In a major boost for the Thirty Meter Telescope, a federal astronomy report has ranked the cutting-edge telescope and its U.S.-led cousin, the Giant Magellan Telescope, planned for Chile, among its top priorities for funding to the U.S. government.
The decadal survey report by the National Academy of Sciences Astro 2020 panel, released this morning, is recommending that the two facilities — now planned to work together as the U.S. Extremely Large Telescope Program — share $1.6 billion.
The report describes both TMT and GMT as transformative to astronomy.
“These observatories will create enormous opportunities for scientific progress over the coming decades and well beyond,” the report says.
If the funding comes through, it puts the developer of the $2.4 billion TMT observatory in a better position to acquire the financing it needs to complete the project planned near the summit of Mauna Kea.
But it will also delay construction for at least a couple of years as the project works to comply with additional regulatory and environmental requirements.
The report, which offers guidance for federal funding for the next decade, acknowledges that the TMT will either be built on Mauna Kea or its backup site at the Roque de los Muchachos Observatory on La Palma in the Canary Islands.
“Both projects (TMT and GMT) are essential for keeping the U.S. community’s global scientific leadership,” the report says. “However, both projects have significant remaining risks primarily associated with the need to raise additional private or international contributions. The success of at least one of these projects is absolutely essential if the United States is to maintain a position as a leader in ground-based astronomy.”
Mauna Kea astronomer Thayne Currie said the report is good news for astronomy in Hawaii, especially with the National Science Foundation expected to take a larger role in its development.
“I look forward to TMT’s transformative science and the amazing opportunities TMT will bring to Hawai‘i for many years to come!” Currie posted on social media this morning.