CATAC Update on the Thirty Meter Telescope

By / par Michael Balogh (CATAC Chair)
(Cassiopeia – Summer / été 2020)

CATAC is very pleased to see that the exposure draft of the Long Range Plan (LRP), presented at the virtual CASCA meeting at the end of May, recognizes the importance of access to a Very Large Optical Telescope capability, ranking it first among large, ground-based projects. The Thirty Meter Telescope project remains Canada’s best opportunity to retain a leadership role and significant scientific share within such a facility. The continued delays to the project are disappointing for all, but we remain fully committed to TMT and to doing our part to help it succeed. Indeed, there are reasons to be optimistic for a successful and competitive completion of the project, as many people are working hard to find solutions to the current challenges. The project will be undergoing full Schedule and Cost Reviews in late summer / early fall. Until this process is complete, it is premature to speculate on the final cost of the project, or the effect of any revisions to previous estimates on Canada’s share.

Steady progress on the instrumentation suite is being made, notably with advances in the design of WFOS and refinement of MODHIS specifications. The India TMT Optical Fabrication Facility (ITOFF) at the Indian Institute of Astrophysics campus near Bengaluru recently completed construction. Construction is also underway at HAA in Victoria on a new instrumentation integration and testing facility. The first occupant of this building will be NFIRAOS, where it will be coupled with IRIS. The structure is large enough to accommodate the largest instruments envisioned for ELT-class telescopes. Some of these future instrument concepts are nearly as large as an 8-m class telescope.

The State of Hawaii has established a Working Group, to engage all the stakeholders in Hawaii in discussions on broad issues such as land use, housing, health and education. This group is actively exploring whether or not a form of reconciliation is possible. Astronomy on Maunakea is part of these discussions, which are following a process well aligned with some of the publicly available whitepapers submitted to the LRP panel, including Canadian Astronomy on Maunakea: On Respecting Indigenous Rights and Indigenizing the next decade of astronomy in Canada. As those involved work to build the trust needed to proceed, it is important that they be allowed to speak freely, frankly and honestly with each other; this is best done, initially, in a confidential setting.

The TMT Science Advisory Committee has struck a subcommittee to consider the latest and most complete information available on site quality at Observatorio del Roque de los Muchachos (ORM), Canary Islands, to ensure the TIO Members are fully informed. They are using the previous CATAC report as input, as well as a new report being prepared by the Japanese partner which considers additional (historical) site testing data. As noted in previous reports, there are also significant political, financial, environmental and social challenges associated with building on ORM that mean it is not straightforward to move to this alternate site.

Upcoming Events

We had hoped that the next TMT Science Forum would be held in May, 2021 in Vancouver. However, given the likelihood that travel and gatherings are still likely to be severely restricted at that time, it is probable that this meeting will be postponed until 2022. Unfortunately, this year’s TMT Early Careers Workshop at HAA also had to be cancelled.

The TMT project expects to hold a public webinar in the near future, to report on the findings of the working group investigating the site characteristics of ORM, relative to MK13N. The date for this meeting has not yet been set, but CATAC will make sure this is appropriately advertised via the CASCA email list.

CATAC membership:
Michael Balogh (University of Waterloo), Chair,
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)
Sara Ellison (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)

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