The Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT), a giant observatory that astronomers hope to build by the end of this decade, is expected to cost at least $1 billion. So a grant of $1.25 million may seem miniscule. Nonetheless, the backers of TMT are viewing a new 5-year, $250,000-per-year grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) as a significant milestone.
Until a few years ago, planners of TMT and its rival project in the United States—the 24.5-meter Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT) were hoping to get the U.S. government to bear a sizable portion of their respective project costs. But in December 2011, NSF announced that there was no money available to support construction of either project until the mid-2020s. However, NSF put out a solicitation for proposals offering $1.25 million for the development of a public-private partnership plan that could lead to the construction of a large telescope, should NSF be able to provide funds in the future.
The GMT partnership, which is led by the Carnegie Observatories and other institutions, announced in April that it would not make a bid for the NSF grant. That effectively left TMT as the sole contender for the NSF award. TMT announced on Sunday that it had been awarded the grant.