Funding opportunity

Funding opportunity: Astronomy observation and theory small awards 2024

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Apply for funding to support theory, including modelling, simulation and related software development, observation, experiment and new technology research, relevant to all aspects of astronomy and astrophysics beyond the solar system.

You must be based at a UK research organisation eligible for UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) funding.

This funding covers up to three years of research activity starting from 1 April 2025.

The Small Award scheme replaces the Astronomy Consolidated or Consortium Grants scheme.

For solar physics and planetary science, see the related solar and planetary opportunity.

Who can apply

Before applying for funding, check the Eligibility of your organisation.

UKRI has introduced new role types for funding opportunities being run on the new UKRI Funding Service.

For full details, visit Eligibility as an individual.

You may submit up to two applications to the Small Award round (across both funding opportunities), only one of which can be as the project lead (previously known as principal investigator) subject to the 2024 eligibility for project leads.

You must adhere to the full-time equivalent limits set out in the guidelines.

Who is eligible to apply

You are eligible to apply as a project lead to the Small Award scheme in 2024 if you satisfy one of the following criteria:

  • you applied to the 2021 Consolidated or Consortium Grants round and would be due to submit in 2024
  • you requested a slippage to your submission year and are due to apply in 2024
  • you were eligible to submit to the 2023 round as project lead but chose not to
  • you are a newly appointed academic member of staff who has joined a department between consolidated or consortium submissions
  • you were unable to apply with your group’s last consolidated or consortium submission (for example, due to extenuating circumstances such as maternity leave, parental leave, caring leave, and so on)

You must be based at a UK research organisation eligible for funding. All applicants must meet the general investigator eligibility criteria which can be found in the research grants handbook.

If you are unsure of your eligibility to apply as a project lead, please contact the STFC Astronomy Awards team before beginning an application: kim.burchell@stfc.ukri.org and chloe.woodcock@stfc.ukri.org

Co-lead (previously co-investigator) eligibility is open to all UK applicants, providing the project lead is eligible to apply as per the conditions above.

Applications to the Small Award scheme are welcome from both single research organisations and multiple research organisation consortiums.

You should refer to the Astronomy Grants Panel guidance for applicants before applying.

Equality, diversity and inclusion

We are committed to achieving equality of opportunity for all funding applicants. We encourage applications from a diverse range of researchers.

We support people to work in a way that suits their personal circumstances. This includes:

  • career breaks
  • support for people with caring responsibilities
  • flexible working
  • alternative working patterns

Find out more about equality, diversity and inclusion at UKRI.

What we're looking for

Scope

Areas of research

This funding opportunity covers applications for astronomy observation and astronomy theory. We welcome applications for funding to support theory, including modelling, simulation and related software development, observation, experiment and new technology research, relevant to all aspects of astronomy and astrophysics beyond the solar system.

This includes:

  • stellar physics, including star formation and extra-solar planetary systems (studies of the Sun as part of a programme of stellar physics may fit here)
  • studies of transient phenomena
  • the interstellar medium and galactic astronomy
  • extra-galactic astronomy and cosmology
  • the astrophysical aspects of particle astrophysics, where particle astrophysics includes dark matter, the origin of cosmic rays and gravity
  • blue skies technology or instrumentation development applicable to the above areas (technology readiness levels (TRL) 1 to 4)
  • laboratory astrophysics, including software development, relevant to the above programmes

If your application is in one of the following research areas, we strongly advise you contact the STFC Astronomy Awards team to check the remit ahead of submitting:

Technology development

We will consider funding astronomy and space science applications within TRL1 to 4 or their equivalent (Eligibility of technology readiness levels (TRL)). Applications which plan to exceed TRL 4 in the timeline of the award will be considered out of remit. Modest upgrades to existing equipment, related to the delivery of science within the course of the project requested, may be considered. The UKSA will consider space mission-related applications at TRL 5 and above.

Telescope and instrument operations costs, where not directly linked to specific science outcomes within the grant period, are not within the remit.

