In the document presenting the General National Budget for 2021 approved by the Council of Ministers for 2021, the Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias (IAC) will receive, next year, a sum of 9 million euros from the State Plan of Investments and Reforms. This extraordinary grant, which will be spent on investments and technological infrastructure, is in addition to the annual grant from the Ministry of Science and Innovation. The IAC is thereby recognized as a powerful motor attracting external funding to the Canaries to drive technological development and create employment.
The Plan of investments and reforms for economic recovery which the IAC foresees includes two major actions. The first, “Front-line technology for astrophysical instrumentation”, with a budget of 2 million euros for 2021 (3.5 for 2022). Its objective is to improve and enhance the capacity of the IAC in advanced systems technology: mechanical and opto-mechanical, cryogenic and vacuum systems, precision mechanics, systems of adaptive optics, fibre optics, control systems, characterization of sensors, electronic systems, and software design.
The Instrument Division of the IAC, which employs over 70 highly qualified engineers, faces key challenges which need human capital, knowledge, and very specialized equipment in competitive areas in the sector, such as the building of infrared cameras and spectrograhs based on high vacuum and cryogenic technology, optical cameras, polarization analysers, systems fed by fibre optics, optical devices which measure and correct for the perturbations introduced by the atmosphere in light reaching scientific instruments, and other transverse areas which imply technical advances in specific useful projects, either for future astronomical instruments or in projects with applications which are not astronomical. The final goal is that the mastery of these technologies will allow the IAC to maintain an outstanding role in probosals for building future telescopes and their scientific instruments.
“It is essential -explains Professor Rafael Rebolo, the Director of the IAC- to go deep, acquiring cutting edge capacity in all the technologies which are essential to give due support to the many technological projects which are active at the Institute, including the major projects which the IAC is negotiating for the coming years (for example the EST, the TMT, etc.), to support the maintenance and improvement of the existing instruments and telescopes in the Canary Observatories, and to collaborate with the technological projects of IACTEC, our domain of collaboration between the public and private sectors in R+D+I”.
The main measures within this first action will be to fund the increase in the capacity in vacuum technology, in cryogenics, and in the automatic control of safety in criogenic infrastructure, to push forward the development of adaptive optics, to move ahead with high precision spectropolarimetry for solar physics, to enhance the technical capability of the Instrument Division of the IAC, and to develop advanced techniques in engineering.
Centre for Advanced Optical Systems
The second major action to receive funding from the State within the Plan of investments and reforms for economic recovery is the plan for making IACTEC into a centre of advanced optics at international level, with a budget of 7 million euros for 2021 (9.5 million for 2022). The objective is to situate IACTEC, the new centre of the Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias, situated in the Tenerife Science and Technology Park of the Cabildo of Tenerife, in La Laguna, in the forefront of technologies for advances optical systems; strengthen the collaboration between science and industry, encourage innovation and diversification of the economy; contribute to the development of talent and of a dynamic and innovative productive fabric, in the Canaries and in the rest of Spain, by driving the coproduction of technological knowledge with companies having a technical base, above all in the sectors of Astrophysics and Space, prioritized by the RIS3 strategy of the Canaries, and in this way encouraging the apperance of new business activities with high added value in the region.
In this environment of innovation, the IAC considers it vital to strengthen its activity in areas where it already has strategic capacity, such as optics, electronics, the development of specific software applications, and precision mechanics. IACTEC will orient its activity towards the application of optical technology for the space sciences and scientific instrumentation in areas such as medicine, security, and the environment. It will develop transferable projects of R+D, particularly in the areas of the collection and processing of light and of electromagnetic waves in general.
It will also allow technological and business cooperation to take advantage of the knowledge of the IAC in the development of advanced scientific instruments at the same time contributing to the industrial development and commercialization of products with high added value in the Canaries.
“IACTEC -underlined Rebolo- will be the point of advance of the IAC for the socio-economic valorization of the R+D, feeding the regional innovation ecosystem by supporting a number of business initiatives, creating highly qualified jobs, and stimulating technological valorization and innovation. In all these objectives we count on the collaboration of the Cabildo of Tenerife and its Science and Technology Park”.
IACTEC is aligned with the Proposal of the European Commission for the Regulations of the European Parliament and of the Council by which a Mechanism of Recovery and Resilience is established [COM(2020) 408 final], and at the same time fits the 3rd Specific Recommendation for Spain of the Council of the European Unions relative to the National Programme of Reforms of 2020 (COM/2020/509 final) with its reference to “Center the investment [...] especially on the development of research and innovation”.
As the main measures within this second action, the Centre of Advanced Optics and the Photonics Laboratory will be funded, the capacity in optical and infrared technology for microsatellite payloads will be augmented, the /know-how/ for new technology of aperture masking interferometry (AMI) will be developed, digital optics for space communications will be promoted, technology will be transferred to the medical sector, and a sum will be set aside for advanced training and entrepreneurship.
The initiatives which the IAC presented to the National Plan of Investments and Reforms were firmly supported by its Governing Council, especially by its President, the Minister of Science and Innovation, Pedro Duque, by the President of the Government of the Canaries, Ángel Víctor Torres, by the Councillor for Economy, Knowledge and Employment, Elena Máñez, and by the Secretary General for Research, Rafael Rodrigo.