Maui Council Rejects US Space Force Telescope Project on Haleakala

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US Space Force Telescope Project on Haleakala
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HONOLULU — Local officials on Maui voted on Wednesday to oppose a U.S. military proposal to build new telescopes atop Haleakala volcano, marking the latest observatory project to face opposition in Hawaii.

The U.S. Space Force and Air Force plan to construct a new facility on Haleakala, Maui’s highest peak, to monitor space objects.

The Maui County Council unanimously passed a resolution, 9-0, against the project. The resolution stated that Haleakala’s summit is sacred, used for religious ceremonies, prayers, and connecting with ancestors.

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

The resolution also noted that the Space Force has yet to clean up a 700-gallon diesel fuel spill from one of its existing Haleakala telescopes. The spill occurred last year when a backup generator pump malfunctioned during a lightning storm.

The proposed new facility, called AMOS STAR (Air Force Maui Optical and Supercomputing Site Small Telescope Advanced Research), would include six telescopes in ground-mounted domes and one rooftop-mounted domed telescope.

The Maui Space Surveillance Complex

The county’s resolution urged the military to stop their development efforts and called on the National Park Service, Federal Aviation Administration, and Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources to deny the project permits.

Haleakala’s peak offers some of the world’s best conditions for space observation due to its clear skies and dry air, similar to Mauna Kea on the Big Island, which hosts around a dozen telescopes.

Haleakala, standing at 10,023 feet (3,055 meters), already houses multiple University of Hawaii observatories and the Maui Space Surveillance Complex. Despite protests in 2017, the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope was completed and released its first images in 2020.

Meanwhile, the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) project on Mauna Kea has faced massive protests since 2019 and is currently paused as planners seek National Science Foundation funding.