General Information for

NASA Allocated Observing Time on the Keck Telescopes

2017A Proposal Due Date: September 15, 2016, 4 pm PDT

Highlights for 2017A

  1. Time Domain Astronomy: Observers now have the ability to propose both cadence (Time Domain Astronomy, TDA) and Target of Opportunity (ToO) programs following the policies outlined here (ToO policies) and here (TDA/cadence policies). For Semester 2017A, four Keck partners (UC, Caltech, UH, and NASA) have agreed that TAC-approved ToO/TDA projects may interrupt observers at any of the four institutions. Each TAC can award up to a combined total of six ToO/TDA observations which interrupt any of the other institutions. If you are considering submitting a ToO or cadence observing proposal, see Section V below for important details.

  2. PIs may ask for their time to be designated as uninterruptable, i.e. as exempt from ToO or cadence interrupts. Note that programs scheduled as half-nights or smaller will not be interrupted. To do this, mark the appropriate box on the NExScI submission page and explain in one brief paragraph why the proposed observations cannot be interrupted. This explanation should be scientifically motivated, namely that interruptions would seriously compromise the scientific return of the observing program. It is anticipated that interruption-free time will be rarely granted.

  3. Information on strategic grading has been updated for 2017A and is found in Section Ia below. Please refer to the updated 2014 NASA Science Plan for the strategic relevance section of your proposal.

  4. Letters for Mission Support proposals must be requested from NASA HQ by September 1 , two weeks before submission deadline.

  5. Special notes and considerations for the Keck instruments are listed below. Please also check the WMKO instrument page for telescope observing limits and the current list of available instruments.
    • a) OSIRIS is unavailable for science through May 1, 2017 for the imager detector upgrade.
    • b) KCWI and NIRES are planned for commissioning in 2017A but will not be offered for science.
    • c) NIRC2 L-band Vortex Coronagraph: WMKO has prepared a User Manual for the Vortex Coronograph at NIRC2 on Keck II and a Quick User Manual on How to run QACITS for the Vortex Coronograph.
    • d) SUBARU exchange: The SUBARU-Keck exchange will continue as last semester with flexibility as to the number of nights available for exchange, with the final number based on the demand from each community. Keck will offer DEIMOS, ESI, NIRSPEC, and NIRC2 on Keck-II and LRIS, HIRES, OSIRIS, and MOSFIRE on Keck-I. Generally, all Subaru instruments will be available. HSC is available for 5 runs in 2017A but not available in dark time from late May to early June because S-Cam will be available during that dark period from late May to early June.

Key Dates

September 1: Mission Support letter inquiries due to NASA HQ

September 15: All proposals and supporting letters due to NExScI by 4 pm PDT

Table of Contents

I. Guidelines for Allocation of NASA Keck Telescope Time

NASA announces a call for proposals to use its share of observing time at the W. M. Keck Observatory. This call for semester 2017A (February 1-July 31, 2017) will allocate 29 nights of observing, with planned allocations of 14 nights on Keck 1 and 15 nights on Keck 2, distributed evenly across dark, grey, and bright time. Typical over subscription rates range from 3:1 to 5:1.

Proposals are due on Thursday, September 15, 2016 at 4pm PDT and should be submitted via the online submission page.

Ia. Strategic Use of NASA Keck Time

NASA intends the use of its time allocation on the Keck telescopes to be highly strategic in support of on-going missions and/or high priority, long-term science goals as described in the 2014 NASA Science Plan.

The scientific areas in which proposals are solicited are:

  1. Investigations in support of Exoplanet Exploration (ExE) science goals and missions
  2. Investigations in support of Cosmic Origins (COR) science goals and missions
  3. Investigations in support of Physics of the Cosmos (PCOS) science goals and missions
  4. Investigations of our own Solar System (SS) science goals and missions

Mission support proposals in any of these scientific areas, are also encouraged (see Section II for requirements).

