UH Hilo Educational Telescope: News

This section presents news related to the development and operations of the new UH Hilo Educational Telescope.


Many developments in the past few months! First, the decommissioning of the Hoku Kea telescope at the Maunakea summit is moving forward, as expected. The decommissiong plan was recently accepted by the Mauna Kea Management Board. There are many, many steps remaining in this complex process but it's expected that the facility will be removed and partial restoration of the site could be completed sometime in 2023. Refer to this newspaper article for more details.

The UH Hilo Educational Telescope project is also moving forward toward an installation of the Planewave 0.7-meter telescope near Halepohaku. Our team right now is working with different committees in the preparation of the Environment Assesment and construction permits.  Because so many steps are needed, it's unlikely that the project will be completed before the end of 2024. In the meantime, we have the draft of schematic drawings completed and are waiting from feedback from committees. The draft facility is very similar to the conceptual observatory as explained in our outreach campaign.


The outreach campaign on the UH Hilo Educational Telescope has concluded and we are now working on the report with the UH Board of Regents. The virtual open page has closed for comments but remains available here, as it's very informative on our project.


Following a recommendation by the UH Board of Regents, UH Hilo is starting a commmunity outreach and consultation campaign regarding the possible installation of the new Educational Telescope  near Halepohaku. A virtual Open Hosue website, where diverse pieces of information are presented, is now available here and you can also leave your comments regarding the project.


A premiere for us! Last weekend, we brought the Planewave 0.7- meter telescope to the Imiloa Center, for their 14th brthday. This was the first time that we displayed the telescope to the general public. Hundreds of persons stopped by, including a lots of young minds who could move the telescope using the control interface. It was a blast! Support for installing the telescope at Halepohaku from the people we talked to was very strong.



The Mauna Kea Management Board has now approved the UH Hilo Notice of Intent to fully decommission the Hoku Kea summit site. However,  the decommissioning phase should not been completed before UH Hilo has secured the installation of its new Educational Telescope at a suitable site.  We are now in the process of considering an installation near a site located at Halepohaku. We are also going to bring the telescope itself to a couple of outreach events in the coming months, just to show its possibilities and to explain how important this is for UH Hilo students and the community at large. From our conceptual design, the mock-up figure below shows how the telescope would look like at the envisioned location. The whole thing rests on previously disturbed soil, away from archeological and cultural practice sites,, and occupies a very small 3D footprint. Our night tests with small telescopes at this site are very promising!


The Board of Regents for the University of Hawaii has recently passed two resolutions regarding the decommissionning of the Maunakea summit facility (Hoku Kea) and the installation of the new UHH educational telescope at a location near Halepohaku on Maunakea. Both resolutions are reproduced below:

The second resolution is particularly exciting since it triggers a project to install the UHH telescope on a good and dark site, at a lower level on Maunakea. Our group has already identified a suitable location near one the dorms at Halepohaku and we are currently working on technical and operational details. It will be a lengthy process but we are finally moving forward with our facility, an important resource for teaching observational astronomy at UH Hilo and across the State of Hawaii. Stay tuned!


We installed the automated mirror cover for the telescope today. We had received a cover with the initial delivery of the telescope but PlaneWave re-designed some components so we finally received the upgraded version. It works great! This is an important component to protect the primary mirror against the elements, in particular in the remote/robotic modes.


A couple of long overdue updates...

The faulty 0.9m telescope has been removed from the summit enclosure and disposed of (except the optics, stored on the UHH campus). This is not part of any decommisioning efforts, just the removal of a non-working piece of equipment. Consultation with the community regarding an eventual decommissioning of the summit site should start in the coming weeks.