Gravitational wave research

Small awards will consider funding support for some aspects of gravitational wave research: clarification of STFC support for gravitational waves research.

Space weather and the impact of the Sun on terrestrial systems

We will support non-Earth-orientated solar-terrestrial physics research for example, fundamental space plasma physics not related to the Earth. STFC will also fund space-based facilities (spacecraft, instruments and operations) for solar terrestrial physics and their associated primary exploitation.

Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) is responsible for funding solar terrestrial physics where the primary goal is to understand the Earth’s environment from the deep interior to the upper atmosphere (including, mesosphere, thermosphere and ionosphere).

Mars exploration and sample return

Studies related to the UKSA’s programme of aurora science (Mars exploration and sample return) should be addressed to the UKSA at spaceexploration@ukspaceagency.gov.uk in the first instance, as separate funding may be available.

Duration

The duration of this award is up to three years of research activity starting from 1 April 2025.

Funding available

STFC will fund 80% of the full economic cost.

What we will fund

Applications to the Small Award scheme must contain a single project (requests for multi-project small awards will be rejected) which must follow the following resource guidance:

  • three years maximum, all awards must start on 1 April 2025
  • maximum of one full time equivalent (FTE) of research and innovation associate (RIA) (previously known as postdoctoral research assistant (PDRA)) effort. The panel recognises that technical or lab-based projects may require fractions of the time of specialist RIAs, but this should not exceed the overall envelope of one FTE of RIA effort per project
  • maximum 0.20 FTE of applicant time, with the project lead expected to request a minimum of 0.10 FTE to lead and manage the project
  • there may also occasionally be projects which involve only applicant time or applicant plus technician time

This funding opportunity is part of STFC and will be assessed by the Astronomy Grants Panel (AGP). The AGP offers two funding opportunities for small award applications. The same deadline applies to both funding opportunities.

What we will not fund

Studentships are not permitted on small awards.

Supporting skills and talent

We encourage you to follow the principles of the Concordat to Support the Career Development of Researchers and the Technician Commitment.

International collaboration

If your application includes international project partners or collaborators, visit UKRI’s trusted research and innovation for more information on effective international collaboration.

Find out about getting funding for international collaboration.

How to apply

We are running this funding opportunity on the new UKRI Funding Service. You cannot apply on the Joint Electronic Submissions (Je-S) system.

The project lead is responsible for completing the application process on the Funding Service, but we expect all team members and project partners to contribute to the application.

Only the lead research organisation can submit an application to UKRI.

To apply

Select ‘Start application’ near the beginning of this Funding finder page.

  1. Confirm you are the project lead.
  2. Sign in or create a Funding Service account. To create an account, select your organisation, verify your email address, and set a password. If your organisation is not listed, email support@funding-service.ukri.org
    Please allow at least 10 working days for your organisation to be added to the Funding Service.
  3. Answer questions directly in the text boxes. You can save your answers and come back to complete them or work offline and return to copy and paste your answers. If we need you to upload a document, follow the upload instructions in the Funding Service. All questions and assessment criteria are listed in the ‘How to apply’ section on this Funding finder page.
  4. Allow enough time to check your application in ‘read-only’ view before sending to your research office.
  5. Send the completed application to your research office for checking. They will return it to you if it needs editing.
  6. Your research office will submit the completed and checked application to UKRI.

Where indicated, you can also demonstrate elements of your responses in visual form if relevant. You should:

  • use images sparingly and only to convey important information that cannot easily be put into words
  • insert each new image onto a new line
  • provide a descriptive legend for each image immediately underneath it (this counts towards your word limit)
  • ensure files are smaller than 8MB and in JPEG, JPG, JPE, JFI, JIF, JFIF, PNG, GIF, BMP or WEBP format

Watch our research office webinars about the new Funding Service.

For more guidance on the Funding Service, see:

Deadline

We must receive your application by 12 March 2024 at 4.00pm UK time.

You will not be able to apply after this time.

Make sure you are aware of and follow any internal institutional deadlines.

Following the submission of your application to the funding opportunity, your application cannot be changed, and applications will not be returned for amendment. If your application does not follow the guidance, it may be rejected.

