At midnight on 31st October 2014, the United Kingdom Infrared Telescope (UKIRT) will be legally transferred from the UK’s Science and Technology Facilities Council to the University of Hawai`i (UH).
This transfer of ownership is the culmination of a lengthy process that began with STFC’s decision in May 2012 to cease supporting the telescope. In October 2012 I issued a global Announcement of Opportunity to solicit interest in taking over the observatory, in response to which 13 Expressions of Interest were received. Two full proposals were eventually submitted, of which one was finally selected. In parallel with this, a legal framework for the transaction was developed in cooperation with UH, from whom we hold a sub-lease for the UKIRT site on Maunakea.
UKIRT will in future be operated as a UH-owned telescope by a new partnership comprising the University of Arizona (UA) and Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company. It has taken several months to get agreement of these four organisations to the 9 legal agreements required for this transaction, but this alignment has finally been achieved.
UKIRT has been an outstanding success story for UK astronomy for 35 years. This transfer represents the end of the UK’s ownership of UKIRT, but not the end of the UK’s participation: discussions are underway towards an ongoing scientific collaboration between the UK community and astronomers at UA and UH.
Professor Gary Davis
31st October 2014