The search for an alternative site continues. We have been informed recently that the option of installing UHHET on Mauna Loa will not be possible, at least for now. No extension of MLO will occur soon as the site will remain fully dedicated to atmospheric sciences. We have also extensively monitored and tested a private site on the Kona site. Despite clear advantages, the high humidity at night time is a major problem and would severely limit the useful amount of telescope time while presenting a major concern for the equipment. We are also evaluating other options, including off-island possibilities and the temporary otpion to make UHHET a mobile observatory. Our Department remains fully dedicated in providing this important training facility to our students. The MK summit site is ideal but if it becomes impossible to install UHHET at that location on the longer term, any alternative site has to be good enough to allow UHHET to meet its educational and scientific mission.


Congratulations to Callie Crowder for accepting a position of Remote Observer at the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope! Callie is an alumni of our UH Hilo astronomy program and was a NASA Grant trainee for 2 semesters for the UHHET Project. At a remote observer, Callie will operate the 3.6 meter telescope and conduct observations with the instruments at CFHT in a queue service mode. One of our goals for UHHET is to train students on how to operate modern telescopes so we are glad to see that even before the observatory is operational on a permanent site, our model is correct. This is promising for the future! Well done Callie!


Several technical developments to report:

We have now installed an off-axis guiding system for the main CCD imaging camera. The system includes an Astrodon MOAG pick-up prism and a guiding camera, the QHYCCD290 CMOS CCD. This system is installed in front of the filter wheel and can be rotated with the CDK700 rotator tp select guide stars. This will allow exquisite image quality on long exposures. Guiding will be accomplished through different software we use to operate the telescope and cameras.

We have now acquired a very good CCD camera for the echelle spectrograph! This is a QSI 632s camera, with excellent QE and small pixels, optimizing the echelle spectral resolution. The spectrograph can be fully remotely operated by the AudeLA software, including calibration lamps. We are now  testing a reduction pipeline but in short, the eShel spectrograph is ready to be used.

We also have acquired other CMOS cameras for multiple astronomical functions. The QHYCCD 174m and QHYCCD 290c are planetary/lunar CMOS cameras, used also for guiding at the different ports. We also have now a brand new QHYCCD 168c CMOS camera for wide-field color imaging. It is an electically cooled camera and will be a spectacular camera to acquire quick color images of deep sky objects. Because of its small pixels too, it is a superb camera for planets and lunar work.



Several things to report :

We traveled to Honolulu last weekend so that Callie could present her poster on her work on UHHEO, followed by a demo on remote operations. Very nice! Callie and I also participated in a promotional video for our department, to be released later on this summer.

We took the entire telescope assembly out in the parking lot of the UHH Science building last month to try to get some sky time. Unfortunately, weather turned bad quickly so we could not do anything. The operation takes about 45 minutes and is quite easy so we plan to try again soon. We want to learn how to do a pointing model as well as to test some instrument settings.

We are now in a procurement phase to add a very good CCD camera to the echelle spectrograph. We expect to receive it in a few weeks. Also, we are buying equipment to enable guiding for the CCD imaging camera port. The telescope mount tracking is excellent but this will enable us to do very long exposures with the narrow-band filters. We are also buying a new CMOS electrically cooled color camera to install on a small 80mm apo-refractor  mounted in piggyback on the CDK700 telescope. This will be a very nice setup to take wide-field images while we operate the main telescope on specific targets.

Finally, we are still evaluating different site options. More on this during the summer!



An article on the UH88 and Hoku Kea appeared today in the Hawaii Tribune Herald: HTH UH Telescopes


We have been working on different aspects of the observatory in the past few weeks. We tested the cloud sensor device, which will provide nice feedback on conditions for remote and robotic observing. More importantly, we have now made significant progress on the echelle spectrograph.  Despite difficulty with the procurement of a good camera for it, we have now installed everything and so far so good (see pictures below). So, essentially the observatory two main isntruments - the imaging camera and the fiber-feb spectrograph - are ready to be used on the sky although we are looking for repairing a Apogee camera more suitable for the spectrograph.

We have also now been experimenting with the The SkyX software suite, which offers ways to integrate all the different components of the observatory within one single control environment. It is very powerful because it has also a large database of objects and a planetarium integrated to finding and pointing to an object and observing is very, very easy! We also have installed ACP, a software for robotic operations and will explore this possibility in the next few weeks.

