CATAC Update on the Thirty Meter Telescope

By Michael Balogh (CATAC Chair)
(Cassiopeia – Spring / printemps 2022)

TMT Canada Information Session

In advance of the CASCA AGM, CATAC will be hosting a community Webinar to provide an update on TMT. This will take place on Thursday, May 12 at 3pm EDT. A registration link will be circulated shortly to the CASCA email list; registration is open to CASCA members only. A rough outline of the agenda is:

Time (EDT)
3:00-3:25pm CATAC update on next steps following Astro2020, including the NSF process and the role of the Board and partners during this process
3:25-4:05pm Project Manager Fengchuan Liu will provide an update on TMT, including technology development and the situation in Hawaii
4:05-4:30pm Discussion and questions from participants

The meeting will not be recorded, though some slides may be made available. If you want to attend but cannot make that time, we are considering hosting a second (identical) session the following day, May 13 at 3pm EDT. This will only occur if there is sufficient demand. If you cannot attend on May 12, but can on May 13, send an email to to register your interest.

Recent News

We are pleased to announce that David Andersen (NRC) is the new science instrumentation group leader. He takes over from Eric Chisolm (another Canadian), who has taken a senior leadership position with Amazon’s Center for Quantum Computing (CQC).

Fengchuan Liu transitioned from acting Project Manager to Project Manager in November 2021. He is resident in Hilo, Hawaii and over the past year he has had many opportunities to listen and learn from members of the community.

Following the top ranking in the US Decadal report, the next step is for the project to be accepted into the Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction (MREFC) budget, after which it will become an official project of the NSF. The process and timeline from there is described in detail in NSF’s Large Facilities Manual. NSF’s funding for the construction or modification of facilities constitutes a Federal Action that triggers compliance with several statutes, including the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) and the Endangered Species Act. Compliance with NEPA includes providing opportunities for public input on issues such as potential environmental impacts and ways to avoid, minimize, and/or mitigate adverse impacts, and will require completion of an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).

In preparation for this process, the NSF has engaged in informal discussions with various parties, including TIO partners. It should be expected that partnership with the NSF at a significant level may impact many aspects of the project including partner shares, governance, operations and instrumentation planning. As we noted in our last eCass article, CATAC is working closely with GAC as they explore how to fulfil the LRP recommendation to ensure Canada has access to a Very Large Optical Telescope (VLOT), at a level that provides compelling opportunities for Canadian leadership in science, technology and instrumentation.

Site Update

As we noted in our last article, the University of Hawaii bill that is currently before the House of Representatives. This bill would establish the creation of a new body for managing the summit. This body would be made up of ten voting members (three of which serve ex-officio). The bill requires that four of the seven non-ex officio members be Native Hawaiian residents of the county of Hawaii, with a preference for Native Hawaiian residents of the county of Hawaii for all seven non-ex officio members. There would be no representative from the astronomical community on this authority. The bill was passed by the House on March 8, and received by the Senate on March 10. The current status of the bill can be followed here.


A good description of the first-light and subsequent instrumentation planning for TMT is available on their website. CATAC has been revisiting and revising our recommendations on post-first-light instrumentation, released in 2019. Despite the delay in construction start for TMT, and the progress made by ELT, the planned instrumentation development for TMT is still competitive. WFOS (Wide Field Optical Spectrograph) and MODHIS (high resolution, AO-assisted NIR spectrograph) are first light capabilities that ELT will not have on the current projected timeline. HROS (high resolution optical spectrograph) remains a high priority for the next instrument – and while there is competition from a similar instrument (ANDES, formerly known as HIRES) on ELT, there is still scope for HROS to be deployed on a comparable timescale. Current, Canadian-led work on GIRMOS (for Gemini) and NIRPS (ESO 3.6m) paves the way for future TMT instruments TIRMOS and NIRES-B, respectively. Finally, we note that ELT is deferring development of the Planetary Camera and Spectrograph (PCS), to further develop the science case and technology (see article here). Careful and appropriate phasing of TMT’s Planetary System Instrument (PSI) could therefore enable TMT to achieve some of this exciting science well before the ELT.

While the pace of GMT instrument development appears to be significantly behind that of TMT, that has the potential to change with NSF involvement. Since the US community will have access to both GMT and TMT, this may inform NSF priorities regarding instrumentation on the two telescopes. It is too early to be sure what the implications might be for Canada and the TMT, but it is an issue that CATAC is watching closely.

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)
Kim Venn (University of Victoria)
Luc Simard (Director General of NRC-HAA, non-voting, ex-officio)
Don Brooks (Executive Director of ACURA, non-voting, ex-officio)
Rob Thacker (Acting CASCA President, 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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