NSF Mid-Scale Innovations Program in Astronomical Sciences (MSIP) Solicitation

Please see the full solicitation for complete information about the funding opportunity. Below is a summary assembled by the Research & Innovation Office (RIO).

Program Summary

A vigorous Mid-Scale Innovations Program (MSIP) was recommended by the 2010 Astronomy and Astrophysics Decadal Survey, citing "many highly promising projects for achieving diverse and timely science." As described in this solicitation, the Division of Astronomical Sciences conducts a mid-scale program to support a variety of astronomical activities within a cost range up to $30M. This program is formally divided into four subcategories: 1) limited term, self-contained science projects; 2) longer term mid-scale facilities; 3) development investments for future mid-scale and large-scale projects; and 4) community open access capabilities. MSIP will emphasize both strong scientific merit and a well-developed plan for student training and involvement of a diverse workforce in instrumentation, facility development, or data management.

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:
    • New instruments for existing telescopes, both national and private, in return for U.S. community access.
    • 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).
    • Data archiving, management, and analysis projects that permit or increase public access to data resources.


CU Internal Deadline: 11:59pm MST November 5, 2019

Sponsor Preliminary Proposal Deadline: 5:00pm MST December 19, 2019

Sponsor Full Proposal Deadline: 5:00pm MST May 6, 2020

Internal Application Requirements (all in PDF format)

  • Project Summary (2-3 pages maximum): Please include the following: project overview with intellectual merit and broader impacts sections, a statement of which of the four categories of MSIP is most appropriate for this proposal as the first sentence; a scientific justification (for Open Access Capabilities, explain the uniqueness and lack of general availability of the capability); a description of benefits to the community (observing time, data products, etc.); and an outline of the Project Execution Plan, including plans for budget management and project control and budget contingency (where applicable).
  • PI Curriculum Vitae
  • Budget Overview (1 page maximum): A basic budget outlining project costs is sufficient; detailed OCG budgets are not required.

To access the online application, visit: https://cuboulderovcr.secure-platform.com/a/solicitations/home/6421


There are no special eligibility requirements.

Limited Submission Guidelines

A single organization may submit a maximum of three preliminary proposals as the lead institution. Full proposals are to be submitted only when invited by NSF, and no more than two invitations will be issued to a single organization. There is no limit to participation as a partner institution.

Any one individual may be the Principal Investigator (PI) or co-Principal Investigator (co-PI) for no more than one preliminary or full proposal.

Award Information

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 (see Program Description in full solicitation).

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.

Review Criteria

In addition to intellectual merit and broader impacts, note the specific review criteria below.

  1. All proposals must show the project's value and benefit to the U.S. astronomical 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.
  2. Proposals to Category 4, Open Access Capabilities, must clearly demonstrate the uniqueness of the capability and its need by the U.S. community. Proposals for capabilities similar to those currently available to the broad community will not be invited for a full proposal. Category 4 proposals must also include a plan to provide adequate support to outside users for obtaining and reducing data from the facility.
  3. Except for those in Category 4 with no instrumentation, proposals must include, and will be evaluated on, a substantial component of student training and involvement of a diverse workforce in instrumentation, facility development, or data management/analysis.
  4. A project management plan appropriate to the scope and complexity of the project is required and will be carefully evaluated as part of the proposal review. Some projects, such as open access to telescopes, will need only a minimal or no project management plan, whereas construction projects will require a clear description of the project management methods and resources to be applied. Additional specificity on the level of project management expected will be provided in the invitation letter for full proposals.