CATAC Update on the Thirty Meter Telescope

par Michael Balogh (CATAC Chair)
(Cassiopeia – hiver 2022)

Site Update

On July 7, with Act 255 the Governor of the State of Hawai’i signed bill HB2024 into law, establishing a new Authority responsible for managing Mauna Kea lands.  There will now be a transition period of up to five years, before authority is fully transferred from the University of Hawaii to this new body.  The Authority consists of 11 voting members, listed here.  The selected representative of the Mauna Kea Observatories is Rich Matsuda of Keck Observatories.

In October 2022, the Department of the Interior announced that it will require formal consultation with the Native Hawaiian Community, and is developing new policies and procedures to “further affirm and honour the special political and trust relationship between the United States and the Native Hawaiian Community”.

The TMT construction permit on the alternate site, Roque de los Muchachos Observatory (ORM) had been revoked following a successful appeal by the environmental group Ben Magec.  The TMT International Observatory (TIO), Instituto de Astrofisica (IAC) and the Cabildo (local government body) appealed this decision.  This appeal was successful, meaning TMT once again has legal right to construct on ORM.

Partnership Update

On July 16, the National Science Foundation (NSF) issued a notice of intent to proceed with the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and Section 106 processes.  Four scoping meetings were held on the Big Island, to receive feedback on the process.   Both written and oral testimony was provided to the visiting panel.  More information about this process can be found here.

The US Extremely Large Telescope Program (US-ELTP) has now been accepted into the Large Facilities (MREFC) queue and, with this, the NSF’s Preliminary Design Review (PDR) has begun.  This will consist of two phases.  The first phase, focused on technical readiness of TMT, is underway now and will be completed by the end of 2022.  In early January 2023, the programmatics (governance, operations etc) will be reviewed, together with the GMT and NOIRLab component of the US ELTP. The PDR is an important gate that must be passed if the project is to proceed to the Final Design phase.  The Final Design Review (FDR) would take place about 18 months after the PDR, and would include a Final Cost Review, for which a firm governance model and site selection would be required.

Technical Developments

In preparation for the NSF review, the SAC was asked to assess an evaluation of 59 possible descope options, that together amount to about 10% of the project cost.  The identification of descopes is an NSF requirement and part of good project management – it does not mean that there is a current expectation that any of these will need to be realised.  The most significant of these proposed descopes is a decrease of the primary mirror diameter to 25m, either permanently or with an upgrade path.  The SAC agreed with the evaluation that this would be the most negatively impactful descope, and should only be used as a last resort.  It would be strongly detrimental to adaptive optics performance and long-term competitiveness with ELT.

Although much of the technical development work has slowed across the partnership, significant work is ongoing.   At HAA, key components of the TMT AO system NFIRAOS (the CMOS sensor that will be used for the wavefront sensor, and the real-time controller) were demonstrated on sky using the DAO 1.2m telescope.  The results were impressive, achieving a 0.30” FWHM with 36% Strehl.  HAA is also testing new deformable mirrors and other components useful for GIRMOS (Gemini), which is a pathfinder for a similar IRMOS instrument on TMT.

Meetings and Consultations

For several years we have been looking forward to hosting the next TMT Science forum in Canada.  However, it became clear that due to both lingering COVID travel restrictions and partner funding limitations, such a meeting held in person would not likely achieve a broad participation from across the partnership.  This means the meeting would be unlikely to achieve one of its most important goals, which is to establish and build international teams especially around instrumentation.  CATAC therefore recommended that Canada should not host an in-person Forum until this situation changes, and after there is more clarity about the future of the project following the NSF review.

The TMT International Observatory and the TMT Science Advisory Committee recently announced a webinar series starting this December.  The first webinar will be « Thirty Meter Telescope: project updates and call for ISDT membership ». There will be a 50 minute presentation describing the project status, including site updates and a 10 min presentation from the SAC on the call for ISDT membership.  The total time, including a Q&A session, will be 1.5h. The webinar will be held at two times: Monday Dec 19 at 21:00 PST and Jan 18, Wednesday at 14:00 PST.  Registration is required, via the link here.

CATAC Membership

Michael Balogh (University of Waterloo), Chair,
Bob Abraham (University of Toronto; TIO SAC)
Stefi Baum (University of Manitoba)
Laura Ferrarese (NRC)
Harvey Richer (UBC)
Jason Rowe (Bishop’s)
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)
Christine Wilson (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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