CATAC Update on the Thirty Meter Telescope

By / par Michael Balogh (CATAC Chair)
(Cassiopeia – Spring / printemps 2020)

In late December, 2019, the law enforcement presence on Maunakea was removed, and the access road reopened. This came together with an agreement from TMT that there would be no attempt to restart construction until the end of February at the earliest, a loose deadline which has since been extended. These developments were an important step forward, as they have given the time and space needed for stakeholders in the dispute to engage in dialogue with less outside attention and pressure. No one knows for sure what the future holds for TMT, for Maunakea or for astronomy in Hawaii.

The alternative site identified for TMT is the Observatorio del Roque de los Muchachos (ORM), Canary Islands. This is a good quality site, scientifically. A decision to select this site rests with the TMT International Observatory Members1 and the dominant factors here are not scientific but rather political, financial and environmental. There are significant challenges to be overcome on all fronts; ORM is not an easy choice even in light of the difficulties faced on Maunakea.

Both the US Decadal and Canada’s LRP processes are proceeding and the fate of TMT is intertwined with them. CATAC is providing up to date information to our LRP panel when requested.

Steady progress on the instrumentation is being made, with the advances in the design of WFOS and refinement of MODHIS specifications. Construction is underway at HAA for the building in which NFIRAOS will be assembled, and the India TMT Optical Fabrication Facility (ITOFF) at the Indian Institute of Astrophysics campus near Bengaluru recently completed construction.

Upcoming Events:

The following events are all subject to further developments with the global COVID-19 pandemic.

  • TMT SAC meeting – March 25
  • CATAC will host a lunch session at CASCA at York University, Tuesday May 26, 2020
  • The TMT Early Careers Workshop will be held at HAA, May 26-June 1, 2020
  • Canada is planning to host the next TMT Science forum, May 15-19 (TBC) 2021, in Vancouver

1Canada is represented at the TIO Membership level by Iain Stewart, President of NRC. He is advised by the HAA Director, Luc Simard, who in turn takes advice from the TMT Board, SAC, CATAC and the broader community.

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)
David Lafrenière (Université de Montréal)
Harvey Richer (UBC)
Kristine Spekkens (Royal Military College of Canada)
Luc Simard (Director General of NRC-HAA, non-voting, ex-officio)
Don Brooks (Executive Director of ACURA, non-voting, ex-officio)
Rob Thacker (CASCA President, non-voting, ex-officio)
Kim Venn (TIO Governing Board, non-voting, ex-officio)
Stan Metchev (TIO SAC, non-voting, ex-officio)
Tim Davidge (TIO SAC Canadian co-chair; NRC, observer)
Greg Fahlman (NRC, observer)

Report from the LRPIC

By / par John Hutchings (Chair, LRPIC)
(Cassiopeia – Spring / printemps 2020)

LRPIC and observers continue to meet regularly. We follow ongoing LRP issues, and keep in touch with the LRP2020 panel, ACURA, and Coalition activities. Our invited report submitted in September reviews the decade, and we have provided more detailed feedback to the LRP2020 panel. It this context, we note LRP2010 and MTR2015 priorities still face significant challenges that will extend well into the next decade. These include:

  1. TMT and MaunaKea site issues.
  2. CFHT and MSE futures.
  3. CFI requests for several future projects (MSE, CCAT-prime, EELT instrument, LSST)
  4. SKA membership and construction funding.
  5. CSA failure to commit to new missions, despite years of studies. Lack of space science policy and process.
  6. Overall lack of coherent funding process for major science.
  7. Ways to participate in ngVLA

We note significant evolution over the decade in:

Facilities
ngVLA, Hitomi, XRISM, Athena
MSE and partnership, CCAT -> CCAT-prime
CASTOR partnerships, LiteBIRD
CSA studies and proposals SPICA, Colibri, EPPE, POEP
Operating NEOSSAT for astronomy
CFHT, Subaru, Gemini, LSST partnerships

Science
Exoplanet science; FRBs and Pulsars (CHIME); GW events

The table below summarizes the status of current LRP facilities.