The primary goal of missions within the Exoplanet Exploration Program (ExEP) is to discover and characterize planetary systems and Earth-like planets around nearby stars. Cosmic Origins (COR) Science comprises projects that study how stars and galaxies came into being, how they evolve, and ultimately how they end their lives. Physics of the Cosmos (PCOS) projects explore the most extreme physical conditions of the universe, from black holes to dark energy. PCOS topics include cosmology, high-energy astrophysics and fundamental physics. Solar System (SS) programs involve studies of objects in our own solar system. Proposals may be reassigned to a different science area if deemed appropriate.

Proposers should base their science case in terms of strategic relevance toward achieving one or more of NASA's goals for the Exoplanet Exploration, Cosmic Origins, Physics of the Cosmos, or Solar System programs, as described in the 2014 NASA Science Plan. Below are new gradations of strategic relevance for Semester 2017A. In the "NASA Strategic Relevance" section on the cover page of your application, please note the level your program matches, and give evidence for how it matches that level.

  • This program is critical to support NASA Missions or programs, e.g. in support of approved NASA space observations that enable the mission to achieve its Level 1 Requirements;
  • This program adds significant value to, or enhances, existing NASA data/missions/facilities by, for examples, carrying out a redshift survey for objects detected by HST or Spitzer imaging, or validating and characterizing targets important for planning future observations (e.g. JWST target selection), or provides data which directly addresses a NASA strategic goal;
  • This program generically supports NASA's broader science goals as described in the 2014 NASA Science Plan.

General Observing programs requiring many nights of Keck time over multiple semesters (up to 4 semesters) may be submitted, but must explicitly and strongly justify their strategic connection to the stated goals. Multi semester proposals are further discussed in Section III below.

Within these broad guidelines, the allocation of time will be based on scientific merit, strategic importance, availability of resources, and the uniqueness of Keck's capabilities for the particular investigation. All proposals for use of NASA Keck time will be evaluated by several panels of scientists comprising the NASA Keck Telescope Allocation Committee (NASA-Keck TAC). The TAC process will be administered by the NASA Exoplanet Science Institute (NExScI). In recognition of the science communities that the NASA Keck time is expected to serve, TAC members are selected to assure balanced expertise in the areas of exoplanets, objects in our own solar system, and in support of NASA's Cosmic Origins and Physics of the Cosmos goals. NASA's solicitation of proposals and their evaluation by the NASA-Keck TAC will be phased so as to provide the evaluation and ranking of proposals needed to meet the telescope scheduling requirements set by the Director of the Keck Observatory.

Ib. Specifics for 2017A

Ib.i. Key Strategic Mission Support (KSMS) Projects

In 2016A, NASA solicited proposals for large Key Strategic Mission Support programs. The selected proposals directly support NASA mission science goals, and are not just larger versions of general science programs. All the KSMS time was allocated in 2017A, and no KSMS proposals will be accepted in 2017A. There may be future KSMS calls after 2017B.

Ib.ii Planetary Science Observations

Proposers are encouraged to consider compelling planetary science investigations that focus on the changing nature of solar system objects over time. Many of these objects are possible future mission targets as outlined in the most recent planetary decadal survey. Proposers should identify how the observations contribute to the body of scientific knowledge needed to help refine objectives of future missions and aid in the understanding of the origin or evolution of the targeted body. Observations should be of lasting importance to the broad planetary community.

Starting in 2017A, NASA observers can propose cadence Time Domain Astronomy (TDA) and Target of Opportunity (ToO) programs using the new W. M. Keck cover sheet. See Section V for more details.

Ic. Procedure

The opportunity to propose as Principal Investigators (PIs) for the NASA time on the Keck Telescopes is open to all U.S.-based astronomers ("U.S.-based astronomers" have their principal affiliation at a U.S. institution).

Proposals from PIs, or any Co-Is, who have access to the Keck telescopes through other partners (the University of California, Caltech, Yale, Keck Observatory, Swinburne, and the University of Hawaii) should indicate specifically how they are using any other Keck telescope time they have been awarded within the last two years for the proposed project and why their research requires time beyond the allocations available through their institution(s).

