UH reports removal of Caltech Telescope from Maunakea is underway

Disassembly of the Caltech Submillimeter Observatory’s 34-foot diameter telescope on Maunakea began the week of August 28.

Left is before photo with observatory and mirror in place, at right after photo with shell of observatory with the mirror removed. Maunakea landscape in background.
Before and after photos of the telescope’s dismantling within the Caltech Submillimeter Observatory. (Photo via UH System News)

Disassembly of the Caltech Submillimeter Observatory’s (CSO) 34-foot diameter telescope on Maunakea began the week of August 28. The entire decommissioning process is expected to be completed by summer 2024 and cost more than $4 million. CSO is the first observatory to be removed under the Decommissioning Plan of the University of Hawaiʻi Maunakea Comprehensive Management Plan.

“Our team has started working inside the observatory to take apart the telescope and get it ready for removal,” says Sunil Golwala, Caltech physics professor and Caltech Submillimeter Telescope director. “The aluminum panels that make up the reflecting surface of the telescope have been removed and packed. The secondary mirror and its support structure were removed last week.”

CSO said that there are monitors for all phases of the project, including decommissioning, cultural, construction and archeological monitors, in accordance with the permits guiding the telescope’s removal.

Full silver dome of the CalTech observatory, snow on the ground.
The Caltech Submillimeter Observatory came online in 1987. (Photo via UH System News)

Workers will use a crane and a manlift to disassemble the telescope and its mirror and then transport it down the mountain in shipping containers. A cultural practitioner conducted a blessing at the site and also an orientation for the staff before the work began.

This phase of the decommissioning process is expected to be completed by the end of September. The next phase will be the removal of the remaining buildings and infrastructure.

Removal of above-ground structures and below-ground infrastructure will be deferred to next spring because of inclement winter weather. Restoration to the level approved under the permit will occur next summer after all structures are removed. Regular updates will be provided by the observatory.

The decommissioning of the UH Hilo Hōkū Keʻa Telescope is scheduled to begin by the end of 2023 and completed in the first half of 2024.

See full story at UH System News.

Center for Maunakea Stewardship

In August 2020, the UH Board of Regents approved the restructuring of the internal management of all related UH Maunakea programs within the new Center for Maunakea Stewardship. The center is responsible for day-to-day management of the Maunakea Science Reserve as prescribed in the Master Plan, and is a unit of the Office of the Chancellor at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo.

The Caltech Submillimeter Observatory and the Hōkū Kea are now in their final phases of the extensive decommissioning process required under the Mauna Kea Comprehensive Management Plan. UH reaffirmed its promise to fulfill its commitment to complete the decommissioning of the two telescopes after the new Maunakea Stewardship and Oversight Authority was created in 2022 by the Hawai‘i State Legislature.

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