Long Range Plan 2020 / Plan à long terme 2020

By / par Pauline Barmby and / et Bryan Gaensler (LRP2020 Co-Chairs / co-présidents PLT2020)
(Cassiopeia – Spring / printemps 2020)

La version française suit

The LRP panel co-chairs attended the January AAS meeting to present a poster on LRP2020, hear about the current situation on Maunakea, and get updates on the current state of the US Astro2020 decadal survey. Results from Astro2020 are not expected to be released before January 2021. This has implications for Canada, since many of the projects being considered by LRP2020 are also being considered by Astro2020; after careful consideration we decided not to delay the LRP2020 report.

The panel has completed discussions of the projects, facilities and recommendations contained in the white papers, and decided on a set of priorities. Report-writing is underway. The panel met at NRC-Herzberg in February for an in-person writing retreat and continues to meet regularly online. We are still on schedule to present the draft recommendations in May at the CASCA AGM in Toronto.

The LRP webpage is a little more up-to-date than it was a few months ago and we hope to make the individual LRP2020 white papers and reports more easily accessible soon. The latest news on LRP2020 is available from the Slack workspace and our Twitter handle @LRP2020. The panel can be contacted at panel@lrp2020.groups.io and the co-chairs at chairs@lrp2020.groups.io.



Les coprésidents du panel PLT ont assisté à la réunion de janvier de l'AAS pour présenter une affiche sur PLT2020, entendre parler de la situation actuelle sur Maunakea et obtenir des mises à jour sur l'état actuel de l'enquête décennale américaine Astro2020. Les résultats d'Astro2020 ne devraient pas être publiés avant janvier 2021. Cela a des implications pour le Canada, car de nombreux projets envisagés par PLT2020 le sont également par Astro2020; après mûre réflexion, nous avons décidé de ne pas retarder le rapport PLT2020.

Le panel a achevé les discussions sur les projets, les installations et les recommandations contenues dans les livres blancs, et a décidé d'un ensemble de priorités. La rédaction du rapport est en cours. Le panel s'est réuni au CNRC-Herzberg en février pour une retraite d'écriture en personne et continue de se rencontrer régulièrement en ligne. Nous sommes toujours dans les délais pour présenter l'ébauche des recommandations en mai à l'AGA de la CASCA à Toronto.

La page Web du PLT est un peu plus à jour qu'il y a quelques mois et nous espérons rendre les livres blancs et rapports PLT2020 individuels plus facilement accessibles bientôt. Les dernières nouvelles sur PLT2020 sont disponibles sur l’espace de travail Slack et sur Twitter @LRP2020. Le panel peut être contacté à panel@lrp2020.groups.io et les co-présidents à chairs@lrp2020.groups.io.

CATAC Update on the Thirty Meter Telescope

By / par Michael Balogh (CATAC Chair)
(Cassiopeia – Winter / hivers 2019)

There has been no attempt to restart construction of the TMT since protestors blocked the Mauna Kea access road in mid-July. The protests, and the responses to them, have remained non-violent, as stakeholders work to find a solution to the conflict. Meanwhile, TMT opponents have been effectively disseminating their message, tapping into broader issues related to indigenous rights in Hawai’i and around the world. Parallels have been drawn with the findings of the Truth and Reconciliation committee here in Canada. This has mobilized some in Canada to express strong support for the view that the TMT project must do more to achieve the consent from Native Hawaiians before proceeding.

There is a long history of astronomy on Maunakea, including many stories of discovery and inclusiveness, but also a history of conflict that predates TMT. TMT itself has been part of the Canadian conversation since 2000, and the present site on Mauankea was selected (and supported by the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, a public agency responsible for improving the well-being of Native Hawaiians) ten years ago. This context is important, as are the efforts of the TMT project over the past decade to gain the consent and support of the Hawaiian population. To this end, CATAC prepared a document about the history and current status of the project, with several important references and links to factual information. To quote from that report:

All evidence is that the project followed procedures that were believed to be appropriate for obtaining consent from Hawaiians, and that construction halted in the face of protests. We see nothing shameful in trying to find a peaceful solution for a project that has been nearly twenty years in development, and that promises economic benefits to Hawaiians and scientific benefit to the world.

