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The FY 2003 Budget Request for the Astronomical Sciences (AST) Subactivity is $161.25 million, a decrease of $4.61 million, or 2.8 percent, from the FY 2002 Current Plan of $165.86 million.

(Millions of Dollars)


FY 2001

FY 2002
Current Plan

FY 2003




Astronomical Research






Total, AST






NSF is the lead federal agency for ground-based astronomy, providing about two-thirds of the federal support for this area of science, including almost all federal support for radio astronomy.

Astronomy Research and Instrumentation includes support for astronomical and astrophysical studies of the origins and characteristics of planets, the Sun, other stars, our galaxy, extragalactic objects such as clusters of galaxies and quasars, and the structure and origin of the Universe. The development of advanced technologies and instrumentation, and university radio observatories are also supported. Support includes funding for undergraduate and graduate students and postdoctoral fellows as well as for instrumentation and other research needs. Also supported within this program element is NSF's Electromagnetic Spectrum Management (ESM) program, which participates with other federal agencies in coordinating the use of the electromagnetic spectrum for research and other activities.

The FY 2003 budget request includes $64.32 million for research and instrumentation support in the Astronomical Sciences that will advance the scientific priorities of studies in cosmology and the origin and evolution of the universe and the formation of stars and planets. Other priorities include significant activities in the area of particle astrophysics, the development of adaptive optics systems for telescopes and technologies and techniques in signal detection, image analysis, and data handling that may have applications in areas of national defense. A number of these activities involve interagency partnerships. The number, size, and duration of grants will be increased as much as current funding permits to allow researchers to capitalize on the investments made by the Federal, state, and private sectors in major new observational facilities. Support will also be provided for research and development that may lead to facility upgrades or new installations in the future. Through the ITR priority area, support will be provided for research and applications in databases, data mining, and high-speed computation. The Science and Technology Center (STC) for Adaptive Optics will be funded within AST in FY 2003.

  • An example of scientific discovery supported in the Astronomical Sciences is the continued discovery of planetary systems outside our own. NSF supports several teams searching for extra-solar planets, and a recent discovery, again by the team of Marcy, Butler, Fischer and Vogt (UC Berkeley, Carnegie Institute of Washington, and UC Santa Cruz), found a planet three-quarters the mass of Jupiter in a circular orbit around the solar-like star 47 Ursa Majoris. Although over 70 extra-solar planets have been found thus far, this is the first system with two planets in circular orbits, and at distances that make the planetary system similar to our own. Discoveries like this serve as a major impetus to the active area of observational and theoretical research into the formation of stars and their planetary disks.

  • Researchers supported by NSF in the Astronomical Sciences and the Office of Polar Programs extended their work to measure the very faint fluctuations in the microwave light emitted by the hot gas in the early universe, from a time before stars and galaxies formed. Their data led to the conclusion that the Universe is nearly spatially flat, and have been used to estimate cosmological parameters, such as the expansion rate, the age, and the total mass of the Universe. Cosmological models fit to their data imply both the existence of up to 90 percent "dark" matter and a "dark energy" or a cosmological constant in the Universe.

Astronomical Sciences includes support for three national facilities: the National Astronomy and Ionosphere Center (NAIC), the National Optical Astronomy Observatories (NOAO), and the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO). Also included is the U.S. share of operations for the International Gemini Observatories, twin 8-meter telescopes located in the northern and southern hemispheres. These facilities together provide world-class observing capabilities throughout the electromagnetic spectrum, from radio to infrared and optical regimes of the electromagnetic spectrum.

FY 2003 support for national facilities totals $96.93 million, and includes:

  • Support for Gemini Observatories at $12.60 million, an increase of $340,000. Both the northern and southern Gemini telescopes are now in regular science operations. The Gemini Observatory, an international partnership with six other countries, and the premier optical/infrared facility available to the entire U.S. astronomical community, remains the highest priority among our optical and infrared facilities. Activities for Gemini in FY 2003 will continue development of advanced instrumentation and expansion of the public information and outreach effort to better serve all of the partner countries.

  • NAIC will be supported at $9.0 million, a decrease of $400,000. This level of support will enable continued operation and maintenance of the renovated Arecibo telescope and the development of instrumentation to take advantage of its greater sensitivity.

  • Support for NOAO at $31.70 million, a decrease of $1.0 million. NOAO provides observational facilities to the U.S. astronomical community in both the northern and southern hemispheres. Support is provided for operations and maintenance of a suite of optical/infrared and solar telescopes. Activities in FY 2003 include $2.70 million, an increase of $900,000, for continued design and planning for the Advanced Technology Solar Telescope (ATST), an instrument that will use new techniques such as adaptive optics to provide a unique capability for investigating a wide range of important questions in solar physics. ATST will be of significant value to studies in atmospheric sciences and space weather in addition to astronomical research.

  • Included also within facilities is $4.0 million for the Telescope System Instrumentation Program (TSIP), which is administered for the community through NOAO. TSIP, which began in FY 2002, is a program to unify the privately held and the national optical and infrared (IR) observatory facilities through a program of support for instrument development and facility improvement in exchange for public access to private facilities.

  • NRAO is supported at $39.63 million, a decrease of $800,000. This level of support will provide for operations, maintenance, and instrumentation for the unique telescopes of NRAO, such as the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope, the Very Large Array, and the Very Long Baseline Array. Activities in FY 2003 include making continued improvements and enhancements to the expanded VLA and arrival of full science operations of the Byrd Telescope.
  Last Modified: Sep 17, 2004


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National Science Foundation Summary of FY 2003 Budget Request to Congress NSF Logo