The TAC may use access to non-NASA Keck time as a factor in determining the final grades and rankings of the proposals. For example, the ability to achieve the science objectives with and without NASA time could be either a positive or a negative factor. If NASA time provides only a small fraction (<<50%) of the observing time needed to complete a project, the TAC might conclude that NASA time is not crucial to the completion of scientific goals and the proposal may receive a lower ranking in comparison to a proposal which completes its goals within the NASA allocation. However, if the PI can leverage access to NASA and non-NASA time to address science goals aligned with NASA's strategic goals that could not be addressed with NASA time alone, the proposal could receive a higher ranking. In the case of two proposals ranked equally on scientific and technical merit, the TAC might use access to additional Keck time as one of the factors in determining the final ranking. Other factors that the TAC may use are listed below in the specific points that proposals must address.

Proposals received by the application deadline will be reviewed and ranked by the NASA Keck TAC. The TAC will then submit their recommendations to the selecting official, the NExScI Executive Director, for final selection. NExScI will then coordinate these final selections with the Keck Observatory for scheduling.

The scientific case for observing time should establish three things:

  1. Outline the scientific question(s) toward whose solution the observations are requested, and place these questions in the larger scientific context.
  2. Show how the measurements requested will be used to illuminate these questions.
  3. Demonstrate how the proposed science fits into NASA's strategic goals for its Keck time as listed above. (Note that a numerical grade will be assigned for strategic relevance.)

The technical case should demonstrate that the proposed measurements are technically feasible, given the performance of the proposed instrument(s), in the time requested, and that the proposal team has the requisite expertise to make the observations and reduce the data in a timely manner. Mission Support proposals must include additional supporting materials as described here.

Specific points that must be addressed include:

  • How the proposed observations relate to the applicant's previous work and to other work in the field.
  • Why the Keck Observatory is essential for the proposed observations.
  • The required spatial, spectral, and temporal range and resolution.
  • Estimates of the signal-to-noise required and expected, and justification for the number of nights requested for the entire program.
  • If new or unusual techniques are to be used, make clear how observations and calibrations will be obtained.
  • Brief description of the status of large telescope time that has been awarded during the past 2 years, such as progress with data reduction and publications.
  • Access to Keck telescopes through other institutions for this or related programs in past 2 years.
  • Any other information that may assist the TAC in evaluating the scientific merits of the proposal and its suitability for the Keck Telescopes.
  • All applications must include a complete and well-justified target list with sufficient information (magnitudes, coordinates) to determine scheduling within the semester. Applications without such lists will be rejected. In the case of ToO targets or sources being drawn from on-going surveys (e.g. K2), a description of the nature and location of the potential targets must be provided in sufficient detail for the TAC to make a thorough review.

The proposal should be aimed at someone who is not a specialist in the area of astronomy under study. A specific scientific case with a connection to the bigger picture, rather than a broad general one, is usually more successful.

II. General Proposals in Support of NASA Space Missions

The NASA Keck TAC accepts mission support proposals that demonstrate that the proposed observations provide critical and timely support for approved NASA space missions. In this case, "critical" refers to NASA Keck data meeting one or more of the following criteria:

  1. Essential to achieving Level 1 Requirements of the mission, e.g. Kepler follow-up at Keck being essential to validate and characterize planet candidates, validating WISE completeness/reliability right after launch, gathering data during LCROSS lunar impact;
  2. Essential to mission planning activities including those affecting the health, safety, and risk mitigation of NASA assets, e.g. looking for potentially harmful debris in the rings orbiting Pluto that might endanger the New Horizons spacecraft;
  3. Parallel/coordinated observations with NASA assets required for time critical events and/or for independent validation and verification of the space mission data, e.g. to support SOFIA observations of Pluto multiple occultations;
  4. Longer term mission planning, e.g. looking for Kuiper Belt objects that New Horizons might fly to after its encounter with Pluto;
  5. Observations essential to the calibration or data reduction of instruments on NASA missions, e.g. calibration of JWST spectrometers using the spectra of astrophysical objects.

