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Caltech Submillimeter Observatory set to be removed from Maunakea

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The physical deconstruction of the Caltech Submillimeter Observatory on Maunakea is set to begin by the end of the summer.

Complete removal of the telescope and restoration of the land is expected within a year, according to Caltech physics professor and CSO Director Sunil Golwala. It's estimated to cost about $4 million.

The California Institute of Technology announced on Tuesday that it has received the final permits from Hawaiʻi County and state officials to tear down its observatory.

As part of the 2010 Decommissioning Plan for Maunakea Observatories, it is the first of five telescopes being removed in exchange for the Thirty Meter Telescope.

The creation of the new Mauna Kea Stewardship and Oversight Authority, recently signed into law by Gov. David Ige, will not impact the process, Caltech said.

The deconstruction phase of the decommissioning marks the end of the CSO’s time on Maunakea. Built in 1987, Caltech scientists, students, and postdoctoral researchers have used it as a “window into the universe,” according to a Caltech press release.

All astronomical instruments were removed in 2015. Now the 10.4-meter submillimeter telescope will be shipped to Chile, where it will continue operations as a premier facility for astronomical research.

But plans for its removal have been well received. In December 2021, an environmental review on the telescope deconstruction found no significant environmental or cultural impact on the site.

A month later, Caltech received a Conservation District Use Permit from the Department of Land & Natural Resources, establishing the terms and conditions it must follow in the decommissioning.

Copies of the CDUP, the Final Environmental Assessment, the Site Decommissioning Plan, and other documents can be found here.

Washington state-based Goodfellow Bros,. LLC will serve as the general contractor for the deconstruction process. Caltech has also selected administrators and monitors to oversee the archaeology, biology, and sustainability of the deconstruction. They are still seeking a cultural monitor.

As HPR's 2022 summer intern, Emily Tom primarily works with HPR's The Conversation.
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