The European ultra-large telescope simply obtained a 10% price range increase and is now costing $ 1.5 billion


Funding is an extremely important aspect of any large scientific project. The whims of financial controllers can dramatically increase or destroy the efforts of hundreds of thousands of other workers. Often, funding announcements for large scientific projects focus on cuts or "cost savings" that hamper the eventual end system they are trying to build. Recently, the European Southern Observatory (ESO) announced that it has actually increased the budget for the Extreme Large Telescope (ELT) under construction by 10%.

The total cost of the project has now reached EUR 1.3 billion (US $ 1.59). Construction of the actual observatory, which was originally approved and funded in 2012, began in 2014 at ESO's Paranal Observatory in Chile. The construction is based on a consortium of contractors, both from the ESO sponsoring nations and from Chile itself. In fact, 80% of the project's budget goes directly to these contractors.

Artistic conception of the finished ELT.
Photo credit: Swinburne Astronomy Productions / ESO

However, it has been a bumpy road for these contractors as the initial funding for the projects was two-phase. The first part of Phase I of the project would result in a fully functional ELT, although it would be significantly less functional than originally intended. A second phase with its own money pot would then be used to bring the telescopes up to the originally intended specification.

More recently, the ELT has undergone what ESO calls a “total cost exercise”, which monitors the project to ensure that it is performing as expected. As part of this exercise, the ESO Council (the organization's funding body) approved a 10% increase in the project budget to meet the objectives originally set in Phase II of the plan. These improvements include atmospheric monitoring equipment, more laser-guided star trackers, and an all-new technical outbuilding in the nearby Armazones.

Picture of the foundation for the ELT.Construction site for ESO's Extrem Large Telescope (ELT) in the remote Chilean Atacama Desert. Photo credit: G. Hüdepohl / ESO

One thing that the increased budget didn't seem to affect was the schedule. Aside from major technical issues or household disasters, the ELT is still well on its way to getting its first light sometime in 2025.

Learn more:
ESO – Green light for the E-ELT construction

Lead Image Credit: ESO

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