The TAC evaluates the science of each Mission Support proposal along with the general proposal pool without special consideration for programmatic impact. However, mission support proposals usually garner high strategic grades, and the NASA Keck selecting official, the NExScI Executive Director, will take the TAC evaluation and programmatic concerns into consideration in making the final time assignments.

All proposals submitted under the general mission support category must include the following two endorsement letters, either in the proposal package or sent directly to the NASA Keck Operations Scientist, Dr. Dawn Gelino ( by the September 15 due date. Omission of either letter will eliminate a proposal from consideration in the mission support category.

  1. A written endorsement for the current semester from the NASA Headquarters Keck Program Scientist, Dr. Hashima Hasan ( These letters must be requested from NASA Headquarters no fewer than 10 business days before the proposal due date (i.e. by September 1, 2016).
  2. A formal justification for the current semester, in writing, from the flight project, e.g., Project Scientist, Project Manager, or Principal Investigator, including an explanation of the criticality and timeliness of the proposed observations as identified in criteria 1-5 of this section.

Since the strong support of your letter writers is critical to deciding whether your proposal meets Mission Support criteria, contact the relevant flight project lead, as well as Dr. Hasan at NASA HQ well before the proposal submission deadline.

III. Multi-Semester Proposals and Applying for Partial Nights

Principal investigators may submit proposals that span up to 4 semesters. The intent of allowing PIs this option is to reduce workload on both PIs and the NASA Keck TAC for long-term programs. The NASA Keck TAC will be instructed to consider these proposals in light of all of the criteria that apply for single semester proposals, in addition to the following considerations:

  • If the proposal were accepted for only a single semester, what is the likelihood that it would be successfully resubmitted over the ensuing semesters?
  • How much observing time does the TAC consider appropriate to remove from consideration in upcoming semesters?
  • Does the PI have a demonstrated history of successful proposals?

In considering multi-semester proposals, the TAC may recommend accepting the proposal in its entirety, for some subset of the proposed semesters, or reject it outright.

Proposers should bear in mind that proposals requesting less than full nights must be scientifically and technically justified and can ordinarily be accommodated only if they can be combined with another selected program requiring a compatible instrument and configuration. Observing modes that require substantial observatory support (e.g., Laser Guide Star) are more difficult to schedule as partial night observations.

Starting in 2017A, NASA observers have the ability to propose cadence/Time Domain Astronomy (TDA) and Target of Opportunity (ToO) programs using the new W. M. Keck cover sheet. See Section V for details.

IV. Publication Acknowledgement

All publications based on data acquired with the Keck telescopes and/or the Keck Observatory Archive should include the acknowledgement(s) below.

Please send a citation for any paper using either acknowledgement to the NASA Keck Operations Scientist, Dr. Dawn Gelino (

WMKO Acknowledgement

"This work was supported by a NASA Keck PI Data Award, administered by the NASA Exoplanet Science Institute. Data presented herein were obtained at the W. M. Keck Observatory from telescope time allocated to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration through the agency's scientific partnership with the California Institute of Technology and the University of California. The Observatory was made possible by the generous financial support of the W. M. Keck Foundation.

The authors wish to recognize and acknowledge the very significant cultural role and reverence that the summit of Mauna Kea has always had within the indigenous Hawaiian community. We are most fortunate to have the opportunity to conduct observations from this mountain."

KOA Acknowledgement

"This research has made use of the Keck Observatory Archive (KOA), which is operated by the W. M. Keck Observatory and the NASA Exoplanet Science Institute (NExScI), under contract with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration." Please also use the ADS bibcode provided by KOA to reference the PI of the dataset.

The Keck Observatory Archive (KOA) is a collaboration between the NASA Exoplanet Science Institute (NExScI) and the W. M. Keck Observatory (WMKO). NExScI is sponsored by NASA's Origins Theme and Exoplanet Exploration Program, and operated by the California Institute of Technology in coordination with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL)."

