Nasa awards new contract to continue programmes at W M Keck Observatory


Nasa has entered a new cooperative agreement with the California Association for Research in Astronomy to continue its science programmes at the W M Keck Observatory in Hawaii, US.

Set to be effective from 1 March next year to 28 February 2023, the agreement will enable Nasa to carry out research for its James Webb Space Telescope, Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) and Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST) at the observatory.

The agency’s Mars 2020 mission and explorer programmes, including Medium-Class Explorers (MIDEX) and Small Explorers (SMEX), are also included in the deal.

The agreement will help Nasa to continue its planetary missions such as Discovery and New Frontiers at the observatory.

“The Keck Observatory has unique, world-class capabilities that we consider essential to realise the scientific potential of many Nasa missions."

Studies for the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Euclid mission, in which Nasa is also involved, will also be conducted at the observatory under the new agreement.

With the latest collaboration, Nasa will be able to gain access to one-sixth of the annually available observing time in the 10m Keck I and Keck II telescopes at the observatory.

Both Nasa and Keck Observatory will also be able to continue to conduct scientific investigations specifically designed for advanced searches for habitable exoplanets, discover potential microbial life on Mars, and support future planetary and other missions.

Nasa astrophysics division director Paul Hertz said: “The Keck Observatory has unique, world-class capabilities that we consider essential to realise the scientific potential of many Nasa missions, both ongoing and planned.

“Nasa’s continuing partnership with Keck will ensure that astronomers and planetary scientists can carry out important ground-based observations necessary for the success of Nasa missions and their scientific objectives.”

The Keck Observatory is a private entity and a scientific partnership of California Institute of Technology, University of California and Nasa.


Image: The twin 10m Keck Observatory telescopes are the most scientifically productive optical and infrared telescopes on Earth. Photo: courtesy of W M Keck Observatory.