PISCES faces funding shortfall

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The Pacific International Space Center for Exploration Systems is facing the possibility of shutting down next year after lawmakers approved $8.5 million for a new headquarters and test facility but not the $1.4 million the Hilo-based aerospace agency requested to fund its operations.

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The Pacific International Space Center for Exploration Systems is facing the possibility of shutting down next year after lawmakers approved $8.5 million for a new headquarters and test facility but not the $1.4 million the Hilo-based aerospace agency requested to fund its operations.

“It would be ironic if there would be a building but no people,” said Rob Kelso, PISCES executive director.

The agency, whose mission is to develop and test new space technologies, has a staff of four full-time and three part-time employees, not including interns.

PISCES formed in 2007 and initially was affiliated with the University of Hawaii at Hilo. It was placed under the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism in 2012.

Kelso said the state authorized $400,000 to fund the agency from July 1, 2015, through June 30, 2016, but not its $1 million supplementary request it says it needs to cover costs for labor, materials, rent and research.

“Our plan is to operate normally until the end of the calendar year,” he said.

Kelso said the PISCES funding bill died in the Senate Ways and Means Committee. Attempts at reaching Chair Sen. Jill Tokuda and other committee members were unsuccessful Monday.

Other attempts are being made to secure emergency funding through DBEDT and the governor’s office, Kelso said.

One possibility is to fold the operating costs into DBEDT’s budget rather than seeking the supplemental funding from the Legislature, he said.

The funding crisis won’t affect research and programs for the rest of 2015, he said. That includes Moon RIDERS, a partnership with NASA and Kealakehe High and ‘Iolani schools to develop technology that removes moon dust from space equipment.

Another is a demonstration project to use basalt as a building material for launch pads on the moon or Mars.

But those programs won’t continue beyond this year if the funding isn’t provided, he said.

Kelso, a former NASA shuttle flight director, said he remains hopeful.

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“Failure is not an option,” he said. “… I’m certainly not giving up.”

Email Tom Callis at tcallis@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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