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Instrument Upgrade Program

, Updated

Gemini Observatory is committed to upgrading its existing operational instruments to keep them scientifically competitive and to create new instrument capabilities at the observatory. As part of this effort, Gemini annually seeks community-created science-driven proposals to improve our current instruments through our Instrument Upgrade Program (IUP). Gemini’s Science and Technology Advisory Committee (STAC) endorsed the observatory’s guidelines for the IUP in their 2015A report.

Gemini’s baseline plan is to provide for one small project (~100,000 USD) every year and one medium project (~500,000 USD) every other year. The first call for this program came in 2015, resulting in the K2F2 project providing new filters for Flamingos-2 and so far three projects have been awarded, and the contract of a fourth one is about to be signed. As a reference you can check the 2017 Request for Proposals which welcomed proposals for amounts between 0 and the full 600,000 USD budget. In addition to the 2017 budget Gemini also offered to provide a science grade HAWAII-4RG detector and controller package to be incorporated into an upgrade. Gemini is seeking to fund two projects per year, but may choose to fund either one or more than two projects depending on the requested funds, the available staff effort, and the perceived benefit of each project.

Contracts can be awarded to profit or non-profit institutions or companies within the nations that fund the Gemini Observatory (regular or limited term participants). Gemini will accept proposals from people outside the partnership who have experience in using the instrument or significant experience in designing/building the instrument.

To encourage a wide variety of participant organizations, Gemini will provide up to one night (10 hours) of observing time per project to be used to realize and demonstrate the scientific potential of the upgraded instrument.

What are the IUP requirements?

IUP projects should produce a tangible result that creates and or enables new science with existing facility instruments. The IUP is not meant to find paper studies or other work that does not provide a real physical upgrade to our existing capabilities. Software upgrades that add new capabilities or operational improvements are allowed; data processing software proposals are not. All proposed projects must meet our available funding and schedule constraints.

Proposers need to clearly demonstrate the project’s scientific value and relevance to Gemini’s user community. The project should require a minimal level of effort from Gemini staff to develop, implement, and maintain. Gemini will assess the impact of the project and the outcome against the resources needed to support the project. Gemini will assign the relevant resources, pending availability, to assist the team with their work such that the upgrades are successfully achieved. Gemini will also assess the significance of the proposed upgrade in view of the current long-term instrumentation plans.

The project must include readiness testing prior to going on-sky and full characterization of the upgrade afterward. Gemini will only consider proposals for efficient instrument upgrades of minimal to moderate technical risk. The proposal must thoroughly identify and suggest the mitigation of key risks and instrument downtime. The upgraded instrument must comply with the Gemini Interface Control Documents (ICDs).

Due to the limitations imposed by changes in the uniform guidance regulations for contracts by the National Science Foundation, Gemini did not issue a call in 2018-2019 and is preparing a way to receive suggestions for a targeted instrument upgrade call to be released in 2020. The schedule for the 2020 RfP release, review, and completed signed contract will lasts six months. Gemini intends for awarded work to start on the instrument upgrade projects by September 2020. We expect small projects to be completed within 12 months, and larger ones, within 24 months of the contract execution date.

To receive a notifications about the RfP schedule, please provide contact information including an email address to Cathy Blough (

Teams seeking collaboration

Gemini encourages collaborations and will provide a forum for those seeking additional partners to complete a team for this work. Groups interested in Instrument Upgrades who may lack the expertise needed to complete the work should submit a notice of intent and use this forum to find additional partners for the work.

Teams / PIs seeking collaboration:

  • Dr. Jon Mauerhan (mahuerhan (at), Department of Astronomy, University of Berkeley. Expertise: Supernovae, massive stars. Interest: Commissioning the Gemini Polarization Unit (GPOL).  
  • Dr. J Allyn Smith (smithj (at), Department of Physics and Astronomy, Austin Pey State University. Expertise: Observational astrophysics, survey calibration, late stages of stellar evolution. Interest: Commissioning the Gemini Polarization Unit (GPOL).  
  • A. John Derrig (ajderrig (at), PTS, Albuquerque. Expertise: Engineering proposal preapration services. Build-to-print manufacturing and design-to-specification services.  Experience in TMT projects.
  • Mukremin Kilic (mukreminkilic (at), Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of Oklahoma. Expertise: White dwarfs, ultra-compact binaries. Interest: Frame-transfer mode capabilities.


Q1:  How will I get updates about the Request for Proposals?

A1:  Gemini will post any updates at the top of the RfP webpage.  If you are interested in receiving updates and news about the RfP, please provide your contact information including email address to Karen Godzyk (

Q2:  Can we submit a proposal with three equal partners?

A2:  Yes, A group of institutions may submit a joint proposal in which multiple institutions are all listed as equal partners. However, one of the institutions have to be identified as the lead institution for contract negotiation and project oversight.

Q3:  Our institution has built an instrument for Gemini before, but our country is not part of the partnership now. Can we submit a proposal for the IUP anyway?

A3:  Yes, the RFP is open to non-partner country Principal Investigators who have significant and relevantexperience in using, designing, and/or building a Gemini instrument. 

Q4:  Our institution has never built an instrument for Gemini before, and the country is outside the partnership. Are we eligible for an instrument upgrade project?

A4:  No. The RFP is only open to all institutions or companies from Gemini partner nations, or non-partner country Principal Investigators who have significant and relevant experience in using, designing, and/or building a Gemini instrument.  

Q5:  I want to propose an upgrade to one of Gemini's future instruments, and I request now $100K for the feasibility study. We will contribute the three-person team work hours as in-kind contribution.  Would Gemini consider this proposal?

A5:  No. We will accept proposals that provide in-kind contributions, but cannot provide funding beyond the cap described in the RfP.  This program is not intended for design studies for future instruments or upgrades.

Q6:  We have a project in mind but we are waiting on some new technology to be finalized. Will Gemini accept a 3-year contract?

A6:  No. Work for each project is expected to be completed within twelve (12) months of contract execution in case of small projects, and up to twenty four (24) months in case of the more ambitious projects. In this specific case with considerable technical risk, we recommend you wait for your technology to mature, then apply for future calls from this program.

Q7:  Where can I find examples about what Gemini considers a possible small project instrument upgrade?

A7:  Gemini's instrument scientists prepared a brief list of possible instrument upgrade projects. Here are some examples. You are welcome to propose for one of those, or develop your own idea.   

Q8:  Do you have a sample of a surety plan that can be distributed?

A8:  Yes, here you have a sample.