While construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope on Maunakea has yet to begin, work on the project continues around the world.
TMT Project Manager Fengchuan Liu, who replaced previous manager Gordon Squires earlier this year, on Thursday made a presentation to the American Council of Engineering Companies of Hawaii, where he revealed that 82% of TMT’s key subsystems have reached their final design or fabrication phases.
Central to the telescope’s design is its titular 30-meter-wide array of 574 hexagonal mirror segments.
A facility in Japan has so far produced 356 disc-shaped “blanks” that will be cut and polished elsewhere, Liu said. Forty three of the blanks already have been polished at various facilities.
Liu also said a facility in China has developed a machine that will be able to polish three mirror blanks at once, which will significantly improve production times.
And in India, Liu said, another mirror fabrication facility opened late last year. That facility, whose dedication ceremony was attended by India’s Vice President M. Venkaiah Naidu, is slated to produce 86 mirror segments.
Other telescope systems — such as the observatory dome, the 2,400-ton observatory superstructure and an adaptive optics system — have reached their final designs and now only await fabrication, Liu said.
A timeline for when that might happen was not discussed Thursday.
Since taking over as project manager, Liu said he has spoken with more than 100 Big Island residents about the controversial project and is committed to moving the project forward on Maunakea.
He said that while there are telescopes of similar or even larger sizes under construction in the Southern Hemisphere — including the 39-meter Extremely Large Telescope and the 25-meter Giant Magellan Telescope, both being built in Chile — there are no large telescopes in the Northern Hemisphere, leaving much of space unviewable.
Liu said he “understands that Maunakea is a special place,” but added that TMT is planned to be relatively compact in comparison with other large telescopes, and will be less disruptive to the summit.
Liu said astronomers using the TMT will be able to observe objects more distant and in more detail than ever before. The telescope’s adaptive optics system will allow the telescope to correct atmospheric disturbances to generate less blurry images, and more distant planets will be visible.
Liu concluded his presentation by stating that he expects the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine to release its Decadal Survey on Astronomy and Astrophysics by the end of October. That survey will, among other things, identify the most compelling astronomy projects of the coming decade and will be considered by the National Science Foundation for funding purposes.