Personal data

Processing personal data

STFC, as part of UKRI, will need to collect some personal information to manage your Funding Service account and the registration of your funding applications.

We will handle personal data in line with UK data protection legislation and manage it securely. For more information, including how to exercise your rights, read our privacy notice.

Publication of outcomes

STFC, as part of UKRI, will publish the outcomes of this funding opportunity at Astronomy Grants Panel funded projects.

If your application is successful, we will publish some personal information on the UKRI Gateway to Research.

Summary

Word limit: 400

In plain English, provide a summary we can use to identify the most suitable experts to assess your application.

We may make this summary publicly available on external-facing websites, so make it suitable for a variety of readers, for example:

  • opinion-formers
  • policymakers
  • the public
  • the wider research community

Guidance for writing a summary

Clearly describe your proposed work in terms of:

  • context
  • the challenge the project addresses
  • aims and objectives
  • potential applications and benefits

Core team

List the key members of your team and assign them roles from the following:

  • project lead (PL)
  • project co-lead (UK) (PcL)
  • researcher co-lead (RcL)
  • specialist
  • grant manager
  • professional enabling staff
  • research and innovation associate
  • technician
  • visiting researcher

Only list one individual as project lead.

Find out more about UKRI’s core team roles in funding applications.

Application questions

Vision and Approach

Create a document that includes your responses to all criteria. The document should not be more than three sides of A4, single spaced in paper in 11-point Arial (or equivalent sans serif font) with margins of at least 2cm. You may include images, graphs, tables.

For the file name, use the unique Funding Service number the system gives you when you create an application, followed by the words ‘Vision and Approach’.

Save this document as a single PDF file, no bigger than 8MB. Unless specifically requested, please do not include any sensitive personal data within the attachment.

If the attachment does not meet these requirements, the application will be rejected.

The Funding Service will provide document upload details when you apply.

What are you hoping to achieve with and how will you deliver your proposed work?

What the assessors are looking for in your response

For the Vision, explain how your proposed work:

  • is of excellent quality and importance within or beyond the field(s) or area(s)
  • has the potential to advance current understanding, generates new knowledge, thinking or discovery within or beyond the field or area
  • is timely given current trends, context and needs
  • impacts world-leading research, society, the economy or the environment

For the Approach, explain how you have designed your work so that it:

  • is effective and appropriate to achieve your objectives
  • is feasible, and comprehensively identifies any risks to delivery and how they will be managed
  • if applicable, uses a clear and transparent methodology
  • if applicable, summarises the previous work and describes how this will be built upon and progressed
  • will maximise translation of outputs into outcomes and impacts
  • describes how your, and if applicable your team’s, research environment (in terms of the place, and relevance to the project) will contribute to the success of the work

Within this section applicants may wish to include a workplan, Gannt chart or similar, if applicable.

Applicant and team capability to deliver

Word limit: 1,500

Why are you the right individual or team to successfully deliver the proposed work?

What the assessors are looking for in your response

Evidence of how you, and if relevant your team, have:

  • the relevant experience (appropriate to career stage) to deliver the proposed work
  • the right balance of skills and expertise to cover the proposed work
  • the appropriate leadership and management skills to deliver the work and your approach to develop others
  • contributed to developing a positive research environment and wider community

You may demonstrate elements of your responses in visual form if relevant. Further details are provided in the service.

The word count for this section is 1,500 words: 1,000 words to be used for R4RI modules and, if necessary, a further 500 words for Additions.

Use the Résumé for Research and Innovation (R4RI) format to showcase the range of relevant skills you and, if relevant, your team (project and project co-leads, researchers, technicians, specialists, partners and so on) have and how this will help deliver the proposed work. You can include individuals’ specific achievements but only choose past contributions that best evidence their ability to deliver this work.

