Date for removal of two Maunakea telescopes pushed back

  • The Caltech Submillimeter Observatory is shown in 2015 on the summit of Maunakea. (Hawaii Tribune-Herald/file photo)

Two telescopes on Maunakea scheduled for decommissioning are expected to be removed from the summit by 2023.

At a meeting of the University of Hawaii’s Board of Regents Thursday, the California Institute of Technology’s Submillimeter Observatory and UH-Hilo’s Hoku Ke‘a teaching telescope were given a tentative schedule for their removal.

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The Submillimeter Observatory is the first of five telescopes that will be removed from Maunakea in exchange for the planned construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope. Caltech is finalizing a draft environmental assessment for the decommissioning plan, which is scheduled to go into effect in 2021 and be completed before the end of 2022.

A December meeting of the Maunakea Management Board found no problems with three environmental studies analyzing the potential impacts of the decommissioning.

Meanwhile, the Maunakea Management Board approved on Tuesday a notice of intent to decommission the Hoku Ke‘a teaching telescope, a small telescope used by UH-Hilo astronomy students. The notice of intent states the telescope will be moved to a different location on the island, possibly at Halepohaku.

Doug Simons, member of the Maunakea Management Board, said the timeline for removing Hoku Ke‘a is largely out of UH’s hands, but it is expected to begin in early 2023 and take about six months.

Both decommissioning timelines run behind those proscribed by a resolution passed by the Board of Regents in November of last year, which set a commitment to finish decommissioning the first two telescopes by the end of 2021.

“That’s why they made that update to the board today,” said Brent Suyama, associate director of UH’s communications office, adding that even though the tentative decommissioning schedules are later than those in the resolution, “the board seemed okay with that.”

A timeline that was presented during Thursday’s Board of Regents meeting estimates that the final environmental assessments for the Submillimeter Observatory will be completed this year, while a similar assessment for Hoku Ke‘a will not be completed until next year. No schedule for Hoku Ke‘a’s reinstatement was provided.

Whenever the teaching telescope is re-established, it likely will do so under a different name, Simons said.

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“I think UH is trying to leave the name ‘Hoku Ke‘a’ behind,” Simons said. “So they’re probably in the market for a new name.”

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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