Decommissioning of Caltech observatory on Maunakea summit on track for this year

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The Caltech Submillimeter Observatory that houses a 10.4 meter diameter telescope near the summit of Maunakea on the Big Island is on track to be decommissioned this year. Photo Courtesy: California Institute of Technology

The decommissioning of the California Institute of Technology Submillimeter Observatory on the summit of Maunakea is on track to be completed in 2023, according to a news release from the observatory.

It is one of two Maunakea telescopes currently in the final stages of the decommissioning process mandated in the Maunakea Comprehensive Management Plan. The University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo Hōkū Kea Telescope also is on track to be decommissioned in 2023.

The Caltech observatory came online in 1987 and was used by scientists at Caltech and other institutions, including nearly 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.


The deconstruction of the Caltech observatory will begin in the spring when weather conditions permit. This process includes the removal and transport of the telescope, physical deconstruction of the building housing the telescope and restoration of the site.

The majority of the contents within the observatory already have been removed. Lead-based paint and mold has been removed from the facility’s exterior. Environmental air monitoring and inspections were conducted throughout the removal process to ensure full containment.

The observatory is currently working on finalizing traffic control plans and permits for the transport of the telescope to Kawaihae Harbor in Waimea for shipping.


“The decommissioning is a multi-step process with many variables,” said Caltech physics professor and observatory director Sunil Golwala. “Delays in preparatory steps and contracting brought the physical deconstruction close to winter when weather conditions impeded work at the summit.”

Caltech has completed the selection of cultural and invasive species monitors: AECOM/SWCA as the invasive species monitor (on-site and for vehicles); ASM Affiliates as the archeological monitor; and TayMade Productions as the cultural monitor.

The cost of deconstruction and restoration is expected to be more than $4 million, according to Caltech.

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