The prosaically named Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) project, a planned observatory to be built on Mauna Kea, the Big Island, in Hawaii, is huge in every way: a reported US $1.4 billion dollar budget, a giant mirror composed of 492 smaller mirror segments, and a goal of investigating not just the stars in our Milky Way but galaxies forming at the very edge of the observable universe.
Though this project is backed by the governments of China, Japan, Canada, and India, as well as the United States, it may never be built. For its location is considered sacred by some Hawaiians, whose protests have been heard all the way to the State Supreme Court of Hawaii, which in December 2015 invalidated TMT’s previously granted building permit.
With the project suspended for over a year, involved scientist and construction companies can only keep their fingers crossed that the contested case will go their way. In the meantime, Mitsubishi Electric, which has developed the main structure of TMT, announced this week the completion of a prototype robot for a segmented-handling system (SHS) to install and replace the mirror segments. No easy task, given each hexagonal segment weighs about 250 kilograms and measures 1.44 meters across corners.