There appears to be a good understanding now, at least among most Canadian astronomers, University and political leaders, that Canada should not directly interfere in the process happening in Hawai’i. Mayor Harry Kim has been charged with negotiating a solution, and he released a report in late September titled The Heart of Aloha. While this short report is a good start, it is likely that additional, new ideas will be needed to resolve the conflict. We understand that there is still a lot of activity going on within the Hawaiian community to find a solution. Thus, we continue to wait to see if a path forward will emerge.

In the meantime, progress on obtaining two building permits at the alternative site in the Canary Islands continued, and both were in place by mid-November. Decisions on the next steps will be made by the TMT International Observatory (TIO) Members, who have been meeting regularly since August. The site at ORM presents its own significant challenges, scientifically, socially, financially and politically.

TMT and the LRP

CATAC provided a comprehensive report to LRP2020, which is meant to also serve many of the purposes of a white paper. TMT has been a topic of discussion at Town Halls across the country. At the moment there is uncertainty about the project, and much of this is likely to be resolved, one way or the other, well before the LRP report is published. Should a fundamental change (e.g. in site, scope, timescale etc) be announced, there will be a need for consultation and further input to the LRP process. CATAC is prepared to lead this process.

Instrumentation

Following discussion at the CASCA meeting in May, CATAC revised and finalized our recommendations for post-first light instrumentation. Those recommendations are summarized here for convenience:

  1. We recommend that Canadian SAC members support a transparent and effective instrumentation development plan, similar to the one presented by Luc Simard to the TMT SAC in November, 2010.
  2. Instrument teams require time and funding to develop ideas to the level that allows them to compete for significant external construction funds. We recommend that Canadian Board and SAC members emphasize the importance that the TIO provide funding for early design work (e.g. mini-studies) as well as for Conceptual Design Phases. Despite the budget challenges facing the project, this work must begin immediately if we are to have a competitive instrument suite on the telescope.
  3. We recommend that Canadians interested in the scientific or technical capabilities of an instrument contact other TMT partners and begin work on these ideas now, to the extent possible.
  4. The TMT Science Forums have proven to be fertile environments for building relationships between partners for instrument development. Forums have now been held in all partner countries except Canada. Canada should host the next TMT Science Forum.

Regarding the final recommendation, the SAC has expressed support for this proposal and it is expected that the next Science Forum will be held in Canada sometime in 2021.

The main new development is that the high-contrast, high-dispersion spectrograph MODHIS has been endorsed by the SAC as a first-light instrument, though its exact nature is still a topic of discussion. MODHIS will be effective for finding and characterizing massive exoplanets. Several Canadians are part of a CFI application that includes funding to participate in the development of this instrument.

Upcoming Events

The TMT Early Career Workshop will be held at HAA, May 26-June 1, 2020.

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)
David Lafrenière (Université de Montréal)
Harvey Richer (UBC)
Kristine Spekkens (Royal Military College of Canada)
Luc Simard (Director General of NRC-HAA, non-voting, ex-officio)
Don Brooks (Executive Director of ACURA, non-voting, ex-officio)
Rob Thacker (CASCA President, non-voting, ex-officio)
Kim Venn (TIO Governing Board, non-voting, ex-officio)
Stan Metchev (TIO SAC, non-voting, ex-officio)
Tim Davidge (TIO SAC Canadian co-chair; NRC, observer)
Greg Fahlman (NRC, observer)

CATAC Update on the Thirty Meter Telescope

By / par Michael Balogh (CATAC Chair)
(Cassiopeia – Autumn / l’automne 2019)

There has been no TMT construction activity since protestors blocked the access road on July 17. The situation remains peaceful, as described in our recent CASCA circular. We continue to welcome your feedback and questions. A good place for factual information about the work TMT has done to engage the Hawaiian community and more is the website www.maunakeaandtmt.org.

