Space tech development center, student training hub, planned for UH Hilo campus

The high-tech space center will expand UH Hilo academic offerings that will in turn create more career opportunities for students, especially those from Hawai‘i Island.

The University of Hawai‘i is in the initial stages of establishing a space engineering and instrument development center at the UH Institute for Astronomy’s facilities on the UH Hilo campus. The new tech center is an interdisciplinary collaboration between IfA, UH Hilo, and the UH Mānoa College of Engineering.

Tech equipment
At the planned high-tech center, students will be able to engage in instrumentation development for space-based missions and ground-based telescopes. (Courtesy photo)

The institute is home-based at UH Mānoa in Honolulu with a base facility at UH Hilo’s University Park of Science and Technology that supports the institute’s telescope operations on Maunakea and provides expansion space for its technology and instrumentation development, teaching, and outreach programs. It also houses research groups involved in the development of adaptive optics and infrared detectors.

The new high-tech center’s construction is tentatively scheduled to be completed by 2030 subject to securing funding for the construction phase, but the associated academic programming will begin in the 2024 fall semester. UH Hilo will begin an initial offering of pre-engineering courses while the new high-tech manufacturing center is developed.

Bonnie Irwin pictured
Bonnie Irwin

“The launch of the Space Sciences Initiative will provide valuable opportunities for UH Hilo and our students thanks to this collaboration with UH Mānoa and the UH system,” says UH Hilo Chancellor Bonnie Irwin. “It expands our academic offerings that will in turn create more career opportunities for our students, especially those from Hawai‘i Island.”

A UH Economic Research Organization report on astronomy in Hawaiʻi found the industry in 2019 supported the employment of 1,313 residents and had a total economic impact (output of goods and services) of $221 million.

There are approximately 500 jobs at observatories on Maunakea and Haleakalā that are held by engineers and technicians who specialize in optics, software, data science, materials, mechanics, systems, and cryogenics.

To launch the new facility, UH received $2 million in state funds to start the initial design currently estimated to cost about $30 to $40 million to construct. UH students will receive valuable hands-on training at the center producing instruments for space-based missions and ground-based telescopes.

Doug Simons pictured
Doug Simons

Ten new full-time faculty are now being recruited to teach the prerequisite engineering courses at UH Hilo and serve as the core engineering team for the new center. Five of the new faculty will be located at IfA’s Hilo facility and the rest at the College of Engineering at UH Mānoa. UH Hilo students can transfer those credits to UH Mānoa where they can go on and complete their engineering degrees.

“UH Hilo students are predominantly from Hawai‘i Island and now they will have an academic pathway into engineering and ultimately careers that support Hawaiʻi observatories,” says UH IfA Director Doug Simons, another champion of the program. “Right now, these well-paying jobs too often go to non-residents, who are more likely to leave after a few years. We want these jobs to go to local kids. That will not only be good for them and their families, it will increase stability in the astronomy sector and broadly benefit our community.”

Read full story at UH System News.

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