The U.S. National Science Board (NSB), the policymaking body of the National Science Foundation (NSF), has given a green light to the foundation's plan to construct the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST): an 8.36-meter-wide instrument to be built in Chile. Although NSB's endorsement does not come as a surprise to anyone—LSST received top billing among large-scale, ground-based projects in the 2010 U.S. astronomy decadal survey—it marks a significant milestone for the proposal.
The telescope will survey the sky twice a week using a 3-billion-pixel camera, collecting images of billions of galaxies over and over. The repeat observations will help astronomers detect changes in stars and galaxies in an unprecedented way, probe dark matter and dark energy, and discover transient phenomena such as stellar explosions.
NSB's vote of approval allows NSF to include a line in its 2014 budget request to Congress for beginning construction of the project. The estimated construction cost is $665 million. The bulk of the cost—70%—will be borne by NSF, while the Department of Energy has agreed to pay 24%. The remaining 6% is coming from private donors.
If Congress approves funding, and all goes to plan, the project is expected to be completed in 5 years. Officials hope that it will be ready to collect data starting in 2022.