The early phases of instrument development are to incubate instrument concepts to a mature enough level to seek funding. The purpose of this on-line documentation is to define the process for developing instrument concepts and designs as well as outline the path that the instrument builders should follow to gain SSC and Keck Observatory approval. For instrumentation projects, principal investigators must seek approval from the SSC before moving forward with any type of funding request.

The incubation process supports a wide range of initiatives that spans from major new facility class instrumentation to small continuous improvement projects for the existing instrument suite and observatory systems. The SSC will confirm the scale of the project and suggest the right path forward if approved.

Due to funding limitations, not every project the SSC deems worthy for continued development will be funded through this process. The SSC will provide all PIs feedback on proposals and guidance for moving forward.

White Paper Call

Dear Colleagues:


W. M. Keck Observatory (WMKO), in concert with its Science Steering Committee (SSC), announces an instrument development call soliciting requests to fund:


All requests should be submitted in pdf format by 22 June 2022 to, and all requests will be reviewed by the SSC in early July. All members of the WMKO community are encouraged to participate. All major instrumentation concepts suitable for a large telescope as well as upgrades to our existing instrument suite are encouraged.


Please note that in 2016, WMKO completed a strategic plan, The W. M. Keck Observatory Scientific Strategic Plan (see link below), and a revision to this plan is expected later in 2022. Based on current recommendations and those anticipated in the 2022 strategic plan update, WMKO encourages teams to pursue instrument and technology studies that focus on aspects of that plan such as:

  1. Highly multiplexed, highly sensitive spectroscopy
  2. High contrast imaging
  3. New instrumentation and AO concepts
  4. Replacements or improvements for existing aging instruments and observatory systems to adjust to the changing technological capabilities and community scientific needs

In addition, proposals for instrument concepts that will extend AO capabilities to visible wavelengths and that may dovetail with specific future AO capabilities proposed by HAKA (High-order All-sky Keck Adaptive Optics) or ORCAS ( are also solicited.

The above topics should not be limiting; white papers are encouraged in any of the areas of interest identified in the strategic plan that is accessible at: Relevance to future new facilities (e.g., TESS, JWST, EUCLID, LSST (Rubin Observatory, WFIRST, and ELTs), if any, should be explained. Re-submissions of previous proposals must address SSC comments to the previous submission and highlight updates or progress. Please note that visiting instruments will not be considered.


WMKO funds feasibility and Phase A requests with the goal of developing early designs into a competitive proposal for future general funding opportunities (e.g., the NSF MRI, MSIP, MsRI, and/or ATI programs). Details for the funding categories are below:


Concept designs: In 2022, a total of $150k is available to fund concept and feasibility design studies. The amounts awarded will depend on the number of proposals accepted and the budgets proposed.


Phase A System Designs: In 2022, $300k is available for projects that have already developed feasible designs either internal or external to the WMKO instrument development call. PIs submitting Phase A proposals are ready to pursue system design level activities in preparation for submitting proposals. Proposals wishing to exceed the amount in a given year or that would like a multi-year commitment must provide compelling justification.


Proposal Development: Instrument teams that have completed phase A activities either internal or external to the WMKO instrument development call may request permission and support of minor cost efforts to develop a proposal for a public grant program or a philanthropic opportunity. PIs are encouraged to assess how an allocation of observatory nights may strengthen a proposal either for general use or for some key science initiative. PIs that want to include nights in a proposal must provide a description and justification for the use of those nights. PIs are encouraged to view the web document describing examples and contact the Instrument Program Manager for guidance on night allocations for proposals. Funding is drawn against the total available for Concept and Phase A designs.


Mini Grants: Minor upgrades for software and hardware to existing facilities to add or enhance current instrument or AO capabilities may be proposed and funded by WMKO.  Funding is drawn against the total available for Concept and Phase A designs.


A proposal template is available at: need the web link here.

If effort is required from WMKO staff, please specify the hours and staff needed that are in addition to the funds requested. All requests shall provide administrative and financial contact information for the PIs.


To gain an initial understanding of technical issues such as existing instrument configurations, observatory interfaces, and guidelines for the standard WMKO instrument development process or if you want to learn more about projects under development, proposers are strongly encouraged to contact the WMKO Instrument Program Manager, Marc Kassis (

For descriptions of the instrument incubation process, schedule, funding, and expectations, please see Instrument Development Incubation Process (


At the July 2022 SSC meeting, the SSC will make a preliminary selection of projects and may request more detailed information on the personnel, technical plans, and budgets. The SSC and the observatory will then select studies for funding, and by the end of August, send two letters to the PIs: one with SSC feedback and a second containing invoicing instructions to receive funding within 30 days after submitting an invoice to WMKO. PIs awarded funds may be requested to provide a brief project status in March or May 2023 and a written report two weeks prior to an SSC meeting in May or June 2023 at which the PIs will provide a brief overview of the project status and future work. The SSC looks favorably upon groups across the Keck community working in partnerships. Funding must be used in the year(s) approved. SSC approval of a request is NOT an endorsement to seek major funding to build the instrument. Before seeking major funding, the SSC must approve PI request to proceed with a proposal submission.


Sincerely yours,


Chuck Steidel and Aaron Barth, Co-Chairs Keck Science Steering Committee

Hilton Lewis, Observatory Director

John O'Meara, Deputy Director and Chief Scientist

Marc Kassis, Instrument Program Manager


The schedule for developing instrumentation ideas is presented below. There are four sequential steps that are identified.
  1. White Paper - project ideas are presented to kick off discussion.
  2. Feasibility design study - If the SSC approves the white paper, PIs will be provided funds and to develop a feasibility design.
  3. System Design - If the SSC approves moving forward, the PI will be provided more funds to develop a system design for the instrument.
  4. Proposal Preparation - If the System Design is approved, the observatory will provide funds and effort to mature a proposal.

The schedule and process is flexible. As an example, Instruments that have completed a conceptual design prior to approaching the SSC for approval, may a present their conceptual design seeking funding and approval to move into the system design phase. Small upgrade projects may request moving to a proposal phase and skip the concept and system design phase because the scope of the project does not merit that level of planning.

PIs may propose what funding track to pursue, but the SSC will approve the track for the project before moving forward and may suggest a different track than what the PI proposed. At any step, the SSC has the authority to say a project should not proceed. Previous SSC approval is not a green light to seek funding. Requests to seek funding must be approved by the SSC, and it is anticipated that this request will come when entering the proposal development cycle.

White paper templates and formatting

Below are two links that are available that describe the desired formatting for white paper submissions. An MSWord document is a template that may be used, and for non-MSWord users you may feel free to use your favorite editor while fillowing the formatting in the pdf.

PI expectations

Captured in the lists below for each of the steps toward a successful proposal, are the expectations for the PI and the development team. Please note that some of the expectations are presented in the schedule. All approved projects have reporting periods and must provide summaries directly to the SSC or indirectly to the instrument program manager. The June to July time frame is typically the final reporting period and for system designs a review may be scheduled. PIs may not seek full scale development project funding without prior SSC approval. PIs may obtain external funds for concept studies or system designs studies, However, we prefer that PIs obtain SSC approval before proceding with this effort.

Available Funding

There is funding available for PIs for the conceptual studies system designs, and proposal development. Although it will depend on the number of projects in each of the three incubation steps, the funds that are anticipated to be available for these activities are: