Optical Infrared Coordination Network for Astronomy
OPTICON is the EC-funded coordination network which supports the multi-national partnerships on which the success of this model rests. OPTICON support in previous FP programmes prototyped and raised to operational level the critical Adaptive Optics (AO) systems in the SPHERE instrument mentioned above. OPTICON’s Trans National Access (TNA) system underlies the “support network for small and medium telescope operations” noted. OPTICON’s networking provides the community coherence which leads to coordinated instrument development, future planning, and builds the key consortia of institutes. ESO, nationally funded, complemented by the international technology development, community building and transnational access enabled by EC funding has created this balanced excellent system. In H2020 OPTICON will both complete and innovate activities in all three critical areas, extend its proven success in innovation implementation and continue longer-term strategic planning.
Networking is a key requirement. Communities which have already benefited from knowledge transfer in earlier OPTICON JRA projects have recently been funded to deliver challenging instrumentation for Europe’s largest infrastructures. Our new challenge is to ensure the breadth, the depth and the viability of the broader communities outside these one-off project-specific partnerships. Ambitious scientific objectives clearly increase the complexity of future instruments, which in turn will require further development of critical technologies, and also elaboration of new system concepts, new control strategies and new data reconstruction methods. Other communities will develop new visions for next generation infrastructures. Others bring together valuable but over-dispersed capabilities into a coherent and coordinated virtual whole. Our networks aim at delivering these latter aspects through the reinforcement of existing synergies, for example between the teams already involved in the JRA activities within the OPTICON programme, as well as strengthening the community in depth, attracting new teams. Networks, closely coordinated with the relevant JRA technology focus, will coordinate, plan, propose, develop, and train. Specific networks will develop broad-based strategic plans, in each of technology and science management. Technology futures require knowledge transfer, so that we will continue our strong record in industrial participation and spin-out. Strategic planning means involving the wider community, operators and managers of extant facilities, complementary European scientific communities associated with other but related infrastructures, the national funding agencies which are the OPTICON partners, the ASTRONET policy project, and the EC to develop a forward-looking vision, to plan for viability, to complete facility integration, to become part of FP9 planning. [ASTRONET is a grouping of the national agencies which fund astronomy in Europe.]
OPTICON’s Trans National Access (TNA) ambitions are twofold. The first is to deliver open access to the most appropriate facilities for cutting edge research on Europe’s medium sized telescopes. [The largest facilities are made freely available on merit by ESO.] This process remains competitive and excellent, delivering considerable open-access science, allowing new cross-border collaborations, and providing scientific complementarity to national programs using national facilities. This TNA activity will deliver continuing competitive levels of oversubscription, encouraging development and deployment of specialised instruments on 4m telescopes, and growing multi-partner science publications. The second TNA ambition is completely new, and visionary. Time Domain astronomy (TDA), the study of variable sources, is the fastest growing branch of astronomy. Major facilities in space and on-ground, operating across all wavelengths and beyond the electromagnetic spectrum to include neutrinos, cosmic rays, and (now) gravitational waves, are dedicated to discovery of transients, including exo-planets. However while it is relatively easy to discover, for example, a supernova, it is much harder to collect the essential follow-up observations (photometry and spectroscopy) to allow classification and subsequent scientific exploitation. Distributed (often robotic) arrays of specialised rapid-response facilities are required. The community ranges from enthusiastic amateur astronomers to major collaborations. We will coordinate and where necessary train these communities, providing the crucial common software and prototype hardware systems needed to deliver characterised science quality data, and to implement effective facility integration. We will provide a central data resource with global open access ensuring added value, data preservation and maximal utility. Success will be measured by the number of groups contributing to, and accessing data from, the central repository. We will deliver Open Science.
Astronomical research, in what is still a discovery-led subject, is limited largely by technology. OPTICON’s JRA activities push the boundaries of potentially disruptive technologies in photonics, in new materials, in manufacturing processes. We will deliver the fastest high-efficiency CMOS camera, for scientific real-time control systems, and with explicit knowledge transfer to an SME to ensure wider applications. We will advance the TRL of critical path technologies identified from our earlier technology planning, as crucial for next generational capabilities, particularly in photonics and in innovative manufacturing processes. In all cases we emphasise knowledge transfer and training of a new generation of technologists. WP7 has explicit aim to bring innovative materials production to market, and works very closely with Covestro. Summer schools, more specialist subject schools organised through the JRA activities, and expert visiting/transfer programmes ensure diffusion of knowledge. The OPTICON JRA activities were selected following detailed expert review, and are designed to deliver maximum potential impact and value for resource. Measurable outcomes will be the (continuing) exploitation of OPTICON JRA knowledge and prototypes in successful proposals for next generation instruments for the largest astronomical infrastructures, proposals to raise the TRL of promising newly-identified techniques, and jobs growth in affiliated SMEs. OPTICON JRA work will deliver Open Innovation.