The California Institute of Technology Submillimeter Observatory telescope, one of 12 telescopes on the Hawaiian mountain Mauna Kea, is currently undergoing removal in accordance with the 2010 Decommissioning Plan for Mauna Kea Observatories, CalTech announced in a public statement last month.

Mauna Kea is the site for the planned Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT), an endeavor to build an extremely large telescope on the mountain’s summit. The project is chaired by UC Santa Barbara Chancellor Henry T. Yang and partially funded by the UC and has drawn protest from communities UC-wide as the summit is sacred to Native Hawaiians.

There are currently a dozen telescopes on Mauna Kea, and the CalTech Submillimeter Observatory telescope will be the first to be removed under the 2010 Decommissioning Plan for Mauna Kea Observatories, a plan signed as part of the agreement between the Hawaiian Board of Land and Natural Resources (BLNR) and the University of Hawai‘i for the usage of the land.

The plan requires all observatories to be removed by Dec. 31, 2033, unless otherwise approved by the BLNR. In a statement to the Nexus, UCSB student activist group Mauna Kea Protectors (MKP) said the decommissioning is an “important step forward” to a future with more Kānaka (Native Hawaiian) input and consent on usage of Mauna Kea’s land.

“It is a relief to see that the plans made in the 2010 Decommissioning Plan for Maunakea Observatories, and discussed again in 2016, are finally coming into effect. It is disappointing that it took over a decade to finally bear fruit but we hope proper decommissions can follow suit in the near future,” a statement from an MKP representative read.

However, an MKP representative said the decommissioning has been presented by TMT advocates as a step towards the planned telescope, and the organization hopes it will inform a future of land usage respecting Native Hawaiians instead.

“It is unfortunate that advocates of TMT have often discussed decommissions with us as a step towards TMT, instead of a step towards a future of Kānaka sovereignty,” the statement read. 

“We hope to see a future where Maunakea is no longer at the mercy of those who seek to use it for profit, and instead in the care of those who wish to see it thrive.”


Sindhu Ananthavel
Sindhu Ananthavel (she/they) is the Lead News Editor for the 2023-24 school year. Previously, Ananthavel was the Deputy News Editor for the 2022-23 school year, the Community Outreach News Editor for the 2021-22 school year and an assistant news editor for the 2021-22 school year. She can be reached at