TMT manufacturing continues despite legal setbacks

  • This diagram identifies contributions partner countries are making to Thirty Meter Telescope. Courtesy of TMT International Observatory.

While it remains to be seen where the Thirty Meter Telescope will be built, manufacturing of key components continues around the world.

Gary Sanders, project manager, said only manufacturing of the telescope enclosure and the structure that will contain the mirrors and instruments remain paused.


“Some of the heavy construction is on hold,” he told the Tribune-Herald. “Almost everything else is going ahead quite briskly.”

The TMT International Observatory board of directors, representing the five partner countries, is expected to decide in April whether to stay in Hawaii or move to Spain’s Canary Islands.

The nonprofit organization based in California says Maunakea remains the preferred location for its cutting-edge telescope, though several years of delays from protests and legal challenges have made its future here uncertain. Appeals of its sublease and land use permit are being heard by the state Supreme Court.

Sanders said the $1.4 billion project has received a land concession for a mountain on the island of La Palma and a hosting agreement. The environmental review process for that site should be done by the end of the year. He acknowledged the organization expects a legal challenge in Spain as well, though the project expects to prevail.

“There will undoubtedly be some legal challenge,” Sanders said, regarding the environmental impact statement. “It’s an environmentally sensitive place.”

The project completed an EIS for Maunakea in 2010 without challenges. Construction started in 2014 but was halted by protests prior to the state Supreme Court overturning its initial permit due to procedural violations by the Land Board.

The mountain is considered sacred by some Native Hawaiians.

The board granted another permit, which is under appeal, last year following a second contested case hearing.

Manufacturing of the dome is expected to begin later this year in Canada following confirmation of the site, Sanders said. Construction of the telescope structure will begin in April in Japan.

More than 250 people are working on the project worldwide, according to TIO. If built in Hawaii, the telescope will employ about 140 people on Hawaii Island.

The telescope’s 30-meter-wide primary mirror, far larger than any existing telescope, will consist of 574 mirror segments. So far, 213 blank segments have been made in Japan.

Sanders said mirror manufacturing is shared by each partner, which includes Japan, China, India and Canada, in addition to the University of California and Caltech.

At this point, the telescope is projected to reach first light in 2028, plus or minus a year, Sanders said.

He pegged the project at 15 percent complete but noted the organization is ready to ramp up once a site is known.

“The speed will go up,” Sanders said. “You climb a curve that’s sort of like a flat S. You go slow for awhile and then it’s steep. We’re ready to climb the steep part of the curve.”

As for the design, few things need to be changed to build in La Palma versus Maunakea, though the latter is considered a superior site for science, he said.

While TIO is trying to regain its sublease and land use permit in Hawaii, it hasn’t stopped contributions to educational and workforce development programs on the island.

The organization is the main supporter of the Akamai internship program, which helps Hawaii students find careers in science and engineering fields, and is increasing its contributions this year to add 10 more students to the program, said Sandra Dawson, TIO community affairs manager.

Additionally, it provides $1 million a year for educational programs on the island through The Hawaii Island New Knowledge, or THINK, Fund it established.

“I really feel this is the kind of thing a project like us should be doing,” Sanders said.

The project also hosts workshops for students from Hawaii and the other partner countries to allow them to contribute to the telescope and lay the groundwork for handing the reins to the next generation of scientists and engineers, he said.

“I’m not building this thing for me, it’s for you,” Sanders said he tells the students.

“I feel like we got to do it for them.”


If built in Hawaii, he said he wants to continue to build on local workforce initiatives, including incubating new businesses on the island to support TMT and other telescopes.

Email Tom Callis at

  1. Steve Dearing February 25, 2018 6:51 am

    Again this reflects the total failure of the demo rats as they conspired with racists to destroy families, businesses and jobs. Anyone that supports these foolish demo rats is in fact destroying Hawaii’s safety and well being. Exterminate demo rats and racists not Hawaii’s future.

    1. Leroy February 25, 2018 7:29 am

      Racist dearing family removed a heiau from their property they are trying to develop.

    2. Poi February 25, 2018 8:00 am

      OK, Steve, which one is it? Must be one of the following:
      1) You were energetically cuckolded by 1 or more registered democrats, maybe all at once, all your married life.
      2) You are a Russian troll bot.
      3) You have advanced mini-stroke dementia.
      4) All of the above.

      1. Hilo Jack February 25, 2018 10:18 am

        I’d say all of the above except the Russian troll bot part.

        He is way to damn stupid to be a Russian troll bot.

        Just way to stupid.

    3. Hilo Jack February 25, 2018 10:00 am

      Exterminating you would be the best first thing humanity could do.

      $hit scum like you does not deserve life.

  2. Santas Claus February 25, 2018 8:12 am

    Not surprised Steve Dearing would be against science and education that TMT represents.

    No, Steve’s not a Russion troll bot. Unfortunately he’s a nutcase in person too.

    1. Hilo Jack February 25, 2018 9:59 am

      I bet he is also very beholden to his second amendment rights!

  3. burned_out February 25, 2018 3:11 pm

    I know a little bit about the TMT.
    I didn’t think it would be built in Hawaii.

    I originally thought they lied about

    the price, they did, but it looks like they
    got the money anyway.
    Although I rather they’d spend it on cancer

    research. Astronomy tells you about the past,
    and in our time frame the future is so far out it

    doesn’t matter.

    I did not think it would work politically, unless they hired
    a bunch of racial Hawaiians, just to shut them up,
    because the courts are so screwed up here.
    I was right about the courts.
    Third we are going to put a really big telescope up in space
    in a few years, the James Webb, that won’t

    have a wind shake problem.
    Just my opinion.

    1. Steve Dearing February 26, 2018 7:16 am

      Ever notice how the demo rats can not handle the truth. Just read the following demo rat lies and hatred the demo rats spew. Never trust or believe any demo rat.

      1. local_haole_boy February 26, 2018 9:46 am

        Cute! You’re so cute, Steve.

      2. Poi February 26, 2018 7:10 pm


    2. Poi February 26, 2018 7:06 pm

      wow they should have asked you first I guess, lol.

  4. wacos101 February 25, 2018 5:45 pm

    Sorry to see the telescope go, but our Governor is too weak to make a decision.

    1. RKimo February 25, 2018 6:44 pm

      It is not up to the Governor and TMT has not left.

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