Complete this section using the R4RI module headings listed. Use each heading once and include a response for the whole team, see the UKRI guidance on R4RI. You should consider how to balance your answer, and emphasise where appropriate the key skills each team member brings:

  • contributions to the generation of new ideas, tools, methodologies, or knowledge
  • the development of others and maintenance of effective working relationships
  • contributions to the wider research and innovation community
  • contributions to broader research or innovation users and audiences and towards wider societal benefit
Additions

Provide any further details relevant to your application. This section is optional and can be up to 500 words. You should not use it to describe additional skills, experiences, or outputs, but you can use it to describe any factors that provide context for the rest of your R4RI (for example, details of career breaks if you wish to disclose them).

Complete this as a narrative. Do not format it like a CV.

UKRI has introduced new role types for funding opportunities being run on the new Funding Service.

For full details, see Eligibility as an individual.

Ethics and responsible research and innovation (RRI)

Word limit: 500

What are the ethical or RRI implications and issues relating to the proposed work? If you do not think that the proposed work raises any ethical or RRI issues, explain why.

What the assessors are looking for in your response

Demonstrate that you have identified and evaluated:

  • the relevant ethical or responsible research and innovation considerations
  • how you will manage these considerations

Applicants are expected to consider UKRI’s trusted research and innovation work programme aimed at protecting all those working in our thriving and collaborative international research and innovation sector.

Project Leads are asked to answer the following questions associated with the research that the group participates in:

  • does the research in this application relate to any of the 17 sensitive areas of the economy identified in the NS&I Act?
  • does the research in this application include international collaboration?
  • is this application part of an experiment at an international facility?

You may demonstrate elements of your responses in visual form if relevant. Further details are provided in the Funding Service.

Research involving the use of animals

Word limit: 10

Does your proposed research involve the use of vertebrate animals or other organisms covered by the Animals Scientific Procedures Act?

If not, enter ‘N/A’ into the text box and mark this section as complete.

What the assessors are looking for in your response

If you are proposing research that requires using animals, download and complete the Animals Scientific Procedures Act template (DOCX, 74KB), which contains all the questions relating to research using vertebrate animals or other Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 regulated organisms.

Save it as a PDF. The Funding Service will provide document upload details when you apply. If this does not apply to your proposed work, you will be able to indicate this in the Funding Service.

Conducting research with animals overseas

Word limit: 10

Will any of the proposed animal research be conducted overseas?

If not, enter ‘N/A’ into the text box and mark this section as complete.

What the assessors are looking for in your response

If you are proposing to conduct overseas research, it must be conducted in accordance with welfare standards consistent with those in the UK, as in Responsibility in the use of animals in bioscience research, page 14.

Ensure all named applicants in the UK and overseas are aware of this requirement.

Provide a statement to confirm that:

  • all named applicants are aware of the requirements and have agreed to abide by them
  • this overseas research will be conducted in accordance with welfare standards consistent with the principles of UK legislation
  • the expectation set out in Responsibility in the use of animals in bioscience research will be applied and maintained
  • appropriate national and institutional approvals are in place

Overseas studies proposing to use non-human primates, cats, dogs, equines or pigs will be assessed during NC3Rs review of research applications. Provide the required information by completing the template from the question ‘Research involving the use of animals’.

For studies involving other species, select, download, and complete the relevant Word checklist or checklists from this list:

Save as a PDF. If you use more than one checklist, save it as a single PDF.

The Funding Service will provide document upload details when you apply. If this does not apply to your proposed work, you will be able to indicate this in the Funding Service.

Resources and cost justification

Word limit: 1,000

What will you need to deliver your proposed work and how much will it cost?

Please refer to the STFC justification of resources guidance.

What the assessors are looking for in your response

Justify the application’s more costly resources, in particular:

  • project staff
  • significant travel for field work or collaboration (but not regular travel between collaborating organisations or to conferences)
  • any equipment that will cost more than £10,000
  • any consumables beyond typical requirements, or that are required in exceptional quantities
  • all facilities and infrastructure costs
  • all resources that have been costed as ‘Exceptions’

Assessors are not looking for detailed costs or a line-by-line breakdown of all project resources. Overall, they want you to demonstrate how the resources you anticipate needing for your proposed work:

  • are comprehensive, appropriate, and justified
  • represent the optimal use of resources to achieve the intended outcomes
  • maximise potential outcomes and impacts

Classification of proposal

Word limit: 3

How would you classify your research proposal?

