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Large Synoptic Survey Telescope gets green light for construction

The National Science Foundation (NSF) agreed on Friday (Aug. 1) to support the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA) to manage the construction of the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST). This marks the official federal start of the LSST project, the top-ranked major ground-based facility recommended by the National Research Council’s Astronomy and Astrophysics decadal survey committee in its 2010 report, New Worlds, New Horizons. It is being carried out as an NSF and Department of Energy (DOE) partnership, with NSF responsible for the telescope and site, education and outreach, and the data management system, and DOE providing the camera and related instrumentation. Both agencies expect to support post-construction operation of the observatory.

NCSA leads the development of the data processing infrastructure for LSST. Each night images will arrive at NCSA seconds after they are taken. Software will detect newly visible or moving astronomical objects. Streams of reports about these objects will be sent to the worldwide astronomical community. Each year, all of the LSST data collected so far will be processed for an annual data release. NCSA will serve that this data though a leading edge scalable database, Qserve.

LSST director Steven Kahn of Stanford University commented on the unique contributions LSST will make to astronomy and fundamental physics: “The broad range of science enabled by the LSST survey will change our understanding of the dynamic universe on timescales ranging from its earliest moments after the Big Bang to the motions of asteroids in the solar system today. The open nature of our data products means that the public will have the opportunity to share in this exciting adventure along with the scientific community. The most exciting discoveries will probably be those we haven’t yet even envisioned!” By digitally imaging the sky for a decade, LSST will produce a petabyte-scale database enabling new paradigms of knowledge discovery for transformative STEM education. LSST will address the most pressing questions in astronomy and physics, which are driving advances in big data science and computing. LSST is not “just another telescope” but a truly unique discovery engine.

The early development of LSST was supported by the LSST Corporation (LSSTC), a non-profit consortium of universities and other research institutions. Fabrication of the major mirror components is already underway, thanks to private funding received from the Charles and Lisa Simonyi Foundation for Arts and Sciences, Bill Gates, and other individuals. Receipt of federal construction funds allows major contracts to move forward, including those to build the telescope mount assembly, the figuring of the secondary mirror, the summit facility construction, the focal plane sensors, and the camera lenses.

LSST’s construction funding will be provided through NSF’s Major Research Equipment and Facilities (MREFC) account. LSST passed its NSF Final Design Review in December of 2013; the National Science Board gave the NSF conditional approval to move the project to construction status in May of 2014. On the DOE side, LSST received Critical Decision-1 approval (CD-1) in 2011 and also just received CD-3a approval, which allows the project to move forward with long-lead procurements. The CD-2 review will take place the first week in November, with approval expected shortly afterward, formally fixing the baseline budget for completion of the camera project. The Particle Physics Project Prioritization Panel (P5), an advisory subpanel of the High Energy Physics Advisory Panel (HEPAP), recommended last month that DOE move forward with LSST under all budget scenarios, even the most pessimistic.

The Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA) is a consortium of 39 U.S. institutions and six international affiliates that operates world-class astronomical observatories. AURA’s role is to establish, nurture, and promote public observatories and facilities that advance innovative astronomical research. In addition, AURA is deeply committed to public and educational outreach, and to diversity throughout the astronomical and scientific workforce. AURA carries out its role through its astronomical facilities:

LSST project activities are supported through a partnership between the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Department of Energy. NSF supports LSST through a Cooperative Agreement managed by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA). The Department of Energy funded effort is managed by the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory (SLAC). Additional LSST funding comes from private donations, grants to universities, and in-kind support from Institutional Members of LSSTC. Learn more at


  • Steven Kahn, LSST Director:, 520-621-0194
  • Victor Krabbendam, LSST Project Manager:, 520-626-2496
  • William Smith, AURA President:, 202-483-2101
  • Suzanne Jacoby, LSST Communications Manager:, 520-626-1195

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