Finally, we are now investigating a possible (private) site on the other side of the Big Island in order to install UHHEO on a temporary basis. We tested the site but we need more information before moving forward with the installation. Stay tuned!


There is a nice article on our work on the UHHEO PlaneWave telescope in the UH Hilo Stories site:


We are also pleased to report that Callie's Nasa Space Grant traineeship award has been extended to the next semester! Our goals: get the spectrogrpha going, get the robotic modes available, evaluate a temporary site option and try the telescope under the night sky!


Commissioning activities continue with the new observatory, currently focusing on the eShel spectrograph and the integration of software components. This past weekend, our NASA Grant Trainee, Callie Crowder went to a symposium in Honolulu to present her nice poster on our efforts and to run a demo of operating the telescope remotely from Oahu!


We are making progress on enabling remote observing with the telescope. We can now control it completely from outside of the testing lab. We have webcams to watch the telescope motion and all of that is working really well! Remote observing will be the main mode of operations for the  observatory so this is important progress.


We are continuing the testing phase of the new teescope and instruments. In the past few days, we have been obtaining a lot of calibration images to charaterize the imaging camera. Everything seems to be fine and details will apear on these pages shortly. The telescope is performing really well and we can't wait to have a site to do some astronomy!
Next step: assembly and testing of the fiber-feb spectrograph.


Testing is moving forward with the telescope and the instruments. We are currently testing the imaging camera and the filter wheels and everything is going smoothly (see picture). Next steps will include integration of software components and installling and testing the Shelyak echelle spectrograph on the second port of the telescope.


Today, we put the telescope together! Assembly mostly consisted in installing the upper truss, installing the support bolts on the telescope base, removing the mounting brackets, installing all the cables, mounting the rotators on both instrumentation ports, releasing the primary mirror protecting system, and testing the telescope motion through the computer! The end result is a superb, fonctioning telescope! We are now ready to proceed with the next phase of commissioning, that is, testing the instrumentation suite and the integration of all the software components.




We spent some time today inspecting the telescope and its components, just to make sure every was there and in good shape. Looks good! We hope to have the telescope in the lab all ready for testing and integration within the next couple of weeks. A lot of fun ahead!



The most excellent news! The PlaneWave CDK700  0.7 meter telescope has arrived at UH Hilo! Delivery  was a bit delayed due to hurricane Madeline but everything arrived safe and sound. No need to say that it is a very exciting day and a major milestone for our project. In the coming days, we will inspect and start assembly. Then we will proceed with the integration of the software components and the instruments, and testing of different aspects of operations. We do not know yet when the telescope will see its first light of the Hawaiian skies - and where that will be - but we are working really hard to enable the observatory as quickly as possible.

In other news, one of UH Hilo astronomy majors, Callie Crowder, has started her NASA Space Grant traineeship with us, working on testing and characterizing different components of the UH Hilo Educational Observatory. Today, we traveled to CFHT headquarters in Waimea to use their spectrophotometer (thanks guys!) to establish the characteristics of the new filters we puchased for the UHHEO imaging camera. All the filters meet specifications and details will be available shortly on this site.

In summary: a very good day!



The telescope left the PlaneWave warehouse in LA today and should be delivered to UH Hilo this Friday!!! Since it's hurricane time in Hawaii, let's hope the weather is good enough...


We have received the test report on the CDK700 telescope done by PlaneWave Instruments today (see telescope section under "Facility"). Tests done in sub-arsecond seeing skies in LA(!) show that the optical and mechanicall components of the telescope are indeed excellent. Pointing and tracking are exceptional and images show good image quality all over the field of view. PlaneWave will be crating the telescope and shipping it to Hawaii in the coming days!!


Good news from PlaneWave Instruments: Our CDK700 0.7 meter telescope is essentially completed and has been succesfully tested on the sky. It will be shipped to Hawaii very soon! We will then have all the components to start integration of the entire observatory,,minus a site...