Please add one of the following classifications that are the closest match to your proposal for peer review purposes:

  • astronomy observation
  • astronomy theory

Risk management

Word limit: 500

What risks are involved in the programme of work and how will these be mitigated?

What the assessors are looking for in your response

Demonstrate that you have:

  • access to appropriate services, facilities, infrastructure or equipment to deliver the proposed work
  • identified any risks related to the programme or work and provided a risk mitigation (risks could relate to access to expertise, data, instruments, facilities and so on)

Other funding support

Word limit: 2,000

Please provide details of support sought or received from any other source for this or other research in the same field.

If you are seeking or have received support for this or other research, please provide the following information:

  • awarding organisation
  • awarding organisation’s reference
  • title of project
  • decision made (yes or no)
  • award made (yes or no)
  • start date
  • end date
  • amount sought or awarded (£)
  • abstract

Project partners

Add details about any project partners’ contributions. If there are no project partners, you can indicate this on the Funding Service.

A project partner is a collaborating organisation who will have an integral role in the proposed research. This may include direct (cash) or indirect (in-kind) contributions such as expertise, staff time or use of facilities.

Add the following project partner details:

  • the organisation name and address (searchable via a drop-down list or enter the organisation’s details manually, as applicable)
  • the project partner contact name and email address
  • the type of contribution (direct or in-direct) and its monetary value

If a detail is entered incorrectly and you have saved the entry, remove the specific project partner record and re-add it with the correct information.

For audit purposes, UKRI requires formal collaboration agreements to be put in place if an award is made.

Data management and sharing

Word limit: 500

How will you manage and share data collected or acquired through the proposed research?

What the assessors are looking for in your response

Provide a data management plan that clearly details how you will comply with UKRI’s published data sharing policy, which includes detailed guidance notes.

Please use the data management plan guidance provided by STFC.

Facilities

Word limit: 250

Does your proposed research require the support and use of a facility?

What the assessors are looking for in your response

If you will need to use a facility, follow your proposed facility’s normal access request procedures. Ensure you have prior agreement so that if you are offered funding, they will support the use of their facility on your project.

For each requested facility you will need to provide the:

  • name of facility, copied and pasted from the facility information list (DOCX, 35KB)
  • proposed usage or costs, or costs per unit where indicated on the facility information list
  • confirmation you have their agreement where required

If you will not need to use a facility, you will be able to indicate this in the Funding Service.

References

Word limit: 1,000

List the references you have used to support your application.

What the assessors are looking for in your response

Include all references in this section, not in the rest of the application questions.

You should not include any other information in this section.

We advise you not to include hyperlinks, as assessors are not obliged to access the information they lead to or consider it in their assessment of your application.

If linking to web resources, to maintain the information’s integrity, include persistent identifiers (such as digital object identifiers) where possible.

You must not include links to web resources to extend your application.

How we will assess your application

Assessment process

We will assess your application using the following process.

STFC is committed to the UK Research and Innovation principles of peer review throughout our assessment and decision-making processes.

Peer review

We will invite two to three experts to review your application independently, against the specified criteria for this funding opportunity.

You will not be able to nominate reviewers for applications on the new UKRI Funding Service. Research councils will continue to select expert reviewers.

We are monitoring the requirement for applicant-nominated reviewers as we review policies and processes as part of the continued development of the new Funding Service.

You will be given the opportunity to respond to reviewer comments via the Funding Service. Your response is limited to 500 words per review received, you can use this limit as you deem appropriate (for example you may wish to use more words on one reviewer over another). Applicants are strongly advised to be clear and concise in their response.

The response should be returned within 10 working days of receipt.

Panel

We will invite the AGP (Astronomy Grants Panel) to use the evidence provided in your application, the reviewer comments and your applicant response, to assess the quality of your application and rank it alongside other applications.

