The Next Generation CFHT (NGCFHT)

A rendering of the NGCFHT by David Halliday


In December 1995, at the time that the current Wide-Field Imaging Plan was put into place, the CFHT Board of Directors also included an allocation of funds earmarked for "Future Options". The intent was to provide some financial resources so that an exploration of the future of CFHT could begin.  The context included an awareness that CFHT would suffer a competitive disadvantage compared to the operating Keck telescopes and the (then) soon to be operational 8m-class telescopes, Gemini, the VLT, Subaru and others. The strength of the CFHT was perceived to be imaging in the visible and infrared with fields of view that could not be matched by the larger telescopes. By agressively exploiting the accessible focal plane area, a competitive position would be assured for the CFHT, and indeed this strategy has been followed with the MegaPrime and WIRCam project developments.

In 1997, the Board commissioned a group chaired by Harvey Richer and Claude Catala , known as the NGC (New Generation CFHT) committee, to determine the type of ground-based facilty that might succeed the current 3.6m telescope in the 2010 decade, taking into account the planned array of new astronomical facilities. The  report of this committee, known as  the NGC Report   included a comprehensive assessment of planned facilities  Of the three options presented in its conclusion, the preferred one was a telescope in the 25m-class.   A scientific case was made for such a telescope. Though three years old, this report is only slightly outdated and most of the main scientific drivers remain the same.

In the meantime, a new  Master Plan for the Mauna Kea Science Reserve (the summit area and the mid-level area around Hale Pohaku) has been adopted by the Board of Regents of the University of Hawaii.  The context in which the new Plan was developed included a heightened concern for protection of the environmental, historical and cultural qualities of the Mauna Kea  summit.  The full text of the  Master Plan  deals with all these issues. For present purposes, we need be concerned primarily with the Physical Plan for the summit and with the adopted guidelines that pertain to the development of Astronomical facilities.

At the December 1999 Board meeting, the Executive Director proposed to provide seed money for concept studies of a telescope that could replace the present CFHT.  The intent was to present interim results of these studies at the planned CFHT21 meeting in December 2000 and to have the final reports available in time for the  CFHT Users Meeting . In the Spring of 2000, the Scientific Advisory Council  issued a  call for concept studies . Three proposals were selected, one from each of the three CFHT partner communities.

The presentations made at the CFHT21 meeting provided an exciting glimpse of a possible future for the CFHT.  The CFHT Board of Directors, taking note of the evident interest in replacing the CFHT,  passed the following resolution at their December 2000 meeting:

The Board strongly encourages the Corporation to continue its efforts to develop concepts for a new telescope facility that would be consistent with the Mauna Kea Science Reserve Master Plan and that would have an effective aperture much larger than 10m. The goal for first light of for such a facility would be approximately 2010-2015.

The Board is pleased to note the success of the studies for a new telescope that were presented at the CFHT21 meeting and encourages groups in the member communities to continue to develop these concepts.

 Since it is possible that an expansion of the existing partnership would be required to undertake such a project, the Corporation is encouraged to explore possibilities for new partnerships and to receive expressions of interest from potential partners.