University of Southern California


NSF-19-605: Mid-Scale Innovations Program in Astronomical Sciences (MSIP)

Slots:                                                     3 per organization; 1 per PI

Internal Deadline:                          Contact the Office of Research if interested.

Preliminary Proposal Deadline: December 19, 2019

External Deadline:                          May 6, 2020, 5pm PT

Award Information:                        Type: Standard Grant or Continuing Grant or Cooperative Agreement

Estimated Number of Awards: 1 to 5

Anticipated Amount: $4,000,000 to $30,000,000

Budgetary Requirements:           Minimum proposal budget for full award duration is $4,000,000, with the exception of open access and development proposals for which there is no lower limit. Estimated program budget, number of awards and average award size/duration are subject to the availability of funds. MPS/AST anticipates a minimum of $5,000,000 for the MSIP program in FY 2020.

Submission Process:                     PIs must submit their application as a Limited Submission through the Office of Research Application Portal:

Materials to submit:

Link to Award:                        

Who May Serve as PI:                    No restrictions or limits.


The Mid-Scale Innovations Program (MSIP) is designed to fill the need for a well-defined budgetary and competitive selection process to support astronomical projects of intermediate to large cost (but below the Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction (MREFC) threshold). A new foundation-wide Mid-Scale Research Infrastructure Program (Mid-scale RI) is also available, through separate solicitations, covering a funding range of $6M to $70M. The two programs differ, for example, in that MSIP allows for science utilization and operations, whereas Mid-scale RI funds infrastructure development only. The astronomy community’s demand in the MSIP funding range exceeds the current capacity of Mid-scale RI and covers a wide variety of undertakings, from highly focused short-term science experiments to long-term multi-use facilities. The makeup of MSIP includes “Open Access Capabilities” (Category 4 below), an addition to the decadal survey definition that was recommended by the 2012 MPS/AST Portfolio Review and does not exist in the Mid-scale RI program.

In this solicitation, MSIP is being offered with a structure similar to that of previous calls.

In order to organize the diverse range of project types and costs for strategic evaluation and review, the MSIP competition is divided into the following four categories:

  1. Mid-Scale Science Projects: Self-contained, limited term projects with well-defined construction and science utilization phases.
  2. Mid-Scale Facilities: Construction or operation of stand-alone, long-term, mid-scale facilities.
  3. Development Investments: Design and development for future mid-scale and large-scale facilities.
  4. Open Access Capabilities:
    1. New instruments for existing telescopes, both national and private, in return for U.S. community access.
    2. Provision of observing time for U.S. community access on existing telescopes (e.g. providing open access nights in return for partial support of operational costs of a facility).
    3. Data archiving, management, and analysis projects that permit or increase public access to data resources.

The budgets for each of the four categories will be flexible, and distribution across categories will depend on proposal pressure and programmatic considerations. It is anticipated that solicitations will be continue to be issued on a biennial basis pending the availability of funds.

Mid-scale projects are recognized as ideal incubators for the next generation of leaders in astronomical technology and creators of cutting edge new capabilities. Solving the most pressing problems of the day — such as those called out in the decadal surveys — using new technologies, techniques, and concepts is encouraged in this competition. As such, MSIP categories 1-3 will focus on innovative, potentially transformative, research programs that include a strong component of student training in instrumentation and facility development. For proposals in category 4, the science justification must demonstrate the uniqueness of the proposed capability relative to what is currently available to the general U.S. astronomical community. Student training in instrumentation will not be required for proposals in Category 4. The lower limit of $4M on proposal budgets will be waived for categories 3 and 4.

Investigators whose preliminary proposals are for open access capabilities similar to those currently available to the community will not be invited to submit full proposals.

All proposals must show the project’s value and benefit to the U.S. community. Examples of benefit include, but are not limited to, open-access observing time on the facility, access to data products and software, and cooperation and sharing of technology with other projects.

Strong project management will be emphasized in proposal evaluation, particularly for more costly or complex programs. Applicants are strongly encouraged to account for all foreseeable costs in the project budget, including adequate plans for risk mitigation, the cost needed for budget management and project control, and any plans for budget contingency.

All proposers to MSIP will be required to suggest which of the four categories is most appropriate for their projects. There will be no segregation of projects via waveband.

Prior to final award of full proposals, some projects may be evaluated via a Cost, Schedule, and Management Review, generally involving a reverse site visit with specialist reviewers, as a prerequisite to the awarding of funds.

In the Facilities, Equipment and Other Resources section of the proposal, proposers should include an aggregated description of the internal and external resources that the organization and its collaborators will provide to the project, should it be funded. The description should be narrative in nature and must not include any quantifiable financial information. Supporting materials, such as environmental impact studies and decommissioning plans, should be included as supplementary documents. See Section V.A for additional information.

Proposals will be funded for no more than five years, and renewal proposals for existing projects must recompete within the MSIP against all other submitted proposals, with no competitive advantage.

Important elements of the program include standard merit review with special attention to scientific merit, student training, relevance to community-established strategic goals and roadmaps, project management, and planning for both operations and data archive funding.

Visit our Institutionally Limited Submission webpage for updates and other announcements.

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