The important astronomical instrument has been in decline for years.

The disassembly of the Caltech Submillimeter Observatory is underway on Mauna Kea. 

The longstanding plans to remove the telescope were finalized last winter and Caltech shared a removal update in June. The telescope’s aluminum panels, secondary mirror and support structure have since been removed. 

“Our team has started working inside the observatory to take apart the telescope and get it ready for removal,” Caltech Submillimeter Telescope Director Sunil Golwala said Monday in a press release.

The telescope has been one of the world’s most important astronomical instruments since 1987, but its functional life has been in decline for years. Mauna Kea, a dormant volcano, is considered a sacred site by many Native Hawaiians.

“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.  

A 120-ton crane is expected to be sent to the area in September to remove larger parts of the structure. 

Goodfellow Bros., a contracting company, will pump out the cesspool in the area and get started on interior demolition in September. Other removal processes will not begin until next spring because of winter weather concerns. 

The total cost of deconstructing the telescope and restoring the site is expected to reach over $4 million.

“In accordance with the permits guiding the decommissioning, cultural, construction and archeological monitors will be present at all appropriate phases,” said Golwala. 

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