CATAC remains strongly supportive of the TMT, and of the activities the Project has undertaken over the past decade to consult with and engage the Hawaiian community. It has become increasingly clear in recent weeks that the most prominent voices heard during the first days following the anticipated restart of construction are not representative of most Hawaiians, including the Native population. There is significant support for TMT on the Big Island of Hawaii, and more and more people are coming forward to say so. Furthermore, many of the concerns expressed by the protestors have little to do with TMT itself, leaving hope that there is a way to address those concerns and build TMT at the same time.

As CATAC reported previously, the alternative site, in the Canary Islands, would allow TMT to realize most of its exciting potential. In particular, the site characteristics for adaptive optics in the near infrared are very competitive with those of Maunakea. However, the lower altitude and higher humidity of the ORM site severely compromise observations in the ultraviolet and mid-infrared. These wavelength regimes enable some compelling science cases, including the search for biosignatures on exoplanets. There is no doubt that Maunakea is superior to ORM for science observations, and for this reason we hope that, following some further work and negotiation, it will be possible to undertake TMT construction with broad Hawaiian support.

As we wait for these events to unfold, we are conscious of the potential additional delay to a project that is already five years behind schedule. The consequences of this should be considered deeply as we move into the process for LRP2020. TMT will hopefully have a long and productive lifetime – 40 years or more – and will shape many future generations of Canadian astronomers. It is CATAC’s opinion that the impact of this delay must be considered within this broader context: we must not risk or sacrifice the long-term benefits of having access to the best possible observatory for future Canadians.

It is important also to not lose focus on the long term development of this project, and with that in mind we remind you that the next TMT Science Forum will be November 4—6 2019, in Xiamen, China. This forum is a great opportunity to participate in, and influence, teams developing the future instrumentation suite for TMT. ACURA will again be providing some travel support for University-based researchers to attend this meeting. Requests can be directed to mbalogh@uwaterloo.ca.

We have proposed that the next Science Forum, sometime in 2020, be held in Canada, and this proposal has been welcomed by the Science Advisory Committee. Stay tuned for details.

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)
David Lafrenière (Université de Montréal)
Harvey Richer (UBC)
Kristine Spekkens (Royal Military College of Canada)
Luc Simard (Director General of NRC-HAA, non-voting, ex-officio)
Don Brooks (Executive Director of ACURA, non-voting, ex-officio)
Rob Thacker (CASCA President, non-voting, ex-officio)
Kim Venn (Science Governor for Canada on TIO Governing Board, non-voting, ex-officio)
Stan Metchev (TIO SAC, non-voting, ex-officio)
Tim Davidge (TIO SAC Canadian co-chair; NRC, observer)
Greg Fahlman (NRC, observer)

CATAC Update on the Thirty Meter Telescope

By / par Michael Balogh (CATAC Chair)
(Cassiopeia – Summer / été 2019)

CATAC has submitted a committee report to the LRP2020 panel. This report summarizes the recent history of Canada’s involvement with TMT, including issues related to construction and funding. It is a useful overview of our position in this important project, and is available both from the LRP panel report directory, and on our own webpage.

While the TMT International Observatory (TIO) now has the legal right to begin construction on Maunakea, there is still preparation work to be done. This includes applying for various permits which have expired and, importantly, coordinating with stakeholders including other Observatory Directors, the local police force, politicians, and residents. We expect that construction will restart sometime this northern summer.

In April CATAC published a revised draft of its recommendations on TMT instrumentation after first light. This was presented during the ACURA lunch session on Wed June 19, at this year’s annual CASCA meeting at McGill. A discussion was started at that session, but it is not too late to send us your feedback. CATAC needs to hear your ideas and ambitions so we can help ensure Canadian interests are well represented at the Board and SAC.

The next TMT Science Forum will be November 4-6 2019, in Xiamen, China. Please consider attending! ACURA will again be providing some travel support for University-based researchers to attend this meeting. Requests can be directed to mbalogh@uwaterloo.ca.