A big day for our project! We received the AstroHaven dome and it has been put into storage for a while, until we install it on a temporary site. The operation was not trivial and necessitated the help of many people. So, thank you all and we are looking forward to put it all back together soon. ;)


Some very good news today! The UHHEO dome will be delivered to the UHH campus on Wednesday morning. It will be stored for a while until we find a place to install it and test it as a temporary facility. The construction of the CDK700 telescope is well underway at PlaneWave Instruments and it should arrived in Hilo by the end of August! Finally, we are proud to announce that one of our UHH P&A students, Callie Crowder, has obtained a NASA Space Grant trainee fellowship to work with us on the integration of the observatory components for the Fall 2016. Congrats Callie!


Today we received the FLI 4k x 4k CCD camera and its two filter wheels! Used with filters (see the bank available for UHHEO here), this camera will be installed at the main imaging port of the CDK700 telescope. It will provide a field-of-view of about 30 arcminutes, with sub-arcsecond image quality.  Also. our dome has arrived in Hilo and will be delivered to our campus in the coming days!


We have just been informed that the AstroHaven 18-foot dome was shipped a few days ago from Arizona and should arrive in Hilo in a couple of weeks!


Today, we have received the Shelyak echelle spectrograph (eShel). This is going to be an instrument mounted on the "spectro" port of the telescope. It employs a diffraction grating as a dispersive element (for a specral resolution of about R = 10000) and it captures the light from the telescope through an optical fiber. The spectrograph came complete with internal calibration lamps and a guiding system. It will be a very nice setup for stellar and planetary astrophysics!


Some very good news for UH Hilo Educational! The clamshell AstroHaven dome is completed and will be shipped to Hilo in mid-July. The 18-foot dome was recently assembled and demonstrated at the AAS meeting in San Diego, where the UHHEO Director was present. The dome is GORGEOUS and  was quite a show in the exhibit hall (see pictures).

See a full video description of the AstroHaven dome here.

Also, we are working with PlaneWave Instruments to have the CDK700 0.7 meter telescope built and shipped to us earlier than expected. We could receive it as early as August, 2016! Stay tuned!


UH Hilo is working very diligently on the development of its new educational astronomical observatory. We have received many components already (computers, storage infrastructure, filters, etc.). The AstroHaven 18-foot clamshell dome is being built (see picture below) and will be on display at the AAS 228th meeting in San Diego in a few weeks. It will then be shipped and delivered in HIlo in mid-July, 2016. The PlaneWave CDK700 0.7-meter telescope has been ordered and is expected to be delivered by the end of 2016 or early 2017. The instrumentation suite, which includes a CCD camera system and a fiber-fed echelle spectrograph should arrive shortly.

AstroHaven 18-foot dome in April, 2016

The immediate plan is to start the integration of these components in the Fall 2016. The dome is likely to be installed on the UH Hilo campus for testing and we will also characterize the instruments and implement the observing environment software. Since our goal is to bring the observatory into operations as quickly as possible when the telescope is delivered, integrating all of these components together will save us a lot of time. 

  • In the meantime, discussions regarding a permanent site are ongoing. It is not clear if the current location on Maunakea will be decommissioned or not (at the time of writing, UH Hilo has paused its decommissioning process in order to consult with the local communities). UH Hilo is studying other options as well. Because of these uncertainties, an exact timeframe for when the observatory will become available cannot be brought forward at the moment. So, the answer is: as soon as possible! 
  • We are also pleased to report that we are working with diverse local community groups (e.g. PUEO) to investigate how we will make UH Hilo Educational available to keiki. We are also interacting closely with the UH-Manoa undergraduate program in astronomy who will eventually use UH Hilo Educational for their laboratories and student projects.  
  • This is all VERY exciting and we cannot wait to get our educational observatory going!  We will try to provide as many updates as possible here... so stay in touch! 
  •                                                                                                                                                       - R. Pierre Martin, UHHEO Director