The University of Hawaiʻi has identified the third observatory to be decommissioned and removed from the summit of Maunakea, advancing the implementation of the Mauna Kea Comprehensive Management Plan. The third observatory is the UKIRT Observatory, formerly known as the United Kingdom Infrared Telescope.
The decommissioning of three observatories is part of Governor David Ige’s plan announced in May to enhance the stewardship of Maunakea. Since then, the Caltech Submillimeter Observatory has ceased operations and begun the decommissioning planning process, and UH Hilo has initiated the decommissioning process for its Hoku Kea telescope. Detailed planning for the removal of the UKIRT observatory and restoration of the site will begin some time after the decommissioning processes for the Caltech and Hoku Kea observatories and will be completed in accordance with the governor’s plan. No new observatories will be built on the three sites.
The general decommissioning process for observatories is outlined in the Office of Mauna Kea Management’s Comprehensive Management Plan to ensure that the decommissioning is handled properly and in a culturally and environmentally respectful manner. The process starts with the development of a site decommissioning plan that must include an environmental due diligence review, deconstruction and removal plan, site restoration plan and remedial action plan if necessary.
The UKIRT Observatory began operations in 1979 and was built and operated by science agencies of the United Kingdom. Ownership recently was transferred to UH, and the observatory is currently operated as a research partnership with UH, the University of Arizona and the Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company, Advanced Technology Center. It remains highly productive, with current work areas including orbital debris studies, observation and cataloging of Near-Earth objects and world-leading astronomical survey projects. UH is confident that UKIRT’s scientific program will continue to be at the highest level during the remaining life of the observatory.