CSIRO's priorities to meet Australia’s objectives in radio astronomy are the delivery and operation of the new Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (ASKAP) telescope in Western Australia, and the Square Kilometre Array (SKA). In recognition of these priorities, over the past decade CSIRO has been directing resources from existing telescopes, including Mopra, to ASKAP and SKA activities. The astronomy community is fully aware of this process.
The decision to construct ASKAP and the establishment of the powerful new Atacama Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) telescope in Chile, which operates in similar wavelength ranges to Mopra, resulted in CSIRO seeking other funding sources for Mopra. As a result, the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan and the Universities’ of NSW and Adelaide have supported most of the operating cost of Mopra, in an arrangement that began in 2012 and which concludes in October 2015.
In July 2014, CSIRO announced that it would cease funding Mopra operations from October 2015. This is consistent with the redirection of CSIRO’s resources to the ASKAP telescope.
The Team Mopra Kickstarter campaign has achieved its target of $65,000. The $65,000 is proposed to cover part of costs to keep the telescope in operation for another three years to complete, and extend, a survey of our galaxy that is currently underway.
The reality is that to keep the telescope open requires significantly more funds and a UNSW-led consortium has made an application to the Australian Research Councils LIEF (Linkage, Infrastructure, Equipment and Facilities) scheme to keep the telescope operating for the additional three years.
In a typical year Mopra operations primarily cover the period April to October, as this is the usual "winter semester" when conditions are best for millimetre wave observations.
CSIRO will put the telescope into a "standby" state and if the ARC grant is successful (the outcome is expected late 2015), will allow the consortium to take over the site and pay all operating costs. If the consortium is not successful CSIRO will close the facility permanently.