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)
David Lafrenière (Université de Montréal)
Harvey Richer (UBC)
Kristine Spekkens (Royal Military College of Canada)
Luc Simard (Director General of NRC-HAA, non-voting, ex-officio)
Don Brooks (Executive Director of ACURA, non-voting, ex-officio)
Rob Thacker (CASCA President, non-voting, ex-officio)
Kim Venn (Science Governor for Canada on TIO Governing Board, non-voting, ex-officio)
Stan Metchev (TIO SAC, non-voting, ex-officio)
Tim Davidge (TIO SAC Canadian co-chair; NRC, observer)
Greg Fahlman (NRC, observer)

CATAC Update on the Thirty Meter Telescope

By / par Michael Balogh (CATAC Chair)
(Cassiopeia – Spring / printemps 2019)

TMT Instrumentation Beyond First Light

Instrumentation for large telescopes takes a long time to develop, typically 7-10 years between start of conceptual design to first light. Work must start now if TMT is to realize its goal of introducing a new capability every two years after first light, and to remain competitive with ELT.

The Science Requirements Document (SRD) for the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) describes a range of capabilities (instruments and facility systems), and their requirements. The TMT Science Advisory Committee (SAC) last presented a preferred phasing of these capabilities in March 2011, and it is certainly time to revisit this. It is important that we in Canada give careful consideration to our own priorities so these can be clearly communicated to the SAC. US planning, for example, is being done in the context of possible access to both TMT and GMT, while Canadians and other partners will not have direct GMT access.

In late 2017 the SAC solicited, reviewed and ranked white papers from the TMT community. These rankings have not been made public, but the concepts under consideration are available here. This list represents a mild evolution of the original descriptions in the SRD.

A summary of the instruments under consideration for all three extremely large telescopes is given in the following table, with first light capabilities in boldface:

CATAC is preparing a review of these concepts and their phasing, with the aim of making recommendations that reflect Canada’s priorities. Your input is needed for this process! A draft for comment has been made available on our web page. Our March 26 CATAC Zoom meeting (3-4pm EDT) will be open to the public for discussion of this draft report. We encourage you to participate in that meeting, and/or send your feedback directly to mbalogh@uwaterloo.ca.

Wide Field Optical Spectrograph Progress

If you’d like to keep informed about the progress of WFOS, consider signing up to the mailing list here. The instrument team will be sending out occasional updates as the instrument’s specifications and science capabilities become increasingly defined.

Recent and Upcoming Meetings and Events

  • The next TMT Science Forum will be early November 2019, in China. The theme will likely be around multimessenger astronomy, and/or synergies with other facilities. Please consider attending! CATAC expects some funding will be available to help subsidize travel costs; stay tuned for a future announcement.
  • The CATAC meeting at 3pm EDT on March 26 will be open to CASCA members. We will discuss our draft recommendations on TMT instrumentation.
  • Extremely Big Eyes on the Early Universe, Sept 9-13, 2019 in Rome, Italy. This is the last of a three-part international conference series. Abstract submission deadline is April 15, and registration deadline is June 15.

CATAC Update on the Thirty Meter Telescope

By / par Michael Balogh (CATAC Chair)
(Cassiopeia – Winter / hivers 2018)

TMT Science Forum

The sixth TMT Science Forum was held in Pasadena, Dec 10-12. The agenda and participant list are available here. It was great to see so many Canadian researchers attending, and actively participating in the discussions. It was especially encouraging to see all the excellent science being done by our postdocs and graduate students, and their ambitions for more great things with TMT. Some of them also participated in the TMT Early Career Workshop the week before the Forum, where they were immersed in a start-to-finish instrument design experience.

A major focus of discussion was the US preparation for a preconstruction proposal to the NSF, largely to support instrumentation development, and preparation for the US Decadal survey Astro2020. Much of this work involves developing Key Science Programs, designed to make use of potential US access to both TMT and GMT. While this is a US-focused exercise, many of these Key Science Programs build on work that has already been done within the TMT community, by the International Science Definition Teams.

