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Despite Mauna Kea pause, work continues on Thirty Meter Telescope

    2014 October 7 CTY - Opponents to the Thirty Meter Telescope and its groundbreaking were on hand on Tuesday near the summit of Mauna Kea. Many were blocking the road with vehicles. HSA PHOTO BY MEGAN MOSELEY.

The controversial $1.4 billion Thirty Meter Telescope project may be sputtering on the ground in Hawaii but elsewhere it appears to be all systems go.

The TMT International Observatory board of directors recently voted to accept Canada as a full member of the project following a $243 million pledge by Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Canada joins California Institute of Technology, the University of California, and the science institutions of China, India, and Japan as partners in the effort to build one of the largest and most powerful optical telescopes in the world, expected to become operational in 2024.

In addition, other international partners are moving ahead on developing the components of the telescope, according to TMT International Observatory, the nonprofit limited liability company founded a year ago to carry out the construction and operation phases:

>> In India, fabrication of the mirror support system continues.

>> In China, partners are designing the telescope’s fully articulated main science steering mirror system and developing the laser guide star system.

>> In Japan, over 60 special zero thermal-expansion glass mirror blanks for the main mirror have been produced and the telescope structure is being designed in detail.

>> In California, the primary mirror and mirror control system is also in final design.

Last month, Canadian leaders announced that Canada would provide $243.5 million to the project over the next decade. Canadian companies are scheduled to build the telescope enclosure and the adaptive optics system.

“Canada is proud to be an official partner in this revolutionary facility that has the potential to transform our understanding of the universe,” federal Industry Minister James Moore said in a statement.

Most of the money will be spent in Canada, creating high-tech jobs in the telescope’s construction and assembly, according to the prime minister’s office. The investment will also ensure a viewing share for Canadian researchers once the telescope is up and working.

When completed, the massive size of the telescope’s mirror will be able to collect enormous amounts of light, allowing astronomers to see fainter objects, including planets that orbit stars outside our own solar system and galaxies at the edge of the observable universe.

Meanwhile, the Native Hawaiian “protectors” who hold Mauna Kea sacred continue to maintain their encampment at the 9,200-foot level, keeping guard against construction activity.

TMT site preparation has been on hold since April 2, when 31 protesters were arrested trying to prevent work vehicles from reaching the construction site near the summit on Mauna Kea’s northern plateau.

“TMT has not yet determined a startup date for construction,” TMT Hawaii community affairs manager Sandra Dawson said in a statement Tuesday. “We have been talking with community leaders during this quiet period and are assessing the situation on a day-to-day basis.”

Last week, Kahookahi Kanuha, one of the leaders of the protectors, traveled to Canada to file a war crimes complaint against the United States related to the dispute. The complaint cites the illegal overthrow and occupation of the islands and asks the Canadian government to investigate.

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