The 15th meeting of the CTAO Council was held 13-14 November in La Palma. The location was very suitable considering that on October 10, the LST telescope prototype was inaugurated on the Observatorio del Roque de los Muchachos, the northern hemisphere site of the CTA Observatory. This gave the delegates the opportunity to admire the first impressive instrument of the “family of 118” that shall constitute the largest system of telescopes ever constructed in the world. Within this festive atmosphere, which contributed to an excellent collaboration with our colleagues from the Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias, the Council dealt with several crucial topics and made decisions that will mark and consolidate CTA’s future. It was also a meeting of transition in the Council governance: Gabriel Chardin was re-elected as Chair for another year and Markus Schleier succeeded Giampaolo Vettolani, who completed his mandate as Vice Chair. We are very grateful to Giampaolo for his contributions to the Council in his service as both Chair and Vice Chair since the Council’s inception.
15th CTAO Council Meeting Report from the Managing Director
Photo credit: IAC
An important highlight from the meeting is that we saw the investment in CTA continuing to grow. Both Australia and Poland signed the Memorandum of Understanding for the construction of CTA, thus formally reinforcing the existing involvement of their scientific community and enlarging the international participation in the CTA project. A significant consequence, jointly with the increased commitment of France, is our advancement toward the threshold funding: we have reached 94% of the 250 M€ goal. Additionally, the Swiss government expressed the intention to increase its contribution in the next two years.
Finances were a major focus of the meeting. Beyond the nomination of the company auditor for the year 2018 and the standard report on the current budget status, we discussed the 2019 budget extensively. As a result, the funding agencies have approved to contribute a consistent increase of about 4 M€ in 2019, well beyond the 2.4 M€ of 2018. This will allow the management to further develop the recruitment campaign necessary to reach the critical size of staff to prepare and manage the construction phase. The CTAO has grown from 16 members (January 2018) to 30 (expected in January 2019), with the objective to reach 60 members by December 2019, including staff for CTAO Headquarters, the Science Data Management Centre and the CTA-North site.
In an effort to continue our progress toward construction, I proposed a new pathfinder strategy as an approach to advance our technical progress on CTA sites. According to the statutes, CTA construction can only start with the advent of the final legal entity (the CTAO ERIC); which challenges us to address our transition to an ERIC while simultaneously continuing the progress of the various project phases. With the pathfinder strategy, CTAO can enter an agreement to install an instrument on site, at the contributor’s cost, for testing purposes without the CTAO making a decision about the final technical design and executing an In-Kind Contribution (i.e. a pathfinder may have to be removed from the site). The new pathfinder strategy was well-received by the Council.
As for the status of the CTAO ERIC, we have seen great progress in 2018, with several meetings taking place that have pushed us steadily toward our new and final legal entity. At the Council meeting, a legal consultant presented an analysis that was very reassuring about the tax conditions and transfer of assets to the CTAO ERIC, and it seems this matter will not be a showstopper to the process.
And, finally, perhaps one of the most important themes for the future of CTA has been the evolution toward the signature of the agreements that will allow for the formalization of the ESO site as the location of the CTA-South array. Thanks to the strong and positive intervention of the ESO Director General, we have been able to solve the residual impediments rising from some formalities related to the ERIC application, and which put us in the position to sign the three lateral agreements in Santiago, Chile during the week of 17 December! You can read more in the press release here.