Statement of Task and Scope
STATEMENT OF TASK
The Committee on Astro2010 will survey the field of space- and ground-based astronomy and astrophysics, recommending priorities for the most important scientific and technical activities of the decade 2010-2020.
The principal goals of the study will be to carry out an assessment of activities in astronomy and astrophysics, including both new and previously identified concepts, and to prepare a concise report that will be addressed to the agencies supporting the field, the congressional committees with jurisdiction over those agencies, the scientific community, and the public.
The subject matter of the survey will include experimental and theoretical aspects of observations of the cosmos, analysis of those observations, the theoretical framework for understanding the observations, and the professional infrastructure that enables the observations. Science that involves in situ observations for instance planetary or helio probes will be excluded.
The extent of the common ground between fundamental physics and cosmology has grown, and the strength of the relationship between physics questions at the quantum size scale and at the scale of the entire universe is becoming increasingly clear. The survey will treat this and other areas of interface with adjacent scientific disciplines, as appropriate.
Ground-based laboratory experimental data, physics-based theoretical models, and numerical simulation play a growing role in the interpretation of astronomical observations. The scope of the study will reflect these trends. The study will review the federal research programs that support work in the field, including the astrophysics program at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the astronomy program at the National Science Foundation (NSF), and selected aspects of the physics programs at the NSF and the Department of Energy (DOE). For the purpose of this charge, “activities” include any project, telescope, facility, mission, or research program of sufficient scope to be identified separately in the final report. The selection of subject matter will be guided by the content of these programs. Only physics topics with a strong overlap with astronomy and astrophysics will be treated. Solar astronomy will be covered, but space-based solar astronomy projects will not be prioritized.
The study will assess the infrastructure of the field, including research and analysis support; the educational system; instrumentation and technology development; data distribution, analysis, and archiving; theory programs; and so on. The committee will determine whether the optimal infrastructure necessary to advance the science and to capture the value of major activities is in place.
In its assessment, the committee will also consider the importance of balance within and among the activities sponsored by the various agencies that support research in astronomy and astrophysics. It will explore the diversity of the portfolio of activities ranging from principal-investigator-led research, through small, medium-sized, and large projects. The committee will conduct a review of relevant activities of other nations and the opportunities for joint ventures and other forms of international cooperation. It will also explore prospects for combining resources—private, state, federal, and international—to build the strongest possible set of activities for U.S. astronomy and astrophysics.
The committee will address the future of U.S. astronomy and astrophysics by formulating a decadal research strategy with recommendations for initiatives in priority order within different categories (related to the size of activities and their home agencies). In addition to reviewing individual initiatives, aspects of infrastructure, and so on, the committee will take a comprehensive look at the U.S. astronomy and astrophysics program and make a judgment about how well the program addresses the range of scientific opportunities and how it might be optimized. The guiding principle in developing the decadal research strategy and the priorities will be maximizing future scientific progress.
In contrast to previous surveys of the field, in view of the number of previously recommended but unrealized projects, the prioritization process will include those
unrealized projects, and it will not be assumed that they will go forward. Projects that are sufficiently developed in terms of engineering design and technology development to have been given a formal start by the sponsoring agency would not, in general, be subject to reprioritization.
In determining the status of activities that are candidates for prioritization, the committee will review the technical readiness of the components and the system, it will assess various sources of risk, and it will develop its own estimate of the costs of the activity with help from an independent contractor with expertise in this area. It will not uncritically accept estimates provided by activity proponents or the agencies. It is anticipated that, on the basis of the technical readiness assessment, some initiatives may take the form of high-priority development programs rather than projects. In proposing a decadal U.S. research strategy for astronomy and astrophysics, the committee is expected to consider and make recommendations relating to the allocation of future budgets and address choices that may be faced, given a range of budget scenarios. For each prioritized activity, the committee will establish criteria on which its recommendations depend. The committee will make recommendations to the agencies on how to rebalance programs within budgetary scenarios upon failure of one or more of the criteria.
In addressing the U.S. effort in astronomy and astrophysics, the committee is expected to make recommendations bearing on the organization of research programs in astronomy within the current federal agency structure.