June 24, 2011
On Monday, the Department of Energy approved a key milestone in the SLAC-led development of a camera for the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope. It formally establishes the need for such a project as part of the agency’s mission, designates a stream of funding for it, and names the LSST as the first option for meeting that mission need.
The approval, known as Critical Decision Zero or CD-0, clears the way for work to continue on the 3.2- billion-pixel camera, which will be the world's largest digital camera when complete. The camera will capture images from the giant survey telescope that, if all goes according to plan, will kick off the 2020s by mapping the distribution of mass in the universe. Scientists hope the data will reveal fundamental properties of dark matter and dark energy. The US astronomy community selected the LSST as its top priority ground-based project in the two-year process known as Astro2010, the Astronomy and Astrophysics Decadal Survey.
"CD-0 formally starts the project at the DOE," said SLAC and KIPAC cosmologist Steve Kahn, who directs the camera development effort. "For the past seven years we have been operating in an uncertain environment, so this is indeed a major breakthrough for us."
Members of the design team, led by SLAC and the SLAC-Stanford joint Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology, have been laboring on a camera design since the first Camera Working Group meeting at SLAC in May 2004. Their efforts relied on private, agency, and institutional funding administered by the non-profit LSST Corporation, as well as R&D funding at SLAC from DOE’s Office of High Energy Physics.
The LSST is proposed as a joint DOE/National Science Foundation effort, and last month the NSF approved a key step of its own: a preliminary design review, which is expected to take place late this summer. Several more years of work and reviews lie ahead in the NSF process for reaching a decision on whether to fund the project.
Meanwhile, the camera team is working toward the next DOE milestone, called CD-1, in which the agency designates a specific project to carry out the mission need and defines a range of funding for it. That approval could come later this year.