NASA today announced it will prepare an Environmental
Impact Statement (EIS) for the Outrigger Telescope Project, a
proposal to install four-to-six 1.8-meter telescopes at the
W.M. Keck Observatory site on Mauna Kea, Hawaii.

NASA’s Environmental Assessment (EA) for the project was
challenged last year in a federal lawsuit filed by the Office
of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA), an agency of the state of Hawaii.
In July, the court ruled a portion of the EA called
cumulative impacts analysis was inadequate, and ordered NASA
to prepare a new EA. The court expressly declined to require
NASA to complete an EIS.

Notwithstanding the court’s order, however, NASA has decided
to prepare a full EIS, in recognition of the concerns and
feelings expressed by members and representatives of the
Native Hawaiian community. NASA will work with OHA over the
next several months to ensure the concerns of the Native
Hawaiian community are addressed in the EIS. A formal public
scoping process, including public meetings, will begin later
this year.

The Outrigger Telescope Project is part of NASA’s
Astronomical Search for Origins science theme. The smaller
telescopes, arrayed around the large 10-meter Keck
telescopes, would be able to combine the light they gather
from distant objects in the universe with light from the
larger telescopes, using a technique called interferometry,
producing images of far greater resolution than possible
using the 10-meter telescopes alone.

The Outrigger project would serve as a test for future
interferometer systems in space. Such space systems would
have the resolving power to search for Earth-like planets
around nearby stars.