Telescope Gets Second Life as Part-time Debris Hunter

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WASHINGTON — A large ground-based telescope useful for studying orbital debris as well as traditional astronomical targets has been given a second life under a cooperative agreement involving NASA, Lockheed Martin Space Systems, the University of Hawaii and the University of Arizona.

The 3.8-meter infrared telescope — one of the largest dedicated infrared telescopes in the world and once on track for closure — is part of Hawaii’s Mauna Kea Observatory. Built in the 1970s for Great Britain, the United Kingdom Infrared Telescope was owned by the U.K. Science & Technology Facilities Council until Oct. 31, when ownership transferred to the University of Hawaii. 

“Our team, composed of the universities of Arizona and Hawaii and NASA, will extend the life of this important telescope,” Matthew Bold, Lockheed Martin program manager, said in a Nov. 6 press release. “We plan to grow capability and continue addressing pressing questions about our universe, as well as the space surrounding our planet.”

Lockheed Martin said it is specifically using the telescope to study orbital debris.

The U.K. Science & Technology Facilities Council, citing budget constraints, planned to shut down the telescope in 2013 unless someone stepped forward to operate it. A call for proposals was issued and the Lockheed Martin and University of Hawaii group submitted one of two offers the council received.  

“The telescope remains a very powerful instrument at the peak of its performance, and I am confident that it will continue to produce exciting results under the new operational arrangements,” Pat Roche, chairman of the U.K. Infrared Telescope board of directors, said in a statement.

The new operators are expected to refurbish some of the telescope’s other instruments, according to the University of Hawaii.

 

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