Study to explore manufacturing facility that would benefit telescopes

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The telescopes atop Mauna Kea help support a local science and technology industry.

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The telescopes atop Mauna Kea help support a local science and technology industry.

But could they also attract more manufacturing jobs? A feasibility study by Hawaii’s High Technology Development Corporation will try to find out.

HTDC Executive Director Robbie Melton said the study would look at the demand for a “multi-purpose manufacturing facility” located in Hilo that can support the telescopes and other space-related research on the island.

“They want us to have some sort of machine shop. Now they call them makeries,” she said.

The facility also could be used for workforce training, Melton said. The study, which might cost about $100,000, could begin in late summer or early fall, she said.

While the idea has been floating around for years, it recently received a bigger push from the Pacific International Space Center for Exploration Systems. The Hilo-based aerospace agency received $8.5 million in capital funds from the state last year to build its own facility.

PISCES Executive Director Rob Kelso said the agency wants to team up with the observatories.

“We think this is another way to create an environment for high-tech jobs that would be usable across a wide-range of groups,” he said.

Meanwhile, PISCES’ future remains uncertain after the state Legislature allocated $400,000 for the next fiscal year, half of what it requested for operating expenses.

“We and the board are assessing the impact,” said Kelso.

The state agency has four full-time and three part-time employees.

He said they may switch their focus from research to economic development.

The capital funds that would be used to build the facility are not at risk, Kelso said.

Doug Simons, director of the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope, noted the telescopes have parts built around the world.

While such a facility is not expected to provide everything they need, it could reduce the wait time for some parts or instruments, he said.

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“It’s sort of like a jack for your truck,” Simons added. “When you need it, you need it.”

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

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