Company behind giant telescope moves forward amid talks - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

Company behind giant telescope moves forward amid talks

By CHRIS D'ANGELO
Hawaii Tribune-Herald

HILO, Hawaii (AP) - Aside from the ongoing standstill atop Mauna Kea, those behind the Thirty Meter Telescope are moving forward with the $1.4 billion project.

"While construction of the observatory itself has been halted, the project has not been canceled," TMT International Observatory Board Member Michael Bolte said in an email to the Hawaii Tribune-Herald on Tuesday.

During the downtime, Bolte said TMT has been talking with community leaders to find a path where the parties can move forward together.

"That said, other areas of the project have been moving forward as planned as instruments and other technologies also take time to design, build and test," he said.

In India, workers are fabricating the telescope mirror support system, TMT said Tuesday. In China, partners are designing the telescope's fully articulated main science steering mirror system and developing the laser guide star system. In California, the primary mirror and mirror control system are in final design, while Japan has produced more than 60 special zero thermal-expansion glass mirror blanks for the main mirror and continues design of the massive telescope structure.

Bolte said that as a global partnership, the TMT enables collaboration between world-renowned scientists in the U.S., Canada, Japan, China and India.

"International teamwork today will enhance future science collaborations for the next generation," he wrote. "Each of the TMT partners has in-country expertise in different areas and they are bringing them to the project."

And for their contributions, Bolte said each will receive observation time on the massive, powerful telescope, slated to see first light in the 2020s.

In a release Tuesday, TMT announced that Canada had affirmed its commitment to the project by being voted in as a full member by the TMT International Observatory Board of Directors during its recent meeting.

"Canada is proud to be an official partner in this revolutionary facility that has the potential to transform our understanding of the universe," Canadian Minister of Industry James Moore said in a statement. "It is a testament to the leadership and expertise of our space industry that Canada will build the telescope's precision-steel enclosure and provide cutting-edge optics technologies. We look forward to working with our international partners in conducting ground-breaking space research."

Last month, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced the country had finally committed its share of funds - $243.5 million through 10 years - to help build the telescope. Canada joins California Institute of Technology, the University of California and the science institutions of China, India and Japan as partners project.

Grading and grubbing work at the 13,150-foot elevation project site has been postponed since 31 people were arrested on the mountain March 31 for blocking access to TMT construction workers en route to the summit.

Bolte said TMT has not yet determined a construction restart date.

In an announcement last month, Gov. David Ige said his administration would be working with the University of Hawaii, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and the community to actively pursue several outcomes, including decommissioning and removing older telescopes and facilities, reducing the level of activity on the summit, and integrating culture and science.

Jodi Leong, a spokeswoman for Ige, said there was no update on the progress of those discussions as of Tuesday.

Once complete, scientists say TMT will allow astronomers to observe fainter objects, including planets that orbit stars outside our own solar system, and distant stars that formed some 13 billion light years away.

Information from: Hawaii Tribune-Herald, http://www.hawaiitribune-herald.com/

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