Giant Telescope Project Partners Pass on Federal Funds

Pasadena, CA – The board of directors of the Giant Magellan Telescope Organization (GMTO) has informed the National Science Foundation (NSF) that they will not participate in an upcoming funding opportunity. The partners in the project feel that they are making such rapid progress that they have chosen to press ahead at full speed, looking to link up with the NSF at a later date when the needs of both organizations are better aligned. With nearly half of the $700M needed to build the observatory committed, the partners are confident that they will complete the telescope.

In December, the NSF issued a call for proposals to develop a plan for partnering with the NSF, but is unable to commit to a partnership or to identify a path towards federal funding for construction before the end of the decade. The NSF solicitation offers $250,000 per year in funding for activities related to community involvement, scientific workshops, and other planning work. In a letter to the NSF director of the Division of Astronomical Sciences, Dr. James Ulvestad, GMTO board chair Dr. Wendy Freedman stated: “After careful consideration, the GMT Board has chosen not to pursue this solicitation, but to develop our own program for cultivating partnerships within the U.S. community and with our international partners. We believe this is the best course for the GMT.” She went on to assure the NSF that “we remain committed to your stated goal of realizing the ‘significant opportunities in research, education, and instrumentation for the U.S. community under a public/private/international partnership’.”
The Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT) is a next generation astronomical observatory with unprecedented power. Its 85-foot diameter segmented primary mirror will provide approximately 4,000 square feet of light-collecting area. In the past few months the project has successfully polished the first off-axis mirror segment, cast the second giant mirror, started demolition and earth moving at the site at the Carnegie Institution’s Las Campanas Observatory in Chile, and selected their first generation of scientific instruments.
At its March 27/28 meeting the GMTO board accepted recommendations from a blue-ribbon panel regarding the selection of a suite of first generation instruments that includes powerful cameras and spectrographs that will allow the GMT to explore planetary systems around other stars and to look back to the dawn of time and the birth of the first stars, galaxies, and black holes. The GMT will help astronomers probe the nature of dark matter and dark energy, mysterious forms of matter and energy that allow galaxies to form while the expansion of the universe accelerates.
The GMT partner institutions are the Australian National University, Astronomy Australia Limited, the Carnegie Institution for Science, Harvard University, the Korea Astronomy and Space Science Institute, The Smithsonian Institution, Texas A&M University, the University of Arizona, the University of Chicago, and the University of Texas at Austin. More information regarding the GMT project and their statement regarding the NSF solicitation can be found at: