Thirty Meter Telescope update

First TMT Primary Mirror Segment Assembly built at Larsen & Toubro contractor, April 2022 - India-TMT, along with industry partner Larsen and Toubro (L&T) in Coimbatore, have successfully manufactured and assembled the first Segment Support Assembly for TMT production. Credit: TMT International Observatory / India TMT Coordination Center.

The delayed Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) is making some progress as the first primary mirror segment assembly was successfully manufactured, the project has a new executive director, and the State of Hawaii passed new legislation.

The CATAC Committee of the Canadian Astronomical Society – Société Canadienne D’Astronomie (CASCA) recently posted an update on the TMT. Below is some of the more notable news.

A new Executive Director

Robert P. Kirshner named Executive Director. Credit: TIO.
Robert P. Kirshner named Executive Director. Credit: TIO.

The TMT is run by the TMT International Observatory LLC (TIO), a non-profit international partnership between the California Institute of Technology, the University of California, the National Institutes of Natural Sciences of Japan, the National Astronomical Observatories of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the Department of Science and Technology of India, and the National Research Council of Canada.

In late April TIO announced that Edward C. Stone was retiring and that Robert P. Kirshner was the new TIO Executive Director effective May 15. According to the TIO news release “Dr. Kirshner is an esteemed scientist known for his discipline-defining work in the field of supernova explosions and their application to the measurement of the history of the universe. A graduate of Harvard College, Kirshner received his Ph.D. in astronomy from Caltech. He served as a postdoctoral scholar at the Kitt Peak National Observatory and then on the faculty at the University of Michigan for 9 years before moving to Harvard, where he served 31 years on the faculty.”

“We are excited and fortunate to have Robert Kirshner join this effort at a pivotal time,” said Henry Yang, chair of the TIO Board. “At Michigan, at Harvard, and at the Moore Foundation, he has demonstrated vision, commitment, and success in enabling the progress of science to advance human understanding. He will be a wonderful colleague and a thoughtful force for good, respecting the culture and people of Hawaii.”

First primary mirror segment assembly was successfully manufactured

On May 9th TIO released the news that the first primary mirror segment assembly was successfully manufactured in India by India-TMT and industry partners Larsen and Toubro (L&T).

In the news release TIO stated that “India-TMT and industry partners Larsen and Toubro (L&T) successfully manufactured and assembled the first TMT Segment Support Assembly (SSA) in L&T Coimbatore facility. Hard work paid off and India-TMT successfully passed an Assembly Readiness Review a few weeks ago, presenting their first and recently assembled TMT SSA, including all separate compliant components, which are about 450 precision parts.”

“SSAs are key subsystems of TMT main mirror onto which are mounted each of the 492 individual hexagonal segments. The SSAs support and control each segment according to TMT’s key performance requirements. They are composed of diverse complex optomechanical devices, sensors, and actuators, holding TMT mirror segments in place and controlling their shape and position to very high accuracy.”

TMT M1 Segment Support Assembly assembled at L&T facility in Coimbatore, India by L&T/ ITCC teams, 4 April 2022. Credit: TIO.
TMT M1 Segment Support Assembly assembled at L&T facility in Coimbatore, India by L&T/ ITCC teams, 4 April 2022. Credit: TIO.

State of Hawaii passes new legislation

CASCA posted an update and a presentation (PDF) which reads in part:

“The Hawaii State Legislature passed a bill which creates a new Authority to manage the Mauna Kea lands. The bill passed with a large majority, and now awaits the Governor’s approval to become law. The full text of the approved bill can be found here. There will be a transition period of up to five years before the new Authority takes over fully from the University of Hawaii; no leases can be renewed or issued during that time. The impact of this new law on TMT and the other observatories on the mountain remains to be seen. However, the bill does include a statement that ‘the support of astronomy…is a policy of the State’.”

Expanding on that, section 8 of the bill goes into some detail about astronomy including the statement that “It is declared that the support of astronomy consistent with section 1 is a policy of the State.” In reviewing the language of the bill, astronomy on Mauna Kea will continue to be supported, though the authority and rules have changed. As CASCA points out how this affects TMT is still to be determined.

More detailed information will be available next week at the SPIE Astronomical Telescopes + Instrumentation Meeting being held in Montreal.

Other TMT news from CATAC

  • Description of the anticipated steps and milestones in the NSF Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction (MREFC) process. Once the NSF accepts the project, it enters the MREFC queue and a well-defined process of reviews and studies is initiated. This process hasn’t started yet.
  • The earliest likely first light for TMT is 2032, if the project enters the MREFC queue now. This timeline relative to ELT is still competitive, but further delays will push first light farther into the future, as there is little scope for accelerating construction.
  • We are still awaiting publication of the decision on the appeal to the rescinding of the construction permit on the alternative site, in the Canary Islands.
  • TMT partners are signatories to a Master Agreement, which cannot be changed without unanimous approval from all members. A single member cannot withdraw from the agreement without significant financial compensation to the others.

About Marc Boucher

Boucher is an entrepreneur, writer, editor & publisher. He is the founder of SpaceQ Media Inc. and CEO and co-founder of SpaceRef Interactive LLC. Boucher has 20+ years working in various roles in the space industry and a total of 30 years as a technology entrepreneur including creating Maple Square, Canada's first internet directory and search engine.

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