In Hawaii, Maui council opposes US Space Force plan to build new telescopes on Haleakala volcano

HONOLULU (AP) — Local officials on the Hawaiian island of Maui voted Wednesday to oppose a U.S. military proposal to build new telescopes atop the Haleakala volcano, the latest observatory project to face objections in the islands.

The U.S. Space Force and Air Force want to build a new facility atop Haleakala, Maui’s highest peak, to track objects in space.

The Maui County Council voted 9-0 to pass a resolution opposing the project. The measure says Haleakala Summit is a sacred site used for religious ceremonies, prayer and connections with ancestors.

“Haleakala is more than just a mountain; the summit is considered wao akua, or ‘kingdom of the gods,’ and continues to be a place of deep spirituality for Native Hawaiians to engage in some of these traditional practices,” the resolution states.

He said the Space Force wasn’t finished to clean a 700 gallon (2,650 liters) diesel fuel spill at the site of one of its existing Haleakala telescopes. The spill occurred last year when a pump that supplies fuel to a backup generator failed to shut off during a storm.

The proposed new facility is called WE LOVE THE STAR, which is an acronym for Air Force Maui Optical and Supercomputing Site Small Telescope Advanced Research. It would include six telescopes enclosed in ground-mounted domes and one roof-mounted dome-shaped telescope.

The county resolution urged the military to heed community calls to cease development efforts. He urged the National Park Service, the Federal Aviation Administration and the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources to deny permits for the project.

The clear skies and dry air at the summit of Haleakala create some of the best conditions in the world for observing space, similar to the summit of White Mountain on the Big Island which hosts a dozen telescopes.

Haleakala rises to 10,023 feet (3,055 meters). It already hosts several University of Hawaii observatories and an existing collection of Space Force telescopes called the Maui Space Surveillance Complex. Protesters attempted to block construction of a new observatory on Haleakala in 2017, but construction continued and the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope released its first images in 2020.

A proposal from a consortium of universities to build a new observatory on White Mountain called the Thirty meter telescope sets off massive protests in 2019. The TMT project is currently on hold while planners research the National Science Foundation funding.

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