Request for Expressions of Interest
Operation of Night-time Facilities on Kitt Peak
2 November 2012 (R1)

At the request of NSF, AURA/NOAO hereby invites expressions of interest from the international community for participation in the operation of the Mayall 4-m and/or the 2.1-m facilities on Kitt Peak.

The recent NSF Astronomy Portfolio Review (PR) report recommended that NSF divest from a number of facilities located on Kitt Peak. In their initial response on 31 August 2012, NSF Astronomy stated:

“For AST, the practical interpretation of …[divesting from]… a particular telescope is that funding for operations of that telescope should be removed from the AST budget. In responding to this recommendation, AST will first seek other sources of funding or operators for that telescope before moving toward possible closure. In order to have a realistic probability of achieving maximum savings for reinvestment by the beginning of FY 2017, the divest/close decision for any individual telescope should be made near the end of Calendar Year 2013. It is anticipated that, if AST determines to divest from an individual telescope, this telescope would be separated from the AST-supported parent observatory in any future management competitions.”

WIYN 3.5-m facility

One Kitt Peak facility recommended for divestment is the WIYN 3.5-m, operated by WIYN, Inc., a joint endeavor between the University of Wisconsin, Indiana University, Yale University, and NOAO. Today, NOAO is a 40% partner and contributes approximately $1M per year towards WIYN operations (excluding instrumentation development and data management services). AURA/NOAO expects NSF to ask us to withdrawal from WIYN, perhaps as early as January 2015. In response to that expectation, the WIYN partnership would welcome expressions of interest from potential new partners. Interested parties should contact Dr. John Salzer, President, WIYN Board of Directors (slaz@astro.indiana.edu).

KPNO Mayall 4-m and 2.1-m facilities

The PR report also recommended that NSF divest from the Mayall 4-m and 2.1-m telescopes on Kitt Peak. These facilities are operated by AURA/NOAO under a Cooperative Agreement with NSF. The combined operations cost of these two facilities is approximately $6M per year (including administration and data management services but excluding any instrumentation development) split roughly 80:20. Further details can be found in the most recent NOAO Fiscal Year Report (FY 2011) and Annual Program Plan (FY 2012) (both available from the NOAO News & Reports web site).

To inform eventual divest decisions, NSF has asked AURA to seek letters from other parties interested in assuming some or all of the Mayall and 2.1-m operations costs, perhaps as early as January 2015 but potentially somewhat later, in return for access to these facilities commensurate with the funding contribution.

In response to this NSF request, AURA/NOAO hereby invites expressions of interest from the international community for participation in the operation of the Mayall 4-m and/or the 2.1-m facilities on Kitt Peak. This is not a formal announcement of opportunity. Expressions of interest should be brief, no more than two (2) pages. Each letter should contain a concise summary of your institution (e.g. core scientific interests, number of scientists, etc.), why you are interested in Mayall and/or 2.1-m, potential funding level, plausible funding source(s), and when such funding could begin. A primary contact for further dialogue and communication should be designated.

All levels of interest are welcome, from tens of nights by individual institutions to the assumption of all operations costs by multi-institutional collaborations. Concepts for funding innovative instrumentation and/or operations modes are welcome, as are concepts for the simultaneous participation in Mayall, WIYN, and 2.1-m operations.

AURA/NOAO itself continues to advocate for a joint partnership between DOE, NSF, and community groups to deploy and operate the 5000-fiber BigBOSS multi-object optical spectrometer. We believe strongly that BigBOSS enables a broad range of exciting astronomical research as well as a crucial Stage 4 dark energy experiment. Ideally, a significant number of “open access” nights per year would remain available at the Mayall for small, PI-class programs that want to use BigBOSS or any of the current or future Cassegrain instruments. Expressions of interest in participating in such a joint endeavor are particularly welcome.

Please note that issues related to facility ownership, liability, actual employer of record, models for shared infrastructure operations, etc. are still under consideration by NSF. Naturally, many of these issues must be resolved before a formal announcement of opportunity can be released, while some will be open to discussion with potential new operations partners. Indeed, understanding what parties might be interested in these facilities on Kitt Peak will help establish pragmatic boundary conditions for resolving these issues.

Unless you request otherwise, in whole or in part, submitted letters will be made available to NSF Astronomy and used as confidential input to their on-going deliberations as well as discussions between NSF and AURA/NOAO. They may also be used to help structure a more formal announcement of opportunity during 2013, at the discretion of NSF.

Expressions of interest should be submitted electronically as PDF documents by 15 December 2012 to Dr. Timothy Beers, NOAO Associate Director for KPNO (tbeers@noao.edu).