V. Target of Opportunity and Cadence Observing Proposals

Starting in 2017A, NASA observers now have the ability to propose both cadence/Time Domain Astronomy (TDA) and Target of Opportunity (ToO) programs. ToO proposals for events likely to happen during a single semester (e.g. gamma-ray bursts, supernovae) must be submitted during the regular submission cycle so that the proposed observations can be considered by the TAC and potential scheduling opportunities can be discussed. Cadence/TDA observations are those that can be scheduled in advance and require only a small fraction of a night several times over a semester. Policies related to ToO or TDA proposals can be found at ToO policies and TDA/cadence policies. These policies are in place for a 2-year trial period with a review after the first year.

For Semester 2017A, four Keck partners (UC, Caltech, UH, and NASA) have agreed that TAC-approved ToO and TDA projects may interrupt observers at any of the four institutions. Each TAC can award up to a combined total of six ToO/TDA observations which interrupt any of the other institutions. The TAC will require that proposals requesting ToO or TDA status be of the highest scientific and/or strategic importance due to their disruptive nature at the observatory and to other observers. We will endeavor to schedule the highest priority programs, but we cannot guarantee availability of ToO/TDA observations for all approved programs. Observing modes that require substantial observatory support, e.g. LGS, are more difficult to schedule as ToO observations.

PIs may ask for their time to be designated as uninterruptable, i.e. as exempt from ToO or cadence interrupts. Note that programs scheduled as half-nights or smaller will not be interrupted. To do this, mark the appropriate box on the NExScI submission page and justify in one brief paragraph why the proposed observations cannot be interrupted. This explanation should be scientifically motivated, namely that such interruptions would seriously compromise the scientific return of the observing program. It is anticipated that interruption-free time will rarely be granted.

Only proposals that fit the case of a ToO observation of a truly extraordinary opportunity that could not have been anticipated prior to the regular proposal deadline may be submitted outside of the regular submission cycle to Dr. Dawn Gelino. Note that all ToO proposals must meet the strategic relevance guidelines described above.

VI. Application Procedures

Application Procedures

To submit your proposal, please follow the guidelines outlined on the Application Procedures page, and submit your proposal via the online submission page. Proposals are due on Thursday, September 15, 2016 by 4 pm PDT.

Proposal Support

Subject to the availability of funds, NASA will financially support PIs of programs assigned time through this call for proposals. PIs will receive limited research and travel support contingent upon NASA Headquarters funding. Funding awards will be determined through formulaic means. NExScI will manage the Keck PI Data Awards and will contract with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) to administer the disbursement of most of the funds. Depending on the size of the award and the nature of the PI's home institution, the funding instrument used by JPL will in most cases be a Research Support Agreement (RSA). An RSA is a simple Fixed Price, Advance Paid, subcontract provided through JPL that is used for basic research funding where scientific reports and technical data are the only deliverables. RSAs can be awarded to educational and non-profit institutions. JPL is unable to issue grants. Proposers should not include any budget information in the proposal.

The only reporting necessary for RSAs is a final "end of contract" report outlining the work done and listing publications from the research. This report is required. Please use this final report template to ensure that all relevant information is included. Failure to submit a final report in a timely manner may be grounds for rejection of observing proposals in subsequent years.

VII. Data Proprietary Periods

Data taken with ALL instruments on the Keck telescopes are included in the Keck Observatory Archive (KOA) with a default proprietary period of 18 months. Requests for extensions of this default proprietary period MUST be included in the proposal and on the WMKO cover sheet and be scientifically justified. All extensions must be approved by the NASA selecting official, NExScI Director, Dr. Charles Beichman.

VIII. Remote Observing

NASA Keck observers have direct access to two Remote Observing Facilities (ROFs) for their Keck observations. These ROFs are located at Caltech (Pasadena, CA) and at Yale University (New Haven, CT). Other ROFs are available and NASA users with access to these facilities may use these; use of the Caltech or Yale ROF is not required. NASA Keck observers who do want to make use of the Caltech or Yale ROF are required to follow this procedure, which should be started no later than 5 weeks before the scheduled nights.

Web Curator and NExScI Cognizant Official: Dr. Dawn Gelino

(last updated August 19th, 2016 16:13:25)