Maunakea Spectroscopic Explorer (MSE) Update

By / par Patrick Hall (MSE Management Group Member)
(Cassiopeia – Summer / été 2019)

Updated Detailed Science Case

The Detailed Science Case for the Maunakea Spectroscopic Explorer: 2019 Edition is now available as arXiv:1904.04907 or from the redesigned MSE website. This document relied on input from the MSE Science Team (380 members worldwide and counting – join today!), particularly the leads of the eight science working groups.

Major pillars in the science program for MSE include (i) the ultimate Gaia follow-up facility for understanding the chemistry and dynamics of the distant Milky Way, including the outer disk and faint stellar halo at high spectral resolution (ii) galaxy formation and evolution at cosmic noon, via the type of revolutionary surveys that have occurred in the nearby Universe, but now conducted at the peak of the star formation history of the Universe (iii) derivation of the mass of the neutrino and insights into inflationary physics through a cosmological redshift survey that probes a large volume of the Universe with a high galaxy density.

The Science Team has also responded to a survey about the balance between science requirements and instrument capabilities as described in the MSE Conceptual Design, in particular as relates to the HR resolution and the LMR H-band capabilities. Later this year, the Science Team will begin work on a Design Reference Survey to demonstrate quantitatively the science and survey capabilities of MSE during the first two years of science operations.

MSE Development in Canada: SoU, ACURA, and CFI proposal

MSE has completed its Conceptual Design Phase, and a Statement of Understanding (SoU) governing the Preliminary Design Phase is ready for signature by the MSE participants. The ACURA Institutional Council will vote on becoming the Canadian signatory on this SoU at its meeting after CASCA this June. Signatories to the SoU are under no financial obligation to MSE; the SoU merely specifies how any contributions that are made from signatories will be valued by the MSE project.

To secure a substantial Canadian share in MSE, funding will have to be secured from peer-reviewed grants such as CFI. To that end, work led by U. Victoria Prof. Colin Bradley continues on a substantial (~$20M) CFI request for University and industry partners to complete design work on numerous MSE subsystems. To date, MSE internal proposals have been approved at Victoria, UBC, Waterloo, and St. Mary’s, with proposals still under review at York, McGill, Western, Manitoba, and Toronto.

Partnership Plan, Budget, Timeline, and Long-Term Planning Submissions

The MSE Management Group will soon circulate a draft partnership plan for MSE during construction and operations phases. MSE has elements of both a facility and a survey (e.g., SDSS). 80% of the observing time will be used for legacy-style surveys (durations of several years), solicited from and developed by the partner community via regular calls. 20% of the time (over 10 million fiber-hours in the first 5 years) will be used for smaller strategic programs. In the draft partnership plan, partners will be able to participate in all legacy surveys and will have access to all legacy survey data, and partners will have access to a share of the strategic survey time proportional to their contributions to the overall MSE budget. (If you have an interest in weighing in on the draft MSE partnership plan, contact either of your MSE MG reps.)

The cost of MSE based on the Conceptual Design is US$328M base cost + $86M risk cost, with the telescope and spectrographs being the largest contributors to that budget. A technically paced schedule with CFHT decommissioning in mid-2024 yields MSE science commissioning beginning in 2029. Preliminary design phase technical and partnership work will refine those numbers, but it remains the case that MSE is the only 8-meter class wide-field optical/near-infrared spectroscopic facility (as opposed to instrument) in the design stages.

To that end, MSE-related white papers and white paper notices of intent have been submitted to the LRP and the Astro2020 long-term planning exercises by the Project Office and by scientists interested in MSE. These submissions review specific science goals achievable with MSE and the design and planning work underway for it.

Speaking of which, the MSE Project Office is hiring a Systems Engineer – see the job ad here.


MSE presentations formed part of the triennial CFHT User’s Meeting held in Montreal from May 20-22. Presentations by Doug Simons (CFHT and MSE), Alan McConnachie (MSE Overview), Daniel Huber (Stellar Astrophysics and Exoplanets), Daryl Haggard (Time Domain Science), Michael Balogh (Galaxy Formation and Evolution), and Will Percival (Cosmology) can be found here.

MSE will also have a presence at the CASCA meeting in Montreal; more about that meeting in the next Cassiopeia.

For Further Information

For any questions about MSE, contact your MSE Management Group representatives – Laura Ferrarese and Patrick Hall – or your MSE Science Advisory Group members – Sarah Gallagher and Kim Venn.

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