The Mid-Term Review (MTR) of the 2010 Long Range Plan begins

It’s my pleasure as the Chair of the MTR to provide an informal report on progress thus far. The first task was to produce the Terms of Reference (ToR), which are available in full on the CASCA website.  I’ve heard some people express uncertainty about the precise boundaries of the MTR, so it’s useful to reproduce the Statement of Task which sets boundaries that the MTR will operate within:

The MTR is not anticipated to be as wide-ranging and detailed as the decadal plan outlined in the LRP2010. The key parts of the review are an assessment of the status of the LRP2010 projects, and an analysis of new opportunities. The series of priorities that result are anticipated to be relevant on a 5-year timeline and are not to include major revisions or expansions of LRP2010 that are inconsistent with the original goals of the plan. The resulting review will serve as a single unified vision to reaffirm the LRP2010 process over the second-half of the 2010-2020 decade.

Once the ToR had been prepared, the MTR panel was arrived at through a consultative process between the CASCA Board, President and the MTR Chair. While scientific coverage was the primary driver behind the panel selection, additional factors including geography and demographics were included in the matrix of requirements. I’m sure the community joins me in being extremely thankful to all the panel members that have agreed to serve. They are, in alphabetical order,

The MTR “kick-off” meeting took place at the end of CASCA 2014 in Quebec City. We had originally budgeted for 60 people, and were happily surprised when over 90 people decided to attend what proved to be an active and engaging meeting.  The meeting was envisioned to be forward looking, and focused primarily on upcoming facilities, but also naturally encompassed a number of pressing current concerns. Presentations from the meeting will be posted on the CASCA MTR website in the near future, and will help flesh out some of the many details that omitted from the below summary.

After a quick overview of the MTR process, Greg Fahlman and John Hutchings got the meeting going with overviews of the current “astronomy landscape” and the activities of the LRP implementation committee. Presentations on behalf of the CASCA science committees then followed, and Rene Doyon wound up this presentation session with a discussion of the enormous growth of opportunities in exoplanet science.  The questioning focused on a number of issues, progress with LRP priorities being a common theme, but also industrial involvement in the LRP/MTR was discussed and clearly has become an issue that needs to be carefully considered during the MTR process.

The second session focused on space-based missions with presentations on WFIRST, CASTOR, WISH, Athena+, SPICA and balloon programs. After a short break for lunch questioning resumed. The high cost of space missions combined with domestic funding challenges continues to make “space” a difficult area for our community to handle effectively. Questioning focused on mission specifics including development and funding levels. A short discussion on downselect processes also ensued, although missions will evolve rapidly over the coming months, suggesting that perhaps such a step is premature at this time.

The final session of the day focused on ground-based facilities. Short updates for established facilities were given, but the primary focus was on future facilities, in particular TMT. I won’t dwell on the TMT discussion at length, as there should be an update in e-cass, but clearly the project is reaching a point where the window for entry is closing. CCAT is moving forward apace and is in the current CFI round, while SKA developments are moving forward even though the international side of the partnership has hit some issues. ngCFHT has now evolved into the Maunakea Spectroscopic Explorer and was discussed extensively, but largely in the context of potential collaborative opportunities for facilities. The proposal from the East Asian Core Observatories Association (EACOA) in relation to future operations of the JCMT represents an intriguing new development in this direction. At the end of the day, it was clear that the potential benefits of formalized collaborative agreements will have to be considered in detail within the MTR, although the outlook for this issue really is much longer term than the next five years, and requires input from other countries as well.

The meeting finished at four o’clock to coincide with the start of the first match in the World Cup! I would like to reiterate thanks to all those attended in particular those that flew-in just for the day, and also Carmelle Robert and Laurent Drissen for carrying so much of the organizational load.

Looking to the next few months, the timeline to the production of the final report is quite long, and should be roughly as follows: A call for white papers will be announced soon, with a deadline of November. We fully expect that many science cases will not have changed significantly and where possible encourage people to make use of documents produced for the 2010 LRP. However, in certain fields, for example X-ray astronomy, it is clear that missions have changed in the last four years.

Townhall meetings will happen in early 2015, and then the panel will present initial recommendations at CASCA 2015. Report writing will largely occur over the summer, although based upon experiences with the 2010 LRP it is anticipated the final report will be available in November/December 2015. The final report is anticipated to be in the range of 70-80 pages, in keeping with the reduced scope of the MTR as compared to the full LRP.

To finish, I’d like to encourage everyone in the community to participate in the MTR process. The creation of reports like the MTR/LRP is largely a process of synthesis that depends as strongly on the quality of the community input as it does on the insight and energy of the panelists. I’m sure I speak for all the panelists when I say we’re looking forward to working with everyone over the coming months and doing the very best job we can on behalf of our community.