Compelling science cases were presented for several future instrument concepts, including multi-object NIR spectroscopy, high-contrast imaging and high-resolution spectroscopy. Discussion of the relative priorities of these concepts was an important agenda item for the SAC meeting that immediately followed the forum. Early in January, CATAC will be engaging with the Canadian community to develop a clear picture of where our priorities lie.

While this was the last Forum funded through the cooperative agreement with NSF that sparked the meetings, many people expressed the opinion that they should continue. While it is likely the next meeting will be held in China, I hope that we will consider hosting one in Canada perhaps the year after that.

Construction

The big news in the past months has been the positive ruling in both contested cases before the Hawai’i Supreme Court. First, in August, the Court ruled unanimously in favour of TMT on the issue of the sublease. Then, at the end of October, the Court delivered a 4-1 decision to uphold the Conservation District Use Permit issued to TMT by the Land Board. This is welcome news, that now gives TMT the legal right to restart construction. While it is expected that there will still be protests, the latest polls show strong support for TMT among Hawaiians. We are therefore hopeful that construction can begin soon, amid a welcoming environment in Hawai’i.

First Light Instrumentation

The SAC met in October to recommend a design choice for the Wide Field Optical Spectrograph, one of two first light instruments on the TMT. CATAC’s public report on the three designs under consideration was made available to SAC members. The SAC recommended that the project pursue the multi-slit imaging spectrograph design (Xchange), which was also the design preferred by CATAC. This concept will be the baseline for further development.

A conceptual design review of an adaptive secondary mirror (AM2) was held in October, and no show-stoppers were identified. However, there are risks associated with deploying an AM2 at first light, and it complicates commissioning. While an AM2 could have a big impact on future instruments, simplifying their design, it will not significantly affect WFOS or IRIS. Therefore, while there is interest in this being an early capability, it may not be necessary to push for it to be ready at first light.

Recent and Upcoming Meetings and Events

  • US-ELTP Splinter session at AAS, Seattle on Monday Jan 7, 2019
  • Conference, “Extremely Big Eyes on the Early Universe”, UCLA Jan 28-Feb 1, 2019

CATAC Update on the Thirty Meter Telescope

By / par Michael Balogh (CATAC Chair)
(Cassiopeia – Autumn / l’automne 2018)

Science Forum

Registration has now opened for the next TMT Science Forum, to be held December 10-12 in Pasadena, California. Please note that registration is free for students and members of the International Science Development Teams (ISDTs). In addition, ACURA has agreed to provide some travel support for University-based researchers who wish to attend this meeting, given its importance to the future success of TMT. To apply for this funding, please email mbalogh@uwaterloo.ca with a short description of your involvement in TMT, and your need for funding support.

Among other things, the Science Forum is an excellent opportunity for ISDT members to meet face to face. With Canada recently stepping up to join these ISDTs at an appropriate level, this is the time to take advantage of that membership to ensure your science interests are represented as TMT develops.

Instrumentation

The TMT Science Advisory Committee (SAC) is meeting Sept 12-13, and one of their main agenda items is to discuss progress with the Wide Field Optical Spectrograph (WFOS) design. The instrument team continues to work on advancing two possible designs: one using traditional slitmasks (Xchange) and another using optical fibers, over a wider field of view. At a recent, independent cost review, both instruments were found to significantly exceed the $50M cost cap when appropriate contingency is included. A subcommittee has been evaluating the scientific implications of proposed descope options for both designs, and will be reporting to the SAC at this meeting.

The other item before the SAC is a report from a subcommittee that has been considering white paper submissions for the next instrument to be constructed, after WFOS and IRIS. The SAC is in the process of reviewing and prioritizing the submissions, with a goal of identifying one or more studies for possible design funding.

Of likely relevance to future instrumentation discussion will be the Exoplanet Science Strategy report recently released by the U.S. National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM). The full report is available here. In particular, it recognizes the pivotal role that both TMT and GMT will play in the study of planet formation, and recommends that the National Science Foundation (NSF) invest in both the GMT and TMT and their exoplanet instrumentation to provide all-sky access to the U.S. community.

