The MSE Project

Feasibility Study

The diverse and exciting scientific opportunities enabled by a wide-field, large-aperture, spectroscopic survey telescope have long been recognized by the international astronomical community. Indeed, the initial calls for such a facility appeared publically as early as 2001. The main impetus through which the MSE concept ultimately grew out of that science awareness came in 2009 through efforts led by Pat Cote at Herzberg Institute of Astrophysics (HIA, now National Research Council of Canada – Herzberg, NRC-H). Pat took the initiative to explore this niche further, to bring together scientists internationally to understand the science that could be uniquely accomplished here, and to develop the concept of a facility that would deliver the necessary capability. Their concept, one which would eventually grow into the MSE project, made use of an earlier engineering analysis by Walter Grundmann, also at HIA, showing that the CFHT piers and enclosure can accommodate both the weight and volume of a much larger telescope.

The first major effort to formally define the project was made through a Feasibility Study for a project bearing the somewhat generic and popular, but mercifully interim, moniker "next generation CFHT (ngCFHT)". The study gave us in 2012 two very important documents. One (Feasibility Study - Science) describes the science that could be achieved with ngCFHT, as well as an analysis of the highest level requirements for ngCFHT. The second (Feasibility Study - Technical) gives us a technical description of an engineering solution that is feasible, that can meet these requirements with a proposed cost and schedule. The Feasibility Study, led by Pat Cote and Kei Szeto, was funded jointly by CFHT and NRC-H, with much important engineering work performed by Dynamic Structures Limited, the company that constructed the original telescope and enclosure.

Launch of Project Office and of MSE

The next milestone in the growth of the project came in early 2014, when the CFHT Board of Directors approved funding for an independent and dedicated Project Office that would develop the concepts of ngCFHT into a full Construction Proposal. The Project Office was populated with a manager, scientist and engineer (all interim appointments) and the group came together in Waikoloa Hawai'i in March for a first meeting and workshop. From Cote’s work it was clear that the scientific interest in this project was strong in many more communities than just those of the Canada, France and Hawaii partnership, and also clear that to proceed into construction the project would need funding from a wider base. In addition to the engineering development, a critical objective of the new office would need to be partnership development. To herald this project as a new observatory, reaching into an exciting future with a new partnership, the ngCFHT name was dropped and the project christened, and announced, itself as the Maunakea Spectroscopic Explorer.

Development Phases

The MSE project is being conducted in three broad phases, 1) the Construction Proposal Development, 2) Construction (including CFHT de-construction), and 3) Operations. We anticipate we will reach the end of the first phase at a Construction Proposal Review in late 2017. The purpose of the Construction Proposal is to provide a complete suite of reviewed information to the partnership funding agencies to make a decision to proceed with construction.

Toward that end, the initial work of during the Construction Proposal Development phase, now underway, is to put in place the high level documents that will formally capture the objectives of the project. Central to these are a Science Requirements Document, a System Technical Requirements and an Operations Concept Document. An important ingredient in this process is to ensure we have participation by the widest possible audience in the definition of the characteristics of the observatory, including the science communities of all partners and prospective partners, including local Hawai’ian communities and stakeholders, including community and state regulatory bodies. Gathering input from interested parties and generating the key documents will remain a priority activity until first drafts appear in early 2015. During the same period, we are establishing the machinery of a modern engineering project, including the need to communicate effectively in what will certainly become a very globally distributed effort, and to manage the configuration during the coming work of engineering design and execution. Early 2015 should see the first release of the key documents, and the Project Office will grow and transition to the engineering work that will be needed to achieve the Construction Proposal on schedule.

Project Organization

The Project Office is an independent group operating out of the CFHT Headquarters building in Waimea, Hawaii, led by the MSE Project Manager and reporting directly to the CFHT Executive Director. The Office has available a number of methods for accomplishing work: staff employed by CFHT to work in the Office (Jobs Openings), contributed effort from agencies interesting in participating in MSE, and staff shared with regular CFHT operations. We anticipate that much of the real work of studies and design will be performed within the home organization of partners, prospective partners and commercial organizations: as work packages assigned and directed by the Project Office.

MSE Management Group

The MSE Project Office formally reports to the CFHT Executive Director, but looks to a Management Group representing all MSE partners, for strategic direction. The MSE Management Group, in their turn, solicit science guidance from a partnership-wide MSE Science Advisory Group. Each of these groups meet quarterly, most often by videocon. The mandate (see Management Group Terms of Reference) of the Management Group includes:

  • Reviewing and recommending the top MSE Science Requirements, as well as partnership policy documents,
  • Reviewing and recommending the construction phase budgets and schedules,
  • Providing advise to the project on optimal use of pre-Construction resources,
  • Provide oversight for, and esuring delivery of, MSE work being conducted by their respective agency or organization,
  • Provide guidance on how support for MSE in prospective partners can be further developed.

Members of the group are appointed for two years, and currently include:

  • Australia - Andrew Sheinis,
  • Canada - Greg Fahlman,
  • Canada - Pat Hall,
  • China - Suijian Xue,
  • China - Xuefei Gong,
  • France - Guy Perrin,
  • France - Jean Gabriel Cuby (chair),
  • India - G.C. Anupama,
  • Spain - Eva Villaver,
  • UHawaii - Bob McLaren,
  • UHawaii - (vacant).