Astronomy Advice Please!

I’m up at the crack of dawn this morning in order to travel to Swindon for a meeting of the Astronomy Grants Panel of the Science and Technology Facilities Council. Three days in Swindon beckon.

Anyways, while I’m thinking STFC stuff let me put my community service hat on and remind astronomers that the Astronomy Advisory Panel (yes, there is one) is consulting, and the deadline for folks to fill in the consultation questionnaire is tomorrow (Wednesday 5th September 2012). Please upload your input forthwith.

As a prompt, you might like to have a look at this figure that shows the breakdown of STFC expenditure generally, and specifically within the astronomy programme.

Do these pie charts provide you with food for thought?

12 Responses to “Astronomy Advice Please!”

  1. Brian Schmidt Says:

    Shame they excluded ESO and CERN – since you want to figure out how to balance the portfolio between facilities and people and development. On the face of it, it looks pretty good – but when you add ESO subscriptions, where do Exploitation grants go – below 50% (which is not so good).

    • Dennis Crabtree Says:

      I agree with Brian – you really need to look compare the cost of ‘all’ facilities to the grants. I suspect that ESO was excluded as this cost is fixed and can’t be tweaked in any rebalancing

  2. What are the actual values? How much in pounds/year on ‘Astronomy’ and on ‘ESO’?

  3. It is perhaps not so meaningful without knowing what is included in each category. Astronomy operations is probably the island sites, e-Merlin, HPC. Is SKA and e-ELT under development? Does GAIA, PLANCK, Cassini fall under exploitation? What fraction of the exploitation money goes into the grants line?

  4. If you look at the STFC budget for 2010-2011 ( then it appears that the total for the Astronomy Grants is £36.6 million. This would suggest that Operations is £17.3 million and Development is £10.2 million. ESO subscriptions were £29.2 million and ESA (which I assume has now moved to UKSA was £91.1 million). We’re also spending almost £30 million on Education and Training for PP, Astro and Nuclear (PhD students and Fellowships).

    • It is hard to fault the relativedistribution of funding. The studentship money is well spend. An even balance between operations (~37M adding in ESO) and exploitation (= PDRAs?) is right for ground-based astronomy overall (not per facility). But I believe part of the exploitation is related to space missions, for which the operations budget is outside of STFC. This changes the balance. Each space mission should have its exploitation budget written into the project from the start, and not charged to the STFC grants line (although STFC is perfectly able to administer the money).

      • I disagree that the exploitation budget for space missions should be written in from the start. One could just as easily argue the same for telescopes.
        Although any space mission is launched with primary science objectives (and surely every telescope is built with the same) lots of excellent science can be achieved beyond those objectives (and I assume the same is true for telescopes). Your suggestion would stifle that opportunity by limiting the amount of science that could be done based upon a view taken at the start of a mission rather than with the benefit of experience and observation. It may be that data from a given satellite could provide many years of excellent science for many scientists far outstripping a given telescope’s utility, but under your proposal (if I am not misunderstanding) the exploitation of the satellite would be artifically limited, yet the telescope not. Just because the operations budget lies elsewhere?

        Maybe every space mission and ground telescope should have a basic exploitation pot assigned at the beginning to cover the stated objectives. This would ensure the minimum utility of the facilities is achieved. Then any further exploitation would come from the general pot.

        I’d also like to point out generally that we do ‘science’, not ‘exploitation’ and that in doing science we may or may not exploit one or more facilities.

      • I would argue the opposite. Space missions are far more expensive than ground-based astronomy. (An extreme example: one JWST would buy 4 ELTs, 2 SKAs and 5000 postdocs) (and dinner). The STFC exploitation budget can afford perhaps 10 PDRAs for a particular space mission. But this stands in no relation to original investment. and is the main limitation to the science that comes out. of space missions For a satellite observatory such as Herschel, even a 5% exploitation budget would be a game changer for the U.K. People could still happily apply for STFC grants. But if that is the only way to exploit he data, much of the scientific promise remains an unobtainable mirage.

  5. So that’s about £200M/yr.

    And then for the total UK spend on astronomy you have to add in what the universities spend on astronomy teaching and research via the dual-support system from the English, Welsh, Scottish and Northern Ireland bodies. Then add in what the Royal Society and the Royal Astronomical Society and various trusts such as Kavli and Leverhulme spend on astronomy.

    All in all, quite a bit really.

  6. I’d be interested to hear how much “comes back” to the UK from the EU these days, via Framework Programmes, ERCs, Marie Curie fellowships, etc. – is it a significant addition to the exploitation slice, or in the noise?

    • At current AGP funding levels there are about 60-70 new PDRAs per year in the UK. Since there are several ERC grants in astronomy each year, each carrying at least 2-3 PDRAs I’d say it was a significant but not dominant addition.

    • Rob, we had a recent presentation on ERC/Marie Curie funding here at BAS. I cannot find the numbers for you but the UK success rate across the board was strikingly above average (year on year). The upshot was that we get more back from the EU in research funding than we put in to support the programmes. Annoyingly I cannot support this as I can’t find the numbers.

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