Funding and Construction Developments

In August, the Hawai’i Supreme Court ruled in favour of TMT regarding the case of the sublease. The issue at stake here was a possible requirement to conduct a contested case hearing for the granting of the sublease, as was done earlier this year for the Conservation District Use Permit (CDUP). The court ruled, unanimously, that a contested case hearing is not required for the sublease.

The remaining case before the Supreme Court is the appeal of the Land Board’s decision to award the CDUP itself. A decision is expected in the coming weeks, hopefully before the Board meeting in October. Coincidentally, the permitting process for the alternative site in the Canary Islands (ORM) is expected to conclude, following unanticipated bureaucratic delays.

As recently announced, the US community is now working under the leadership of NOAO to prepare a proposal for US participation in both TMT and GMT. If this is well received by the US Decadal planning process, it may pave the way for substantial (25%) NSF involvement in the project. A potential complication is that NSF participation will likely trigger the need for a federal Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). Depending on how this is staged, it could lead to further delays. No such EIS would likely be required for construction on ORM, La Palma. The Board is expected to make a site recommendation this October. CATAC will be revisiting our site selection report and recommendations from May 2017 to identify anything that might have changed or need more research, so that we can reaffirm or modify our recommendations as necessary. Continued input to CATAC on this important issue is still welcome.

CATAC Update on the Thirty Meter Telescope

By / par Michael Balogh, CATAC Chair
(Cassiopeia – Summer / été 2018)

Instrumentation

In April, CATAC submitted recommendations on the three design choices for the Wide Field Optical Spectrograph (WFOS), the result of a five month period of information gathering and community consultation. As one of only two first light instruments, the success of WFOS is critically important to the success of TMT. Our recommendation was that, while all three designs are exciting and capable of delivering excellent science, the Xchange design provides the best match to the top-level specifications. Moreover, the flexibility of this design, relative to the survey-oriented fibre design, is preferred. The final report is available on our web page.

Following this report, the instrument underwent a cost and risk review. At this review it was decided that the slicer design would not be pursued any further. Both the Xchange and fibre designs were found to significantly exceed the cost cap, and the instrument team has been charged with looking at how the designs can be altered to reduce cost. Neither design has a significant technical advantage or disadvantage; both have risks that will require some work.

The design work is expected to be completed by early July, to allow the SAC to make a recommendation by their July 26 meeting. In addition, a sub-committee of the TMT SAC has been formed to re-visit the science specifications that were originally defined for WFOS over a decade ago. The recommendations made by the sub-committee will also be discussed by the full SAC at that next meeting. The other TMT communities are undergoing a consultation process similar to the one held in Canada, and this information will be considered as well. There is still time for your voice to be heard, and if you have comments or concerns about WFOS please contact any CATAC member.

Work is also underway to select the third instrument to be built for TMT. Eight white papers have been submitted to the SAC, and these are currently being reviewed by a SAC subcommittee that includes representation from all the partners.

Science Forum

At the CASCA meeting in Victoria, it was announced that the next TMT Science Forum will be held December 10-12 in Pasadena, California. This will be an important meeting, likely coming after the pending legal decisions in Hawai’i have been resolved. We hope that many Canadians will consider attending this meeting. It is likely that some funding will be made available to help those who need it; an announcement will be made in the coming months.

Funding and Construction Developments

Gary Sanders (Project Manager) and Christophe Dumas (Observatory Scientist) summarized the current state of the project very well in their presentations at the CASCA AGM. There is lots of design and construction activity underway as we await the outcome of the permitting processes on both Maunakea and the alternate site in the Canary Islands.

As announced earlier this year, the US National Science Foundation (NSF), NOAO, TMT International Observatory and GMT Organization are working together to develop Key Science Programs that will be presented to the Decadal Review process in the US. If this is ranked highly by the Decadal Review Panel, NSF has communicated that they will be prepared to support a significant share (at least 25%) of both GMT and TMT, to provide access for the US community. This is a welcome development that provides a path to full construction. There remain issues to be resolved, including the timing of any funding and the Canadian share in the project. CATAC will continue to keep you informed as the situation develops; in the meantime, feel free to contact any CATAC member if you have questions or concerns.