.  Several additional community-facing astronomy positions will be advertised shortly, aimed at supporting effective access to SKA data by scientists across Canada.  These astronomers will provide information on (and take suggestions for) SKA and can|SRC capabilities and opportunities, and  supervise/mentor the Canadian SKA Scientists discussed above in partnership with university faculty. Job ads for these positions will be widely circulated within the Canadian astronomical community.

For more information, updates, and opportunities to get involved:

Rapport sur le 50e anniversaire de l’Observatoire de Rothney

Au nom du comité du patrimoine, j’aimerais porter à votre attention un rapport sur la célébration du 50e anniversaire de l’observatoire astrophysique Rothney de l’Université de Calgary. Le rapport a été préparé par Gene Milone et comprend des éléments de Philip Langill et T.A. Clark.

Le rapport est disponible sur ce lien : https://casca.ca/?page_id=18808

Dennis Crabtree

Square Kilometre Array (SKA) Update

par Kristine Spekkens (Canadian SKA Science Director) and the AACS
(Cassiopeia – printemps 2023)

Artist’s impression of the SKA, combining elements from South Africa and Australia from left to right in the image. Photos of real hardware have been blended with realizations of the future SKA antennas. Image credit: SKA Observatory.

In a press release on January 24th, 2023, the Honourable François Philippe Champagne, Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry, announced Canada’s intention to seek full membership in the SKA Observatory (SKAO) with NRC-Herzberg representing Canada in SKAO governance. This major announcement is consistent with our community’s recommendations for SKA participation in the Canadian Astronomy Long-Range Plan 2020-2030 (LRP2020), for which the Coalition for Canadian Astronomy advocated in meetings with government officials. Some additional information is available in the releases marking the government’s decision:

The steps necessary to complete the membership process are anticipated to take place in the coming months. CASCA members will be kept informed of this process and corresponding opportunities to participate as those details become available.

The SKA has been a high priority for the Canadian astronomical community for over two decades, and the efforts of many individuals over many years have made the government’s decision possible. Thank-you to everyone who contributed to this effort.

For more information, updates, and opportunities to get involved:

CATAC Update on the Thirty Meter Telescope

par Michael Balogh (CATAC Chair)
(Cassiopeia – printemps 2023)

The NSF recently completed its comprehensive Preliminary Design Review (PDR) of TMT and GMT.  A recommendation on whether or not to proceed to Final Design Review (FDR) is expected for some time in late summer.  The FDR phase normally lasts about 18 months and will require a firm governance model and site selection.

An Environmental Review forms an important part of the NSF process.  This review is well underway, and the NSF is evaluating the numerous comments it received during the July 19-Sept 17, 2022, scoping comment period.  The current status of this review is maintained at this website, where you can also subscribe to email updates.

The annual call for individuals to join TMT: International Science Development Teams (ISDTs) closed on March 1, 2023.  Over the next few months, the ISDTs will be tasked with updating the 2015 Detailed Science Case in preparation for the FDR.

The first in a series of TMT webinars was held in late 2022/early 2023.  This included an overview of the project and site status and was well attended by Canadians.  It is anticipated that the next webinar, yet to be announced, will focus on first-light instrumentation.

Finally, we would like to acknowledge Don Brooks for his many years of service as Executive Director of ACURA, and his leadership in uniting University support behind Canadian participation in TMT.  ACURA has played a vital role in not only helping to secure the significant federal investment announced in 2014, but also in ensuring that continued participation in the project respects Canadian values as expressed in the Long Range Plan and in feedback from the University community.  Don has been an active participant in CATAC activities since our inception, and his sage advice and deep knowledge of the TMT project will be sorely missed.

CATAC membership

Michael Balogh (University of Waterloo), Chair, mbalogh@uwaterloo.ca
Bob Abraham (University of Toronto; TIO SAC)
Stefi Baum (University of Manitoba)
Laura Ferrarese (NRC)
Harvey Richer (UBC)
Jason Rowe (Bishop’s)
Stan Metchev (Western University; TIO SAC)
Kim Venn (ACURA Board Chair, non-voting, ex-officio)
Luc Simard (Director General of NRC-HAA, non-voting, ex-officio)
Christine Wilson (Acting CASCA President, non-voting, ex-officio)
Tim Davidge (TIO SAC Canadian co-chair; NRC, observer)