TMT almost 20% done: Despite ongoing protest on Maunakea, work continues around the world

Photo courtesy TMT An artist's rendering hows the position of the Thirty Meter Telescope, seen on the bottom-left, in comparison to the other telescopes on Maunakea's summit.

Although no construction equipment has been able to ascend Maunakea for three weeks due to the ongoing protest by some Native Hawaiians, the Thirty Meter Telescope is nearly 20% complete.

Instruments and other components of the telescope remain in production around the world, awaiting their eventual integration into a completed observatory.


Gary Sanders, TMT project manager, said he estimates the full project has reached “about 17 or 18 percent” completion, an increase of only 2% from an estimate last year. However, some construction of heavier parts of the observatory — such as the metal frame holding up the telescope itself — has been postponed until the standoff at Maunakea Access Road has been resolved.

“Until we’re working on our site itself, we’re holding off on building all the big steel structures,” Sanders said.

Despite that, Sanders said the vast majority of TMT construction is still being actively worked on around the world.

The central component of the telescope — the 30-meter-wide array array of 574 hexagonal mirror segments that gives the telescope its name — has been partially completed. By the end of fiscal year 2018, 328 disc-shaped “blanks” have been produced, but most have yet to be polished and cut to their hexagonal shape.

The mirrors themselves are fabricated in Japan, but polishing and cutting takes place at facilities in Japan, China, India — three of the six partners involved in the observatory project, not including Canada, the University of California and Caltech — and the United States. Many of the polishing facilities, such as one at the Indian Institute of Astrophysics, were only themselves completed within the past year.

Other instruments, such as the Narrow Field InfraRed Adaptive Optics System (NFIRAOS, which Sanders pronounced as “nefarious”), have yet to begin construction. NFIRAOS passed its final design review last year, while construction on the facility that will actually produce the instrument only began in June this year in Victoria, Canada.

Sanders estimated that NFIRAOS can be completed in six years, with the telescope itself estimated to be completed by, approximately, 2028.

While the current lack of access to the planned TMT site on Maunakea has not delayed the majority of overseas work on the telescope, Sanders said regaining access to the site is imperative.

“Resolving the situation is very urgent for us,” Sander said. “It’s incurring costs for us every day we can’t get up there.”

However, should TMT decide to abandon the Maunakea site in favor of its secondary site on the island of La Palma in the Canary Islands, reconfiguring the observatory for the new site would only delay the project by “a couple of months,” Sanders said.

If the standoff is resolved in TMT’s favor, it still will still take years for any of the instruments to make it up the mountain. The building itself must be constructed and the dome installed before any of the sensitive items can be securely installed.

Email Michael Brestovansky at

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