Removal of Caltech Submillimeter Observatory Telescope from Maunakea Underway

Hilo, Hawai‘i – August 28, 2023 – Disassembly of the Caltech Submillimeter Observatory's 34-foot diameter telescope on Maunakea has begun.

“Our team has started working inside the observatory to take apart the telescope and get it ready for removal,” Caltech physics professor and Caltech Submillimeter Telescope (CSO) Director Sunil Golwala said. "Since June, the aluminum panels that make up the reflecting surface of the telescope have been removed and packed. The secondary mirror and its support structure were removed last week.” Before and after pictures are available here.

“We have also started to mobilize some of the large equipment needed to remove the telescope parts from the observatory up the mountain,” said Golwala.

In June, Caltech shared its plan to disassemble the telescope and its mirror into parts, reversing the process used to assemble the telescope in the 1980s and mitigating the need for road closures and other disruptions to the area. As the telescope is disassembled, parts will be staged in the CSO parking lot prior to transport down the mountain. Equipment needed for telescope disassembly includes a telehandler (forklift), a manlift, and an anchor baseplate, all of which have been delivered to the CSO.

During September, it is expected that a 120-ton crane will be transported to the CSO to remove the larger parts of the telescope from the observatory dome. A smaller crane will be mobilized later for disassembly of the primary mirror backup structure and for packing telescope parts into containers for transport down the mountain.

Also in September, Goodfellow Bros., the general contractor that will remove the CSO buildings and will carry out restoration of the site, will start work. “Goodfellow Bros. will pump out the cesspool and will undertake interior demolition of the enclosure this fall. Removal of above-ground structures and below-ground infrastructure will be deferred to next spring because of inclement winter weather. Restoration to the level approved under our permit will occur next summer after all structures are removed,” said Golwala.

“To aid the community in monitoring the progress of decommissioning, we will be tracking the process on our website with pictures and short updates,” said Golwala. Caltech will provide regular updates here.

“In accordance with the permits guiding the decommissioning, cultural, construction and archeological monitors will be present at all appropriate phases,” said Golwala. The cultural monitor conducted an orientation last week for all personnel working on site and will provide this orientation to any incoming personnel. A blessing was performed at the site to mark the decommissioning, with representatives of Caltech and Center for Maunakea Stewardship in attendance.

The cost of deconstruction and site restoration is expected to exceed $4 million. The decommissioning of the telescope is being carried out according to the Conservation District Use Permit (CDUP) issued by the state's Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) in January 2022. CSO is the first observatory to be removed under the 2010 Decommissioning Plan for Maunakea Observatories. All the astronomical instruments were removed from the facility in 2015 except the telescope itself.

More information on the decommissioning, including all related planning documents and permits can be found here.

The CSO came online in 1987 and was used by scientists at Caltech and other institutions, including almost 200 student and postdoctoral researchers, to open a new submillimeter window on the universe. A summary of CSO’s contributions to astronomy and astronomical instrumentation are available here.

About Caltech: Caltech is a world-renowned private science and engineering Institute located in Pasadena, California, that marshals some of the world's brightest minds and most innovative tools to address fundamental scientific questions and pressing societal challenges.

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