The UA is renowned worldwide for its efforts in space exploration—with involvement in multiple satellite launches, observatories, and projects with NASA, the school is a crucial arm of space exploration in the United States.
However, it comes at a cost.
“We had a little over $600 million in research expenditures, which placed us thirty-third in the country,” said Timothy Swindle, the director and department head at the Lunar and Planetary Lab, speaking of the last fiscal year.
$120 million of that fell under astronomy, as classified by the National Science Foundation.
As far as physical sciences go—physics, chemistry, geology, astronomy, and planetary sciences—the UA ranked third in funding, Swindle said, totaling almost $165 million.
In terms of spending, the University of California Berkeley, which was second to Arizona in astronomy funding, spent “a little more than half of what UA did,” Swindle said. “The nation’s universities as a whole spent $567 million.”
Of that total, more than twenty percent was spent at the UA.
“There are only two schools, that being Cal Tech and Johns Hopkins, that spent more on physical sciences total than we did on this category that NSF calls astronomy,” he said.
The UA, however, still spends more than any Ivy League school on astronomy, making it a major hotbed for the science. But those tens of millions of dollars must come from somewhere.
“Certainly, all the money for the space program projects comes from NASA,” said Buell Jannuzi, head of the department of Astronomy at the UA. Christine Hoekenga, a social media lead for the OSIRIS-REx mission said the mission cost $805 million, every penny of which came from NASA. The total did not include the rocket the spacecraft was launched on.
However, with the number of critical space exploration efforts the UA is involved in, the money is being spent wisely.
Much of the astronomy department’s efforts involve mirror telescopes, which are located on Mount Graham and Mount Hopkins. The UA is involved in the construction of the Giant Magellan Telescope, scheduled to be completed in 2025.
Being built at Chile's Las Campanas Observatory the project aims to answer several critical questions about the universe, such as how the first galaxies formed, what materials make up the universe, and ultimately, what the fate of the universe may be, according to the Giant Magellan Telescope website.
The construction of the telescope involves planning and cooperation with many other universities around the world, Jannuzi said. “We’re partnered with many other groups, including the University of Chicago, Harvard, the Carnegie Institution in Washington… in the partnership to build the Giant Magellan Telescope,” he said.