© 2019 IOP Publishing Ltd and Sissa Medialab. The Simons Observatory (SO) is a new cosmic microwave background experiment being built on Cerro Toco in Chile, due to begin observations in the early 2020s. We describe the scientific goals of the experiment, motivate the design, and forecast its performance. SO will measure the temperature and polarization anisotropy of the cosmic microwave background in six frequency bands centered at: 27, 39, 93, 145, 225 and 280 GHz. The initial configuration of SO will have three small-aperture 0.5-m telescopes and one large-aperture 6-m telescope, with a total of 60,000 cryogenic bolometers. Our key science goals are to characterize the primordial perturbations, measure the number of relativistic species and the mass of neutrinos, test for deviations from a cosmological constant, improve our understanding of galaxy evolution, and constrain the duration of reionization. The small aperture telescopes will target the largest angular scales observable from Chile, mapping 10% of the sky to a white noise level of 2 μK-arcmin in combined 93 and 145 GHz bands, to measure the primordial tensor-to-scalar ratio, r, at a target level of σ(r)=0.003. The large aperture telescope will map 40% of the sky at arcminute angular resolution to an expected white noise level of 6 μK-arcmin in combined 93 and 145 GHz bands, overlapping with the majority of the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope sky region and partially with the Dark Energy Spectroscopic Instrument. With up to an order of magnitude lower polarization noise than maps from the Planck satellite, the high-resolution sky maps will constrain cosmological parameters derived from the damping tail, gravitational lensing of the microwave background, the primordial bispectrum, and the thermal and kinematic Sunyaev-Zel'dovich effects, and will aid in delensing the large-angle polarization signal to measure the tensor-to-scalar ratio. The survey will also provide a legacy catalog of 16,000 galaxy clusters and more than 20,000 extragalactic sources.