The University of Hawaii said Wednesday it expects to delay by about two years the start of a new asteroid-hunting telescope it plans to build at Mauna Kea’s summit.
University of Hawaii astronomer and Pan-STARRS principal investigator Nick Kaiser said mechanical problems pushed back completion of a prototype built at Haleakala. This then caused a broader plan to install four of these telescopes together at Mauna Kea to be postponed.
The snag also caused the institute to use more funds during the initial stage of the project than expected.
“We started originally in 2009 and then discovered some mechanical problems, and it took the best part of a year to get over that,” Kaiser said. “We’ve ended up having to spend more money getting the Pan-STARRS 1 telescope going. And the whole project is now a bit behind schedule.”
The prototype began scanning the sky in April on Haleakala. In September, it found its first potentially hazardous object, an asteroid named 2010 ST3.
Pan-STARRS is shorthand for Panoramic Survey Telescope & Rapid Response System. The university aims to put four separate but identical telescopes under one dome at Mauna Kea.
It would be built at the site of the existing 2.2-meter telescope, which dates to 1970 but is due to be demolished.
Using the four telescopes together as part of one system will allow researchers to see fainter objects. It will also help them find phenomena like supernova, or exploding stars.
The institute hoped to start observing with the new telescope in 2012, but this timeline has been pushed back about two years.
The university has so far spent $80 million designing the telescope and developing software for its operation. It expects to spend another $50 million before it’s completed.
Kaiser said the university has used Air Force funding until now, as technology used in the development of the telescope might have had some military application. Now that researchers are beginning to use the prototype telescope for observations, the university plans to seek funding from NASA and the National Science Foundation.