The AGP comprises four sub-panels of experts covering the following four broad science areas within astronomy:

  • AGP: astronomy observation
  • AGP: astronomy theory
  • AGP: solar studies and space-based solar terrestrial physics
  • AGP: planetary studies

In addition, a technology sub-panel provides expertise on the AGP to appropriately tension technology and exploitation or theory projects.

Find out about the AGP panel membership.

Feedback

We will provide feedback with the outcome of your application. We aim to communicate outcomes and provide feedback by November 2024.

Principles of assessment

We support the San Francisco declaration on research assessment and recognise the relationship between research assessment and research integrity.

Find out about the UKRI principles of assessment and decision making.

Assessment areas

The assessment areas we will use are:

  • Vision
  • Approach
  • Applicant and team capability to deliver
  • Resources and cost justification
  • Risk management
  • Ethics and responsible research and innovation (RRI)

Find details of assessment questions and criteria under the ‘Application questions’ heading in the ‘How to apply’ section.

Contact details

Get help with your application

If you have a question and the answers aren’t provided on this page

Important note: The Helpdesk is committed to helping users of the UKRI Funding Service as effectively and as quickly as possible. In order to manage cases at peak volume times, the Helpdesk will triage and prioritise those queries with an imminent opportunity deadline or a technical issue. Enquiries raised where information is available on the Funding Finder opportunity page and should be understood early in the application process (for example, regarding eligibility or content/remit of an opportunity) will not constitute a priority case and will be addressed as soon as possible.

Contact details

For help and advice on costings and writing your proposal please contact your research office in the first instance, allowing sufficient time for your organisation’s submission process.

For questions related to this specific opportunity, please contact the STFC Astronomy Awards team using the email addresses provided below. Please send your email to both contacts to ensure we can deal respond promptly.

Chloe Woodcock, Senior Programme Manager

Email: chloe.woodcock@stfc.ukri.org

Kim Burchell, Head of Astronomy Awards

Email: kim.burchell@stfc.ukri.org

Any queries regarding the system or the submission of applications through the Funding Service should be directed to the helpdesk.

Email: support@funding-service.ukri.org
Phone: 01793 547490

Our phone lines are open:

  • Monday to Thursday 8:30am to 5:00pm
  • Friday 8:30am to 4:30pm

To help us process queries quicker, we request that users highlight the council and opportunity name in the subject title of their email query, include the application reference number, and refrain from contacting more than one mailbox at a time.

Find out more information on submitting an application.

Sensitive information

If you or a core team member need to tell us something you wish to remain confidential, email the Funding Service helpdesk on support@funding-service.ukri.org

Include in the subject line: [the funding opportunity title; sensitive information; your Funding Service application number].

Typical examples of confidential information include:

  • individual is unavailable until a certain date (for example due to parental leave)
  • declaration of interest
  • additional information about eligibility to apply that would not be appropriately shared in the ‘Applicant and team capability’ section
  • conflict of interest for UKRI to consider in reviewer or panel participant selection
  • the application is an invited resubmission

For information about how UKRI handles personal data, read UKRI’s privacy notice.

Additional info

Research disruption due to COVID-19

We recognise that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused major interruptions and disruptions across our communities. We are committed to ensuring that individual applicants and their wider team, including partners and networks, are not penalised for any disruption to their career, such as:

  • breaks and delays
  • disruptive working patterns and conditions
  • the loss of ongoing work
  • role changes that may have been caused by the pandemic

Reviewers and panel members will be advised to consider the unequal impacts that COVID-19 related disruption might have had on the capability to deliver and career development of those individuals included in the application. They will be asked to consider the capability of the applicant and their wider team to deliver the research they are proposing.

Where disruptions have occurred, you can highlight this within your application if you wish, but there is no requirement to detail the specific circumstances that caused the disruption.

Updates

  • 16 February 2024
    Project partners: letters (or emails) of support section removed from 'How to apply' as you do not have the option to upload them.
  • 19 January 2024
    Updated word count under the 'Summary' section in the 'How to apply' from 550 to 400.

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